The Boys Season 3 Review: Preparing to Bust a Cap
When The Boys adaptation debuted, it initially felt like yet another tiresome variation on the ’80s grimdark aesthetic. Cool, cool, corporate superheroes who swear and kill? Super-edgy. Yet somehow, now that we’ve arrived at The Boys season 3, it feels like some of the most adept social satire of the moment. In part, that’s because society at large has just gotten so much worse that mildly watered-down Garth Ennis no longer feels much like humorous exaggeration. But we’ve also seen movies like Don’t Look Up attempt to capture and satirize the current moment, and the latest round of The Boys, frankly, does that way better, perhaps because it’s through the current media filter of superheroes and multiverse. boys season 3 review.
Just for starters, remember around the time of Avengers: Infinity War, that joke going around about how Ant-Man might defeat Thanos? Yeah. The Boys goes further than that.
There’s a lot more to it than dirty jokes, though. While the animated spinoff, The Boys Presents: Diabolical leaned into the raunch and gore, season 3 takes aim at nearly everything in the zeitgeist right now. The Snyder Cut, Scientology, Fox News, commodification of social justice, Black Lives Matter, Sarah McLachlan’s animal rescue commercials, the NRA, intersectionality, Rogue One‘s reshoots, Rick and Morty‘s Szechuan sauce fandom, Beyonce, Pepsi, Gal Gadot, Five Nights at Freddy’s, and much, much more all come in for skewering, along with all the superhero stuff you’d expect.
The only major target of the moment it misses due to timing? Russia, depicted in typical post-Cold War, mafia style, with no reference to recent global adventurism. There’s also not a lot of COVID stuff — realistically, no show wants all their actors wearing N-95s throughout.
It also leans hard into the Homelander-as-super-Donald Trump angle, with America’s secretly abusive superhero finding himself in several Trumpian situations, and holding similar rallies. Fans who watch just for the dirty jokes may miss some of these levels…or not want to see themselves represented in Homelander’s fanbase. But it does beg the question of what Trump himself might be doing in this universe, where celebrities from our world specifically do exist alongside these super-exaggerations.
Sometimes that’s fun, as when real big names who are obviously fans of the show appear as themselves. Other times it’s weird — if we’re going to have the Vought corporation versions of Fox News and Sean Hannity, what’s the point of name-checking the actual Hannity late in the season? And after a whole season that spoofed Scientology, we’re now mentioning Leah Remini and her whistleblowing about the real Scientology?
Just assume multiverse rules work, and some people from our Earth have variants here and some don’t. They never say that, but it’s the easiest explanation.
As the season begins, the world of The Boys appears to be in a good place. Homelander’s ratings plummeted since he was exposed as having an affair with a literal Nazi. Starlight and Hughie are fully domestic, with her popularity as a superhero way up, and his position at the Federal Bureau of Superhuman Affairs seemingly secure. Meanwhile, Maeve and Butcher delve into the history of the 20th-century hero Soldier Boy, and his presumed death. At his level of power, whatever killed Soldier Boy could be powerful enough to destroy Homelander as well. BUT…since we all know Jensen Ackles has been cast as Soldier Boy, and his storyline altered to better resemble an ’80s style Captain America, it’s really not a spoiler to say rumors of his demise turn out greatly exaggerated.
Soon enough, things go south again as Homelander figures out that, while the public hates literal Nazis, a significant (mostly white and male) segment of it loves his unapologetic anger at lesser mortals holding him back. And he’s also starting to crack up a bit — The Boys couldn’t possibly have planned to specifically parody the Moon Knight TV show, but there’s a mirror dissociation scene that plays that way. It merely demonstrates how plugged in Eric Kripke is to all the current tropes.
Thematically, the show this season takes on the bastardized Stan Lee saying espoused by Butcher that, “With great power comes the absolute certainty that you’ll turn into a right c**t.” He gets to test that theory most literally, with a vial that confers temporary powers, but other characters face similar dilemmas. The Boys doesn’t entirely take Butcher’s espoused stance on the issue, but strongly implies that anyone with baggage should sort their issues out before getting anywhere close to power. Starlight, for one, continues to be the near-perfect All-American girl archetype with a steadfast moral compass. Even when Starlight is a nagging girlfriend, she’s ultimately at least 90% in the right.
Also, there is a surrogate sort-of Stan Lee character this season who’s full of it. Like almost everyone on the show. For all its critique of right-wing politics and corporatization run amuck, any accusations of political correctness seem unlikely to stick when, for example, an entire episode revolves around an orgy.
Still, all the swearing and satire and explicit sex would feel for naught without compelling characters. At the heart of the show, the dynamic between regular guy made-good Hughie and dream girl Starlight remains one fans can invest in. Butcher can be a pill, but this season takes care to show that deep, deep down, there’s at least a spark of compassion. MM’s individual adventure sees his principles sorely tested when his daughter’s stepfather pushes all his buttons. Homelander remains singularly compelling as the most morally awful metahuman ever. Antony Starr even offers periodic slips behind the mask to reveal glimpses of the hurt little boy inside. And Ackles makes an awesome addition as the ’80s ideal of macho, in the sort of role Jeffrey Dean Morgan would have been a shoo-in for a decade ago.
On the minus side, Frenchie and Kimiko remain fairly boring, save for a Singing Detective-inspired lip-sync musical number. That turns out to be one of the season’s best creative flourishes. Another involves animated characters coming to life — when the show busts out of its realistic parameters, it may make the viewer question what’s real, but it also truly soars. Like the anti-Supe team at the heart of the show, this all works best when it does not give a [expletive] about the rules.
Expect big changes from the comics storyline, but the culmination manages big action, satisfying drama, and still sets the stage for the next obstacle. As in real life, there may be no ultimate hope of completely overthrowing entrenched power and celebrity. But The Boys does make a case that the constant fight remains worth it, and the small victories worth celebrating. It will almost be disappointing if the series ultimately ends with either heroes or villains entirely victorious.
Season 3 grade: 4.5/5
Recommended Reading: The Boys Omnibus Vol. 3
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