San Diego was the place to learn about the future of the world’s biggest media series, the MCU.
Phase 4 is ending likely on a much needed high note with Black Panther 2. Phase 5 will open with Ant-Man’s third outing and will consist of two years like the current phase we’re in. Phase 6 will occur entirely in one year and will feature the new, hopefully improved Fantastic Four and the fifth and sixth Avengers. If nothing else, a sense of direction towards an ‘event’ level set of movies is welcome and very needed. If all turns out well, it might make reappraisal for the current set of films and shows we’ve gotten recently occur, for the most part. As for how they stand on their own, well….
My thoughts on Moon Knight and Doctor Strange 2 are already on site. Now, before She-Hulk and Black Panther’s return, let’s delve into two properties that are not exactly bad but endemic to an issue certainly discussed much in the past several months. If I could have it a different way, I would take people’s discussion over the state of a fictional universe and place that concerned passion over something far more meaningful by several thousands fold. Namely, a dying planet and the corrupt, sociopathic institutions that enable that slide downward. But you can’t always have what you want, even if it’s to the benefit of more than yourself. Anyway…..
Thor: Love and Thunder
I really wanna like Thor’s fourth, possibly last solo movie, though not final appearence. Conceptually speaking, Taika Waititi and Chris Hemsworth had the right idea with how to follow up both Thor Ragnarok and the titular character’s part played in Infinity War and Endgame. How it ends I’m genuinely quite fine with. You might agree but your enthusiasm for it’s outcome may not mirror your “agreement”. It resolves a romantic subplot that was seemingly abandoned for good with Thor and Jane Foster’s love story that was seen as too conventional for many. Natalie Portman agreed with that, hence why she was gone for a good amount of time. Then, a surprise cameo appearence in Endgame and the announcement that she was back as Jane Foster for Thor 4.
Recently in the comics, 2014 exactly, Marvel made the controversial decision to make one of Thor’s most enduring love interests, the mortal human doctor into a person who could wield the power of Thor, even taking on his Norse loverboy’s namesake, that itself being one of the sticking points for criticism. Wielding a new hammer distinct from Mjolnir, she basically became a new helmeted figure fighting the good, Scandinavian fight but it came with a catch.
Jane Foster had gotten terminal cancer and her chances of survival were expectably low. However, for reasons I could research right now but won’t, she become worthy of Thor’s power while also gaining some new abilities unique to her iteration. It even made her start speaking Shakespearean. As ‘The Mighty Thor’, it kept her cancer at bay but the continued use of her hammer would worsen the cancer. Don’t know Comic Jane’s current status or whether comic Thor has gone back to basics, but that is the comic book background to explain not only Jane’s cinematic return, but why Portman was convinced to return.
The dramatic romcom angle between Thor and Jane is one of Thor Four’s stronger aspects. Not only is it the unlikely return of something from the MCU you might have honestly forgotten, it helps reinforce that Thor still has a place to go in the increasingly unwieldy MCU. It ends both triumphant and somber, and yes, that movie Jane Foster shares the same cancer diagnosis should clue in those who have not yet viewed.
One of the big critiques of Love and Thunder was an element that went mostly uncriticized for Ragnarok, a distinct Waititi-like mix of seriousness and comic goofiness. While I can see why this tonal dissonance will turn off more than a few people (again, a main character has terminal cancer), my body’s response cannot lie as I certainly laughed at most of the humor. I did think that maybe, more than a few times a good joke or moment of humor that occurred could’ve been replaced for something more straight-faced. That being said, the standout recurring gag, the two giant screaming goats that Thor is gifted early on for “saving” an alien holy site never got old for me even though I was preparing myself to get sick of them.
It’s not just that actual goats really scream in that strangely human manner, it’s also a mythic in-joke that the Thor of legend actually does have two goats at his disposal. If you want to call the goats stupid, then blame the Norse people of over a thousand years ago for their involvement here. But they’re yet moments where the either Waititi, James Gunn or MCU brand humor doesn’t so much elicit a laugh as it does mild approval or not even a response.
This was evident most when Thor and his rock-man buddy Korg were hanging out with the Guardians. The Guardians themselves seem underutilized though again, this is not their movie. Star-Lord’s pep talk about the pain that comes with not so much loss but the pain of when you come to genuinely love someone and lose them was touching and certainly sets up something for next year’s Volume 3.
This in effect sets up Thor and Jane’s story and how in turn right after she returns to his life, he then learns that she doesn’t have much time left. That is, of course, right after coming to grips with his most beloved ex-girlfriend having his powers and his hammer. This leads to another amusing recurring gag involving his current weapon Stormbreaker, created with help from Groot in Infinity War, becoming jealous of Thor longing for Mjolnir back.
When I think back on it, Thor dealing with Jane’s return, potentially permanent departure and what comes after is the heart of Love and Thunder’s strength. The main antagonist, played by and with the same voice Christian Bale has for 85% of his roles albeit appropriate here, is almost another strength. As pointed out by others, including the fine Austin based people of Double Toasted, Gorr the God Butcher is good. But to paraphrase the Wonder Woman 84 villain, he could be better.
It’s rather surprising that the meaning of Gorr and his vendetta to kill all Gods hasn’t been the thing that has caused, ahem, “controversy” for Thor 4. The controversy as it happens comes from One Million Moms and their issue with both Valkyrie giving a bisexual kiss to the hand to one of Zeus’ ladies midway through, but also that Korg and his entire species are gay. Well, it so happens that Kronan reproduction happens in a manner that is not remotely sexual.
It’s about the most G-rated yet comically silly explanation for a type of procreation you could think up. But because it involves two male alien characters getting busy in any fashion, the most certainly 1 million of those moms are upset. Well, sorry to hear that. But, hey, it will be alright! The Supreme Court might soon remove Gay Rights up to and including bringing back anti-sodomy laws, so that should hold you over.
Anyway, I was surprised by how un-triggered people were by the movie’s commentary on worship of Gods and how Gorr responds to their promises in return for fealty being all BS, in the very first scene no less. Gorr, after losing his daughter and becoming the last of his species, comes across an oasis that is not actually a mirage. He finds his literally golden God lounging over there, with other Gods or God-equivalents just chilling. Gorr is confused as to why his God did not help his people, let alone him and his daughter in their absolute time of need. He has never broken faith.
The God rudely dismisses Gorr and essentially laughs at his plight and for falling for the lie he created that he would ever care about or for his creation. Unfortunately for those Gods, they had just killed a being that had a weapon capable of slaying them. Gorr takes up the sword in a fit of rage and kills his God, the others in turn flee. The God Butcher is born.
So you see, I’m wondering why Christians or news media folk who play up the “Christian Persecution Complex” like Tucker Carlson, haven’t had any conniptions over the supposedly anti-theistic sentiments of the latest Marvel movie. For many religions, namely Christianity and Islam, one of the selling points of being devout and faithful is that you will be rewarded with eternal paradise after death. Maybe because Yahweh and Allah aren’t any of the featured Gods in the movie, seeing as how lots of people actually believe they exist, they don’t appear, even in passing mention. Only mythological or whole-cloth made up Gods for Marvel’s universe apply here.
Yet, the critique at the heart of Love and Thunder’s opening sequence is a criticism of one major component of two of the biggest faith systems existing in the world today: be faithful and follow the teachings of the faith and you get not only an afterlife, but an awesome afterlife. Thor 4’s Gorr’s painful revelation seems to point towards it being a negative response to that aspect of faith. From where I’m standing, not only a good response but in this day and age, a timely one. How many Christians or Muslims show a lack of interest or concern with the cataclysmic consequences of climate change down the road for this very reason?
So long as Christians believe in Jesus as God the lord and savior, they will enter a never-ending Heaven. If that is in the cards for you, why bother insuring the temporary world you live in is protected or saved from ourselves? Even with future generations in consideration, why worry for them, so long as they believe like they do? To me, the promise of a better, permanent afterlife is one of the most dangerous and exploitable risks of religion. Indeed, not every religion necessarilly promises a heaven or even an afterlife. Buddhism from what I roughly know actually says it’s great that you won’t get one as Enlightenment in Death is comparable to cessation of existence. That oblivion under Buddhism is true peace.
This is indeed quite a tangent, but I wanted to delve into the surprisingly bold proclamations about religion and faith that a Marvel movie is making, seemingly out of the blue. Then again, there has to be a reason that Gorr, in both comic and on film, has a murderous hatred for Gods.
So, I’ve seen more supportive of Gorr than not, what is the problem? Well, the issue is that we don’t spend enough time seeing Gorr’s deeds as the God Butcher. Before the admittedly awesome encounter Thor, Jane and Valkyrie have with him in the Shadow Realm, the only time Gorr is doing or attempting his God-slaying on-screen is when he raids the New Asgard, run by Valkyrie in Norway. The principal heroes are all there to protect the city-state from Gorr. Gorr doesn’t kill any Gods save a few random Asgardians and he only succeeds in kidnapping the children of New Asgard including the never before seen son of the late Heimdall, Astrid. On that note, would’ve been nice to have established the kid before now, just saying.
All the other times, Gorr slays Gods off-screen and we get to see the aftermath of his destruction, such as when Thor and Korg investigate the death of a giant Snow-beast God. Maybe it’s because Taika wanted to focus more on Thor and Jane for understandable reasons, while also giving some time to where Valkyrie and Korg are at, but Gorr, for all of his significance, isn’t quite present enough. He’s certainly memorable, helped by where his story begins and where it ends. But for a film that was criticized for having too much of something, it also doesn’t have enough of another something.
Then, let’s deal with that dragon of an issue that is not necessarilly Thor 4’s fault alone. The oversaturation and overexposure of superhero content. While the general inconsistency of quality for Marvel’s Fourth phase is often viewed in a vacuum, it’s often paired with a growing sentiment that superheroes, mostly when it comes to the movies, are overstaying their welcome. What they’re doing for the most part isn’t enough anymore. The conventions and trends of a superhero story are becoming too familiar, even if still handled well.
We’ve reached the point of having a good number of media which satirizes superhero film convention, all the way to box office gold, as evidenced by Deadpool’s success. To be featured later, The television adaptation of The Boys is a satire and brutal critique of many things, and superhero storytelling and the culture that surrounds superheroes has proven to be a ripe, ripe target for three seasons and counting.
What was once niche or unprofitable, the deconstruction and critique of the superhero, with Snyder’s Watchmen film and the Kick-Ass movies, is now both making money and getting more than a few people talking. It is now exciting to talk about where superheroes conceptually fail or why they can’t get better or evolve once more. Whether they even should evolve is another question, but here familiarity breeds contempt and we are very, very familiar now. On my calendar for the rest of the year, four things are superhero based. When it comes to what Marvel expects you to watch just next year alone, it’s the following:
-Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
-GOTG Vol. 3
-Loki: Season 2
-Agatha: Coven of Chaos
-Daredevil: Born Again
That’s ten things in one year and six of them are shows. People have already been complaining about the load of content to watch for this phase alone, currently over 50 hours. This is irrespective of how good or bad this content will be, but does it not feel like too much to process, to keep the complicated picture in place? Once, the MCU would give two things a year, then three. That was good enough for both audiences and critics.
Starting in 2021 with its fourth phase, Marvel asked you to consume nine entries of the MCU. If nothing else, Marvel and Disney are exacerbating a growing concern for the genre, making eventual burnout if not a possibility an inevitability. Some have already tapped out. Now Avengers Endgame was perhaps meant to be a stopping point for those who were already inclined to want a stopping point. But then again, having the next MCU entry release a mere two months later with Spider-Man: Far from Home might have confused that possible intention of there being a “stopping point.”
When it comes to how Thor: Love and Thunder addresses a concern that Marvel Studios should be aware of, just look at the second weekend drop, of 68%, to suggest if not an impending death in attendance, a withering enthusiasm for what Marvel has in store. Now, based on what I thought of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s teaser and even what I think of the conceit behind next month’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, there is still a chance to recapture that enthusiasm. The reveals at SDCC 2022 and that there is a direction to look at does mean if nothing else, there is something potentially dynamic on the horizon.
Thor: Love and Thunder is fine. In some areas, I like it, in others I almost love it, like that Shadow Realm sequence. All that said, I feel more approving of last May’s second Doctor Strange. It was darker, more daring, and had visual and stylistic choices which made it feel like not the same filmed thing we have grown weary of over the years. It took chances and while it also recieved a muted reception and a second weekend drop only a percent less bad than Thor’s, I believe the reasons for Stephan Strange’s divisive second solo outing were mostly different than Thor’s. The fourth Thor feels more indicative of much of the growing frustration with where both Marvel and superheroes are at this moment in time.
The visual set pieces were across the board more visually arresting and imaginative in execution for Multiverse of Madness than Love and Thunder. In spite of the very kind words towards the Shadow Realm sequence I’ve given, a lot of the other set pieces don’t feel as fresh or as rewarding. The opening fight Thor and the Guardians have with basically Fragglerock aliens wasn’t as fun as it should’ve been. It was there, more than anywhere else, where I felt that accusation of Love and Thunder being an inferior Ragnarok was real.
Thor: Love and Thunder seems destined less to be seen in its entirety again by me on Disneyplus and more to be watched through in parts, checking out the moments that really worked over those that either didn’t or not well enough. I suspect that is a diagnosis I will give to the next MCU entry up to bat.
My relationship with Kamala Khan, the most recent one to take on the mantle of Ms. Marvel, the first being Carol Danvers, is complicated. I would’ve liked and read more of her series which began in 2011, if I didn’t find the artwork so unappealing and honestly kind of ugly. It’s hard to describe why I didn’t like it but it reminds me of how butt-ugly John Romita Jr’s style is, especially on display in the comic book version of Kick-Ass. I’m sure that later on a different, possibly better (for me) art style took over but it not only stunted my exposure to one of Marvel’s newest mainstays, it also made it harder to appreciate what good was in those original stories.
Of course, the live action show doesn’t have that problem, though it does reference the comic series’ art in the closing credits. In this framing, its much easier to appreciate what makes Kamala Kahn potentially one of the “leading” figures of the MCU going forward, seeing as how the early maypole characters like Tony and Steve are certainly gone now.
Iman Vellani, despite being a first time actress, acts like she’s been a veteran actor for years. She encapsulates Kamala Kahn so well because she is almost certainly playing herself. If that is actually not the case behind closed doors, consider me fooled.
More than Oscar Isaac’s dual personality duties in Moon Knight, Vellani’s Kahn carries Ms. Marvel through the rough patches or elements that have sadly become an expected factor of the Marvel Disneyplus experience. It starts exuberant and so confident in it’s direction, that you and by that I mean I didn’t care when it ventured into territory that could reasonably be called “Disney Channel” adjacent.. Even when it starts to feel a little too close to the tone of Tom Holland’s Spider-movies, I still didn’t care because Kamala Kahn is executed so well. I could forgive and even mildly appreciate much, but not all.
The thing that makes Kamala Kahn/ Ms. Marvel stand out despite it all and the inevitable comparisons to Peter Parker or Miles Morales is that she is an in-universe fangirl of superheroes. She is a nerd who drinks deep the well of information and knowledge surrounding her world of real life superpowers and individuals. The poor girl would be shattered if she lived in The Boys’ universe. Of all the heroes, she idolizes most the girl power superhero of Marvel: Carol Danvers/ Captain Marvel. She’s such a fan, she makes excuses or rationales for the very issues most have with this interpretation of the already contested comic book figure.
I’ll go out on a limb and call her a better character overall than Carol Danvers. That’s…actually not a controversial opinion to be honest. When I think about Brie Larson’s take on Carol Danvers, I respect more than like how she has been handled. For those who complain about her being the perpetual frowner of the MCU, even more than her actually more cheerful looking comic counterpart, the point is that she is encompassing attributes of male comic characters that are either not even noticed or mocked if its gets a little too much, i.e. “emo” or “angsty.”
The point I’ve accepted about the Larson Carol Danvers is that she is defiantly herself, powers or no powers. Nothing will talk her down from that. Hopefully, next year’s The Marvels, which will be featuring Kamala, will actually take time to explore her more, something that none of her appearances outside of her first movie have deigned or had time to do. But I won’t lie: I’m more eager to see more of Kamala and the returning from Wandavision Monica Rambeau than Carol. I’ll let that ill thought-out gaffe of hers at the end of WV slide for now. Look it up online to know what I’m referring to there if you don’t.
Kamala’s interest bordering on obsession with Danvers and Marvel’s superheroes is just one of the two primary factors of Ms. Marvel. The other is the typical teenager growing up pains colored in by her admittedly very liberal Muslim upbringing. For one, the only time Kamala is told to cover her head with something is during mosque. The rest of the time, none of her family remotely cares that her whole head is uncovered. I take it on faith ironically enough that the Middle-Eastern American showrunners and Vellani’s own life experience explains this aspect of generally Progressive Islam on display.
It’s important to remember that like Christianity and most populated enough religions, there is a sizable number of strains to Islam. Despite what the era of the War on Terror might infer to you in Islamic practice, or what the horrifying extremes nations like Saudi Arabia practice, there is actually a lot of variation in expectation for the role a Muslim is expected to play in life. The roles of women can actually differ considerably depending on the interpretation that is given to the Quran.
Much is the same with the Bible and they’re passages of the Bible, non-contradictory passages mind you, that say a good number of things against general assumptions modern day Christians, namely many American Christians, have made in favor of being biblical. They’re is also stuff that modern Christians that I am very glad for all our sakes don’t practice. This conscious or unconscious cherry-picking of what or what not to follow in biblical faith, is by Ms. Marvel’s account, no less true for Islam, especially when it comes to Muslims living in North America.
In fact, now that I think about it, Kamala’s own relation with her Muslim faith is actually not a component of her story arc. Muslim culture, not necessarilly how to follow the will of either Muhammad and Allah, is at center stage, but when it comes to how belief colors the actions that lead Kamala on, it really isn’t a factor. There seems to be a general truth to this approach as plenty of people who live under religious households or self-identify as a certain religion, will not necessarilly paint a lot of their life course under it strictly or otherwise.
In that respect, Kamala very much comes across to me as a “secular” Muslim, which does sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an oxymoron that seems to be alive and well in the real world. Considering my own thoughts on religion, religiosity and so forth, it’s very much for the best that is the tact they’re going for with the MCU’s Kamala Kahn, which mirrors the comic version.
Of course, living in a multicultural place like Jersey City, with Manhattan just over the water, means that Kamala can’t help but be exposed to many different worldviews. She can’t be closed off even if her parents wished, which they don’t. They’re revealed to have been Bon Jovi fans in their youth on that note. Her best friend is a white as white can be nerd called Bruno who certainly mirrors Peter Parker but is destined to stay the Ned to Kamala’s Peter.
Around the midpoint, the aspects that make Ms. Marvel not quite the best Disneyplus Marvel show it could’ve been seep in. The introduction following her harnessing of powers of the two principal antagonist forces, The Department of Damage Control, given its more FBI-like feel in Spider-Man: No Way Home and the Clandestines, a group of superhuman beings also known as Djinn. Damage Control is the much expected, superpower police force that was bound to come into being in a world like the MCU’s Earth are better than the frankly underwritten and underexecuted Clandestines, led by Nakia (No relation to the Black Panther character).
They start off promising, not only to help explain why this version of Kamala has her powers (deliberately, controversially different than the comic explanation), but also to explore an idea that Shang-Chi last year first posited: alternate/pocket dimension worlds with entry points hidden throughout the planet. How they go about with explanation and what it leads to, leaves more than a little to be desired.
It leads to a trip from Jersey City all the way to Karachi, Pakistan. While it does give an informative look into the circumstances that lead to modern Pakistan’s strained birth, in connection with the fall of British India, that might be quite intriguing stuff to the uninformed, it does once again fall on how… half-baked the results can feel.
Whether it’s the consequences of a TV budget (some of the CGI is baaaaad), or whether this was actually the best format to tell this story, not unlike Obi-Wan’s own Disneyplus experience, I started to feel a little cut off from what made Ms. Marvel stand out in a good way. The action sequences, more so in the Pakistani locations, are less compelling than the ones that are back home in Joisey. How the Clandestines face up against the inexperienced Kamala and her scarved ally Red Dagger can be honestly kind of embarrassing.
Meant for a younger audience or not, the Clandestines’ sense of danger fades more and more as the season goes on to the point where they make bone-headed mistakes that are laughably stupid. Also, the motivations of the last surviving Clandestine at the end, Kamran (who of course Kamala crushes on) are more than a little confusing or hard to fully accept. Still, not as bizarre as what Reva was doing at Obi-Wan’s conclusion.
Ms. Marvel, like Thor 4 and Obi-Wan, ends in a place that makes you feel fine about the end result. How it got there is a lot harder to fully process one way or another. I for one am getting increasingly tired of Disney not really flexing their money power levels when it comes to their TV entries for the MCU. You and I both know that more money can and should go into making the shows be as well-budgeted in presentation as the movies.
This is especially true when it comes to the upcoming She-Hulk. The first trailer’s CG, which is a must considering not one but three Hulk-like characters are in the show, was seen as wanting. The second trailer, premiering at SDCC, showed off CG effects which were better. The expressiveness of the green characters is commendably present. Considering Kamala’s presence in next year’s The Marvels and how in time she might prove even more valuable to the MCU’s survival than at first, having her debut appearance be more polished would’ve helped.
Disney’s attitude towards poor Kamala might differ from Marvel’s, including Kevin Feige. The debut episode of Ms. Marvel aired the same day as Obi-Wan’s fifth. This, along with other factors, including a sizable portion of bitter and/or bigoted Marvel fans, resulted in the lowest numbers for a Disneyplus show. Online bad-mouthing, regardless of the more complex picture of the show’s quality led to scoring on sites like IMDB that are certainly not up to snuff not just with critical opinion but mine. As it stands in late July 2022, the IMDB score is 6.2 out of 10, actually higher than its rating while the episodes came out.
Please, if you’re inclined, share your honest thoughts about Kamala’s entry to the MCU. Earnestness of online opinion aside, Kamala Kahn and us should both be grateful that she has nowhere to go but up. Considering the cosmic place of Carol Danvers, she will go high indeed.
The Boys Season 3 (Huge spoilers in particular here)
The third Season of the superior version of Garth Ennis’ vitriolic send up of superhero..anything is the most definitive proof that the tightrope balancing act it’s performing has been perfected. It is gross, it is beautiful, it is mean, it is warm, it is provocative, it is thought provoking. It hits more than almost any other piece of contemporary media at addressing the frightening circumstances of the modern world today, let alone for America. It’s an irreverent, to put it so lightly, satire of current superhero popular culture and what it means to us, why we follow it no matter what it might actually be prescribing.
It’s greatest feat, which might be the best showcased by this season, is it’s pitch perfect attack on “corporate wokeness.” As you might’ve guessed, I am not an anti-woke person, far from it. I’m only against it when it’s poorly or so bluntly executed it does a bad job of communicating its points in a relatable manner. The most recent season of DC’s Young Justice has suffered from this, when it was actually doing a pretty good job being “woke” in earlier seasons. In terms of media that does “dreaded” wokeness so well you might not even realize it’s happening, check out the newest She-Ra show and Disney’s The Owl House. The latter is so fantastic, you might have a hard time even believing it’s under the Mouse’s control.
The Boys is not anti-woke. It very much is. It’s against the cynical “wokeness” of corporations that make profit out of civil and human rights issues, namely LGBT rights. The Boys airing in June, which is Pride month, was almost intentional. Real life corporations put out all the rainbows and LGBT iconography to show their support. I am not saying that no one who works in any of those companies aren’t true believers in representation or rights. It’s often the creators, the artistic people within those places that actually show off their uncynical support through their work.
Getting back to the Owl House under Disney, it is created and showrun by Dana Terrace, a bisexual woman. She actually had to fight with Disney higher-ups to allow her bisexual and other LGBT subject matter to be showcased in the show, up to and including the main character and her love interest. Disney, whose board I’ve heard is actually pretty conservative, actually yielded because they reportedly admired Terrace’s stubborn determination. That, and they looked at where the polls were leaning to greenlight Terrace’s creative vision.
That’s the thing about “corporate wokeness” and why it’s actually insidious. If the polls somehow went in the opposite direction regarding gay rights and representation tomorrow, would those same companies still hold water for Pride? No, they would then change their tunes to fit with what the viewerbase supposedly supports by the charts. No actual conviction, no integrity. Sure, there will still be individual examples of people working under those corporations who will still fight for that representation no matter the direction of the wind. Because, to people like Dana Terrace, it deeply matters to them in a way that profit can never account for. That is at least my hope, and The Owl House’s earnest quality leads me to believe as such.
Vought, the monopolistic company that among other things runs the real-life superhero team, The Seven, would flip their tune on a dime if America changed their minds. The manipulation of the masses is a key feature of Season 3, as Homelander, the terrifying yet really sad deconstruction of Superman, becomes a Trump like figure. Near the Season’s beginning, after losing his girlfriend Stormfront (who happened to be a long-living, superpowered literal Nazi), decides he’s had enough of inhibiting himself for the sake of corporate image or fear that how he really feels will make the world hate and fear him.
Much to his surprise and eventual joy, many people love the things he’s saying, even as it leads to a cult of personality developing. A moment from the first season, that deliberately echoes George W. Bush’s words at Ground Zero, was the birth of an alarming seed that is flowering by this point of the series. It’s bad enough that Homelander is Superman without the humble upbringing that keeps him down to earth and decent. Now, the people of the modern world eat up his words, many of them lies or half-truths, because it rings true to them. Much like the prior and possibly future President of my nation.
The titular Boys, lead by Karl Urban’s quintessentially South London Billy Butcher, are a mostly unpowered group of agents whose role is to either clear up superhero messes caused behind the scenes or to outright neutralize Supes that have gone bad. Due to Butcher’s fraught history with the reality of superheroes, his end goal is ideally the end of all superheroes. But if he can’t have that, killing Homelander will do.
That’s a problem for the Boys considering that one of them is superpowered, the mute Kimiko, who was kidnapped and forced to have superpowers through Compound V, the man-made drug Vought created and administered into the global population in secret and without anyone’s consent. I don’t know which came first, this plot idea, but the Ultimate Marvel universe controversially revealed in the much despised Ultimatum event story that the Mutants of that Marvel continuity were all the byproduct of the U.S. government trying to replicate the super soldier serum that made Captain America, not the X-gene being the next step in human evolution.
Let’s just say that what really did not work out in the end for Marvel Comics really works out in the Boys. That a soulless corporation slowly created their own age of superheroes on the unsuspecting populace fits perfectly in line with the show’s philosophy. It also makes the more sympathetic, maybe even actually heroic Supes more interesting. Starlight is the one supe who in general avoids reaching the “grey” zone of most superheroes in The Boys’ universe.
She comes the closest this season of actually falling down the rabbit hole that leads other once optimistic and idealistic supes like the Wonder Woman-like Queen Maeve, Flash-like A-Train and Aquamanesque The Deep into cynical, desperate celebrities. Thankfully, a moment mid-season has her finally throw her hands up in the air and let go of the celebrity angle to her superhero life. She broadcasts to the world the truth about Vought, about Homelander, that she will no longer be Starlight to anyone or anything. She will be Annie Jones, her real self, come what may.
The Boys’ perspective on superpowers, if they were real, and what would actually happen, mirrors a line of thought that last year’s The Falcon and Winter Soldier brought up. Steve Rogers being the continually good person he was, despite the power the super soldier serum gave him was a reflection of the idea that the serum didn’t just give the guy super strength and agility. It enhanced what he was, made him more of who he already was.
When it is used by someone who does not share Roger’s morality or ideology, John Walker, the man who will be U.S. Agent, he turns not to be worthy of that power and abuses it almost immediately. That the MCU show does not stick the landing in that subject matter in the end, among other flaws, is not what matters. What matters is that The Boys picks up that idea and does it, what’s the word oh right, justice. Annie Jones started as a good person, and had less of an impulse to fall for the same vain things as other members of the Seven, especially A-Train and Deep. Queen Maeve has undergone a slow but steady redemption, to actually fight in secret against the corrosive nature of Vought and Homelander, even at the risk of her own life. Her ultimate goal, if it’s even possible, is to leave it all behind, maybe get back with her girlfriend.
Kimiko undergoes a personal revelation about her extremely violent powers and how it relates to the surprisingly sweet-natured relationship and romance she shares with Frenchie, the Boys’ weapon-master. What she once despised she comes to begrudgingly like, no matter how visceral it is. That it can let her protect the people she loves, predominantly Frenchie, has her come to a conclusion that was purposefully meant to let people like myself feel conflicted. Hughie, the audience surrogate, undergoes a similar crisis where he does not have the powers to protect Starlight, whom he is in a loving relationship with. When he is given the chance, offered by Butcher, to gain temporary superpowers for a day, he takes it without a second thought.
Butcher, a man who is shown to have every reason to be suspicious of those with power, figurative or not, allows himself to take Temporary Compound V. It gives him a fighting chance to actually stop Homelander, but he’s also putting his own values on the line on the process. Aside from Temp V unsubtly being like a dangerous drug that hurts you the more you take, it also best reflects the philosophy of superpowers enhancing who you already are, for better and more so for worse.
Butcher knows he’s not a good person. While he believes he does bad things for the right reasons, he yet realizes it’s still bad. Maybe he’s convinced himself, not unlike Stephen Strange up until a point, that his way is the only way. A really heart-breaking flashback sequence we witness shows that a lot of the bad aspects of Billy Butcher are the result of his abusive father.
Hughie on the surface seems like a far better person that Butcher, maybe even a guy who would be worthy of superpowers. His deep insecurities, and that his desire for power comes from misplaced lack of trust in his relationship with Annie/Starlight dooms his use to be bad. All of this ties into the very essential understanding that the reason we should be glad superpowers don’t exist is because most humans cannot handle that power. An argument could be made that humanity has not evolved or will never evolve to wisely use power as we know it now. Perhaps our species is falling down the path to self-destruction this century because our minds cannot properly harness power conceptually, at least not for long periods of time. Despite the show yet arguing that a select few like Starlight and maybe Kimiko can handle it, the argument is still against that power. Those two are the exception to the rule.
Even more than Homelander, no one embodies this concept better than the Captain America parody Soldier Boy. Jensen Ackles’ excellent performance as the Boys’ star spangled man echoes Chris Evans’ take, giving it a slightly more Texan slang, perhaps referencing the actor’s Texas roots. His outfit deliberately mirrors the MCU Cap, and his disheveled, bearded appearence recalls Rogers in Infinity War.
Soldier Boy is not solely a unrelenting stab at the “patriotic superhero” concept that basically began with Captain America back in the 1940s, he is possibly the best showcase of Falcon and Winter Soldier’s idea done well. This is John Walker truly without restraint. Before becoming Soldier Boy in the 40s, the guy was a douche, sharing many of the bigoted and contemporarily unwelcome attitudes of a person at the time. Actually, he might actually be douchey even for a guy from the 40s. Revealed as a silver spoon kid, he had less reason than most of the time to even try to be gentlemanly.
This in turn is not just an inversion of the Chris Evan’s variant, but is also another callback and improvement to Ultimate Marvel, in this case their more “realistic” depiction of Captain America, as written by Mark Millar. Millar is actually comparable to Garth Ennis, though Millar tends to do more “tame” stuff than Ennis from time to time. It would be news to me if Ennis ever did anything that went below a Mature rating in his works.
Soldier Boy is a supe from the past who was captured by the Russians during the Cold War. Unlike Cap America, Soldier Boy can actually go toe to toe with the Superman level Homelander. Even though it would never really happen, Superman would wipe the floor with Steve Rogers. Not here. He also has Wolverine-like long life, being essentially the same age today as he was in the 1940s. Butcher and the Boys risk a lot trying to break Soldier Boy out of his cryofreeze prison below Moscow. Once back in America, Butcher basically makes a deal with the devil: Help Soldier Boy with some loose ends and in turn he will help end Homelander.
Those loose ends involve his old team, Payback, who actually were responsible for him getting taken by the Reds in the first place in the 80s. Why the betrayal? Because he was f**king horrible to his team, being the toxic masculine figure he is. One of his old team-mates is Black Noir, a current day member of The Seven and the masked, mute supe undergoes an existential crisis upon learning of his return. He resolves it in possibly the looniest way imaginable. In that, it involves toons only he can see in his shattered mind.
If the amount of text alone for this section is any indication, The Boys handles an exceptional amount of content to parse through, all of it exceptionally well. I could bring up A-Train’s cynical use of his skin color to try to promote black rights, when it’s really about self-promotion. I could delve into the Deep’s own insecurities leading to his betrayal in time of good things he stands for over the fear yet respect he has for Homelander. The African-American member of the Boys, Marvin/Mother’s Milk/M.M., is reconciling his mix of fear and hatred for Soldier Boy, who did his family horrifically wrong growing up with the utility Butcher sees in bringing him along as a secret weapon. That’s not even counting his strained relationship with his ex-wife who has married a middle-aged, bespectacled schlub who begins to fall for Homelander’s rhetoric and how it affects his cute, growing daughter’s own life.
Then, there’s finally Ryan, the son of Homelander whose mother was Butcher’s wife and true love, Becca, who brought out the best in him. A recognition of who Butcher believes himself to be causes him to distance himself unwisely from the kid, who is in hiding from his awful father, following a mutually sorrowful end to Becca that happened due to Butcher and Homelander’s one-on-one war.
Left alone by Butcher, Ryan, who has the powers of Homelander, is now is running the terrifying risk of being like his old man. Homelander became a messed up figure due to being an artificially created person born in a lab with an uncaring, unnurturing environment. By season’s end, Homelander finds and offers Ryan to join him. With Butcher having left him, Ryan accepts. The last scene of the season involving Homelander and Ryan at a rally in the former’s honor ends with one of the most bone-chilling final shots I’ve seen from media in a long time. It recalls a moment from the MCU, actually one of the most iconic.
It recalls the final scene of Avengers: Infinity War, where after Thanos’ hard fought, hard cost victory in wiping out half of all life in the universe, he sits down at his retirement hut, looks out at the sunset and initially sports a morose visage. But it slowly turns to a smile, knowing that all his sacrifice was worth it, in his own twisted perspective. The Boys’ third season ends with Ryan watching something his father does in front of a crowd and then the crowd cheers and claps. What Homelander did was horrible, as you would expect and the crowd decided after initial shock it was great. Ryan goes from a concerned frown to a small smile. History does not repeat, it rhymes.
That’s not every thread worth mentioning, even now. There’s still Congresswoman Neuman, who I would bet strong money is meant to be a multifaceted critique of AOC. An AOC who has in secret, in my opinion, the scariest superpower in the entire show. What she is about is worth exploring all by itself. But much like sentiment about the superhero genre today, this is starting to overstay its welcome.
Against all odds and in spite of the utterly profane and honestly boundary-pushing humor The Boys proudly displays without any shame, this show and what it stands for is anything but overstaying its welcome. No matter how terrible, no matter how ugly the things it will show me in the coming years, The Boys remains one of the most necessary pieces of entertainment being made today. Only a weak stomach and deeply embedded personal bias will keep you out of its diabolical vacuum.
Next time: maybe, maybe not more 80s’ glory.