The World Might Have Outgrown The Boys

Once at the cutting-edge of satire, The Boys Season 4 is stuck on autopilot.

Inverse Reviews

When The Boys premiered back in 2019, the world looked a lot different. In the wake of Avengers: Endgame, it felt like superhero stories had taken over the world. So when we met Eric Kripke’s cynical vision of “supes” as symbols of corporate greed and capitalism run amuck, fans of the genre couldn’t resist Amazon’s gritty response to the polished MCU.

But five years later, the hierarchy of power in the superhero landscape has shifted. Marvel is dialing back and focus on “quality over quantity” after a series of underwhelming releases, and the DC universe is set to be completely reset under the watchful eye of James Gunn. Superheroes aren’t the infallible target they once were. And in Season 4 of The Boys, that’s painfully evident. The quality of the show hasn’t changed, but the world has. After remaining on the cutting-edge of satire and gore for years, what was once extreme has become normal, and The Boys no longer has the substance to keep things fresh and exciting.

The Boys’ brand of superhero satire has grown stale.

Prime Video

The Boys Season 4 begins on election night, establishing immediately that this season is going to be more political than ever (a high bar for a show that introduced a social media-savvy Nazi back in Season 2). It delivers on that promise, bringing its satire from the fringes to the forefront of the show by tackling topics like right-wing conspiracy theories, euthanasia, and even abortion, all with The Boys’ signature irreverence. The show occasionally veers into being too on the nose, but it’s a fun escalation.

But that seems to be the only element that’s escalated in Season 4. The Boys is already renewed for Season 5, but in Season 4 the stakes seem to be as high as they possibly could be — Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is dying, Hughie (Jack Quaid) is trying desperately to keep his life together, and Homelander (Anthony Starr) is more evil than ever and scheming to overthrow the entire American political system.

Those are all pretty extreme states of being, and while it means the action of the series stays at the super-high level fans have come to expect, it also means there’s no room to improve. The characters don’t really change, they have events happen to them. Homelander can’t get more evil, he’s already at the most evil. Butcher can’t be dying more than he already is.

Political issues are a major part of The Boys Season 4, even more than past seasons.

Amazon Prime Video

Thankfully, the plateauing of characters isn’t much of an issue outside of the central three. Starlight (Erin Moriarty), now going by her birth name Annie January, swaps out her supersuit boots for Golden Goose sneakers as she tries to undermine Vought, only to find herself completely in over her head. Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) and Frenchie (Tomer Capone) both have direct confrontations with their past. Super speedster A-Train (Jessie T. Usher) has his own crisis of loyalty. The Deep (Chace Crawford) may be relegated to strictly comedic relief this season, but it’s well worth it.

As per usual, the highlight by far of this season is the new characters. Firecracker (Valorie Curry) is a Stormfront for a new age, this time a homegrown American full of Alex Jones rhetoric. She’s willing to do anything to get into Homelander’s good books, and that willingness is taken to some wild extremes. On the other hand, Sister Sage (Susan Heyward) refuses to play by Homelander’s rules. Her superpower makes her the smartest person on Earth, and that includes knowing exactly how to best carry out Homelander’s plan — even if he doesn’t agree.

Sister Sage and Firecracker bring two opposing energies to The Seven.

Amazon Prime Video

There’s no one part of Season 4 that feels amiss. The plot chugs along, there are some stellar set pieces and gimmicky fight scenes, and even some shocking twists and turns. Maybe it’s not that the series is getting worse, but the world is simply changing. One of the biggest criticisms of The Boys, especially around the release of its college-based spinoff Gen V, is that it’s become what it parodied: a superhero franchise.

But the truth is a bit more complicated than that. The Boys came out swinging and established its own brutal brand of horror and terror as the status quo. But the series is so popular now that its shock value is all but gone. The Boys isn’t becoming more “normal,” it’s just that our definition of “normal” has now expanded to include The Boys. (Even a parody of the January 6 insurrection this season probably won’t be enough to rattle longtime fans).

With Season 5 of The Boys and Season 2 of Gen V on the way, it seems like the only way forward is for this universe may be another classic superhero trick: a hard reset and a fresh start. Maybe Season 5 will be that, but Season 4 is more of the same — groundbreaking for 2019, but underwhelming in 2024.

The Boys Season 4 premieres June 13 on Amazon Prime Video.

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