The Boys Season 3 Review: The Subversive Superhero Satire Soars To New Heights

Superheroes have been a part of popular culture since their inception in the 1930s but are now at a point where they are nearly an all-consuming part of the media. Superheroes are a kind of modern American mythology, replacing the pantheons of old with a more modern update; some are even just versions of the gods of old themselves, like Marvel's Thor. With that kind of mythologizing, there are going to be subversions, storytellers who take the tropes and turn them on their heads in order to expose truths about both the stories themselves and our own experiences. 

Just as there are a million major superhero properties, there are numerous spoofs and riffs, including "The Umbrella Academy," "Invincible," and of course, "The Boys." The razor-sharp and intentionally over-the-top series isn't afraid to say what's on its mind, and for two seasons has followed the misadventures of Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) and the Boys, his ragtag crew of superhero-fighting vigilantes. If Alan Moore was trying to ask us "who watches the Watchmen," comic creators Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson answered with "The Boys," taking Moore's anti-superhero screed a step further. That attitude transcends to the series, which takes a no-holds-barred approach to its satire, skewering everything and everyone from Zack Snyder to Fox News.

The cast and creators of "The Boys" have promised that this season is the wildest yet, taking the already extreme series to new highs. It's graphic in every way, staying true to the themes and ideas presented in the comics while updating them for 2022. This season introduces a number of new characters that force the ones we already know and love (and hate) into unusual positions, and the stakes are higher than they've ever been. Homelander (Antony Starr) has gone off the rails. Vought is as powerful and corrupt as ever. Now, the original Vought superhero, Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) is back from his supposed grave. The first three episodes premiere on Prime Video on June 3, 2022, and I'm glad to say "The Boys" are back and better than ever.

Pitch-perfect satire

It's been almost two years since season 2 ended, but the folks behind "The Boys" made sure that they kept fans interested and updated with the marketing, dropping the faux-Fox News "Seven on 7" videos once a month and introducing many of this season's characters and storylines in advance. Butcher made a promise to his dying wife Becca (Shantel VanSanten) at the end of season 2, telling her that he would protect her son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), even though the boy's father is none other than Butcher's mortal enemy, Homelander. The season sees Butcher and his boys struggling to take down corrupt superheroes like Homelander the "right" way, working directly with Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), the director of the Federal Bureau of Superhuman Affairs. Hughie (Jack Quaid) has even taken a job at the FBSA, though Butcher feels like they're sleeping with the enemy by occasionally cooperating with Vought. Meanwhile, Hughie and his girlfriend Starlight (Erin Moriarty) are trying to figure out how to keep Starlight safe when the rest of the Seven, except for Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott), who wants Homelander dead no matter what. 

While following the many characters of "The Boys," the series takes every chance it gets to skewer pop culture. No one is safe and the satire is as funny as it is mean. A-Train's (Jessie Usher) Pepsi commercial spoof from the trailers is just one of the many riffs on our world that feels almost too real. We get to see Voughtland, this world's Disney World, and the new "Brave Maeve" section of the park is just in time for our yearly Pride Month rainbow explosion from corporations, highlighting exactly how capitalism capitalizes on social justice movements. More than anything, "The Boys" points out the flaws in how media and making money have become so entwined that everything is propaganda, and the supes are nothing more than props to make the CEOs filthy rich. Some of the promotional material for season 3 included fake movie trailers and commercials, and new ones are peppered throughout the season to remind us of exactly what kind of world "The Boys" takes place in. It's our own world with superheroes added in, not an idealized version or a darkly fantastical one, and that's what makes its commentary all the sharper. 

"The Boys" has always been a series squarely for adults, and that's especially true of this season. While the series has never shied away from violence, sex, nudity, or intense themes, this season blows the first two out of the water with regard to its intense adult content. This is the season that gives us the infamously NSFW "Herogasm," and it's everything you could hope it would be and more. Few things have ever made me gasp in shock quite like this season of television, but every shock served some kind of purpose. "The Boys" season 3 doesn't waste a single second of its screen time, and every tiny scene has a distinct reason for being there, which makes it one helluva ride. For a show that can be incredibly juvenile in its humor, it's surprisingly mature in how it treats more volatile subject matter. 

A beating heart beneath the blood

The thing that makes season 3 of "The Boys" truly sing is that beneath all of the blood and guts and bitter satire, there is a warm, beating heart. Both the writers and cast have made the characters in "The Boys" into complex, fully-formed people whose journeys audiences want to follow. Every single character is given pathos and agency, and like real people, they can be full of surprises. Homelander has moments where you can almost sympathize with him. Butcher has moments where you think he's just as bad as Homelander. Maeve started the series as something of a victim and villain and has since become so much more. Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) worked past her inability to speak to create a beautiful relationship with Frenchie (Tomer Kapon), who must battle his addictions in order to stay alive and stop Vought for her sake. You could watch the season multiple times, focusing only on one character's arc, and you'd probably find something new each time. The season is dense and rich, but it's also mostly a joy to watch. I was nervous about how satire this pointed might feel with the state of the world, but the warmth hidden beneath all of the scathing commentary made it easy and fun. 

While "The Boys" uses its superhero allegories to challenge ideas about our own world, it's also a story about how people survive in the face of unbeatable odds. Every single character on "The Boys" is traumatized in some way, and the show doesn't hold back in showing the effects of that trauma. This season digs much deeper into the past of both Vought and its characters, providing insight into how both the world and they became so screwed up. It's all presented beautifully, too, with lots of fun experimental decisions that keep the show fresh. (Partially animated and musical sequences? Yes, please!) The show also looks better than it ever has, with great cinematography, editing, and special effects. Some of the gore effects are enough to make the most hardened fan gag, which is exactly how "The Boys" should be. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of the performances because they are the glue that binds the series together. Starr's Homelander continues to be one of the most terrifying and complex villains in television, while Fukuhara's Kimiko finally gets a chance to really shine, and newcomer Ackles is killing it, bringing every ounce of meanness this show needs. If you haven't ever watched "The Boys" before, now's the time to start because the series has only gotten better with each season. The less you know before going in the better, because this show brings the surprises and they're best experienced unspoiled. As someone who's pretty burned out on superhero stories in general, I thank my lucky stars for "The Boys." 

/Film Rating: 9.5 out of 10