At a recent press junket, The Boys showrunner Eric Kripke said that he got involved in The Boys to make fun of superheroes, but this remarkable streaming series goes far beyond just that. There are plenty of jabs at the saturated genre and its most iconic characters, many of which end in shocking moments of depravity. But these are often in service to a broader satire, one that takes aim at a world threatened by political extremism, individual apathy, and corporate greed.
Season two picks up shortly after the events of the first, with Billy Butcher missing following his confrontation with Homelander, while The Boys are exiled underground as their existence is exposed to the world. Things aren't all peachy for The Seven either, who remain under the thumb of an increasingly unstable Homelander and face a challenging new member in the brash, social media savvy Stormfront (a bold turn from Aya Cash).
Despite the long wait for these new episodes, The Boys hasn't lost any of its impressive momentum, bounding into an ambitious second season with big surprises from the very beginning. In the opening three episodes alone, there are moments that will make your jaw drop out of horror, disbelief, or quite possibly both. Many scenes tread pretty close to the edge, but the show never feels distasteful in a malicious sense, taking care not to glorify the actions of its reprehensible characters.
Speaking of which, this stellar cast deserves credit for ensuring each shocking moment lands exactly right. Almost every member brings something unique to their performance, which often makes for mesmerising viewing.
Antony Starr is surely a standout as Homelander, a disturbing Superman allegory whose contempt for human life is matched only by his unnerving lust for breast milk. The Boys isn't an outright horror show, but this performance is unquestionably terrifying. Jessie Usher's speedster A-Train is similarly intimidating, but with an intriguing human element that makes him far more than just Homelander Lite.
Chace Crawford brings the comic relief as aquatic superhero The Deep, who makes a misguided pitch for redemption that goes about as well as you would expect. Some of the finest moments in these opening episodes are courtesy of his madcap schemes, which are a farcical joy to watch unfold.
Jack Quaid and Erin Moriarty are the heart of the show as Hughie Campbell and Annie January (aka Starlight), two characters yet to have their moral compasses bashed entirely out of alignment. That said, both have been forced to evolve in order to survive their toxic surroundings, pushing them in interesting new directions.
But of course, the star of the show is undoubtedly Karl Urban as Billy Butcher, who returns with another outrageously over-the-top performance. While his cockney accent is questionable at best, the confident swagger is so powerful that you hardly notice and the character's sheer unpredictability is a delight.
Efforts are made to expand upon Karen Fukuhara's Kimiko to some success, but the character is yet to make her mark in quite the same way as many others. The same could be said for Laz Alonso and Tomer Capon, who reprise their roles as Mother's Milk and Frenchie, both of whom lack the standout moments frequently gifted to their peers.
Whenever a cold, menacing villain is required, Hollywood calls Giancarlo Esposito and it's not hard to see why. He has a proven track record in this kind of role, but while he gives a strong performance as calculating CEO Stan Edgar, it veers a bit too close to Gus Fring in Breaking Bad and Moff Gideon in The Mandalorian. In a show that has so many novel elements, Esposito is a rare instance where The Boys plays disappointingly safe.
These minor drawbacks aside, The Boys season two is off to a brilliant start on Amazon Prime Video. The series still packs a mighty wallop, but never loses sight of its sharp social commentary in the mess of blood and guts.
The Boys season 2 lands on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 4th September. If you're looking for something else to watch, check out our TV Guide.