'The Boys' review: Power, corruption, moral uncertainty. Good times!

The Emmy-nominated streaming hit returns for its third season on Amazon Prime Video, as dark and twisted as ever.

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

“The Boys” is a grim and harsh assessment of all modern life. It not only skewers political corruption and cultural excess, it looks deep into the human soul and finds little redemption.

It’s also really gory. Heads exploding, fists punching through bodies and ripping out intestines, lots of stuff like that.

Erin Moriarty in "The Boys."

In between the bursts of blood and deep contemplations on the futility of the human condition, it’s also pretty funny. But the laughs are endlessly bitter.

With its third season, the Emmy-nominated twisted superhero series builds on the black instincts that have gotten it this far. In the world of “The Boys,” the top echelon of the world’s superheroes work for, and are controlled by, a corporation. Most of these heroes are of dubious moral character, if not outright villainous. 

The most powerful and most awful of these “heroes” is Homelander (Antony Starr). Think Superman powers in a Captain America-type uniform. Over the course of “The Boys,” Homelander has been discovering just how morally vacuous and psychically damaged he is. In the first season he left human bonds behind, in the second he got swept up in an Aryan movement.

Jack Quaid, Karl Urban, Tomer Capone, Karen Fukuhara and Laz Alonso in "The Boys."

In the third season Homelander comes to the realization that he’s all powerful. If he wants he can simply destroy the world. Who’s to stop him?

If that reminds you of a little man sitting at a series of huge tables in Russia right now, all the better. “The Boys” feasts on authoritarian gestures and real world nightmares. Trump jokes are everywhere, and a lot of the time you wonder what you’re laughing at.

Out to foil Homelander and the other bad supes is the ragtag group known as The Boys. Led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), at this point they realize Homelander is the big problem. So they essentially resurrect and team up with a previous generation’s deranged superhero, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles). Problem is, Soldier Boy’s moral compass is almost as broken as Homelander’s.

Karen Fukuhara, Karl Urban, Tomer Capone and Laz Alonso in "The Boys."

Complicating things further, this season Butcher has access to a serum that gives regular folks super-powers for 24 hours. Now he can become the same as the monsters he’s fighting. Uh-oh.

Spinning about in the middle of all this is a romance between comparative innocents: Boys recruit Hughie (Jack Quaid) and newbie superhero Starlight (Erin Moriarty). Hughie’s girlfriend was killed by a thoughtless superhero, and Starlight’s initiation to the superhero elite was a rape, so they’re a mess, but it's the closest the show gets to a nice mess.

Eric Kripke, the guy who guided “Supernatural” through 15 (!) seasons, is in charge here and “The Boys” enjoys that show’s mix of humor, action and outrageousness, but dials it all up to extreme levels. It’s heavily populated, extremely well cast — whoever found the chiseled Antony Starr deserves either a raise or an Emmy — and never boring.

The third season has a lot of moving parts but the show wisely keeps its focus on Homelander. There are a lot of jerks here, but it’s the jerk at the top, the jerk with the most apocalyptic power (like that jerk in Russia), who’s scariest. “The Boys” isn’t really concerned with heroes at this point; it’s concerned with survival. Talk about timely.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

'The Boys'

GRADE: B+

Amazon Prime Video

Not all heroes

Being a superhero in ”The Boys” isn’t all glory. Most of them have quirks or downsides. Some examples:

>A-Train (Jessie T. Usher)  

Power: Super speed 

Downside: An unfortunate tendency to run right through people, leaving a mess of guts behind

Jessie T. Usher in "The Boys."

>Stormfront (Aya Cash)

Power: Shoots electric lightning bolts

Downside: Uh, turns out she’s a Nazi

>Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit)

Power: Can cause heads to explode

Downside: Hard to relax in her presence

>Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara)

Power: Rips people apart

Downside: Doesn’t really enjoy ripping people apart

>The Deep (Chace Crawford)

Power: Ruler of the seas

Downside: Loves fish. No – literally loves fish

Chace Crawford in "The Boys."

>Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles)

Power: Super strength, invulnerability

Downside: Periodically explodes, wiping out everything around him