The Boys are back and season 2 has something its debut was lacking: expectation. Amazon Prime Video’s breakout superhero series bound on to the scene last year with a high-energy, hard-hitting take on what was fast becoming a genre best characterised by box-checking tropes over beating up baddies.
The Boys season 2 premiere, the first of three episodes to go live at launch, deals with that expectation pretty well – but stumbles rather than soars out of the blocks thanks to the lack of one major player: Billy Butcher.
Things start immediately where they left off: The Boys are public enemy number one after their attack on Vought; The Deep is still stagnating on shore leave in Sandusky, Ohio; Butcher is MIA after his surprise showdown with Homelander and his missing wife, Becca.
The premiere, perhaps frustratingly for some, doesn’t change much in that regard. While forward momentum is lacking, apart from the brief introduction of new Supe Stormfront (Aya Cash), it allows the cast and creative team to kick back and have more fun in the world they’ve so lovingly crafted.
Case in point: the opening 10 minutes are among the funniest you’ll see all year. Translucent’s funeral is, unexpectedly, a relentless joke machine: there’s Homelander’s terrible speech, Translucent lying in a see-through coffin, and Starlight’s Candle in the Wind-style “You’ll Never Truly Vanish.” Each one lands, showcasing an implicit understanding of both these larger-than-life characters and why we love (and loves to hate) them. The fact that the series is confident enough to transform into a full-on comedy almost immediately speaks volumes of just how free and loose the series can be this time around.
After that set-up, the premiere flits between Hughie’s clandestine meeting with Starlight and her attempts to get hold of Compound V. While it’s unlikely the decision to release three episodes at once – and then one episode a week – instead of all eight at once was made well into the scripting process, it’s here where the more relaxed pace – fine for a weekend binge of the entire season – works against the show. It all feels more like place-setting and wheel-spinning (two musical montages punctuating the first 10 minutes was an odd stylistic choice regardless) for the bigger, more exciting set-pieces down the line.
Speaking of exciting, Homelander is back and Antony Starr is better than ever. Whereas The Boys and the other sub-plots feel more restrained and doled out in moderation in the show’s return hour, the leader of the Seven commands the screen in a series of over the top scenes that rank up there with the show’s very best. Blood, gross-out moments, and smatterings of smarm are, thankfully, found in abundance.
Starr stalks his way through Vought focus groups and well-intentioned choices to replace departed members of The Seven. Homelander reacts with bubbling fury and indignation and becomes increasingly agitated throughout the premiere, culminating in a face-off with the rarely seen CEO of Vought, Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito).
For how great Homelander’s reaction to Edgar’s yarn-spinning in the climactic scene is, it’s this meeting that cements The Boys premiere as an entertaining chapter that ultimately holds something back. It’s a wise move pacing-wise but, when coupled with the lack of The Boys’ other marquee name, everything in this opening feels either like a non-event in comparison to Homelander or patiently waiting for more moving parts to come into play.
“We don’t need Butcher,” Hughie laments halfway through the premiere about their absent ringleader. It’s hard not to read this as show creator and writer of this episode, Eric Kripke, speaking through Hughie, almost as a challenge to himself.
But the sheer force of nature that is Homelander and how enjoyable each of his scenes are only exacerbates the absence of Butcher. This very much feels like a good episode that could have been a great one with more of Karl Urban’s sorely missed magnetic presence to counter Starr’s turn.
The episode ends with everyone, mostly, back at square one: Butcher returns at the very end, Homelander pops in to see his kid, and Annie and Hughie remain in a state of reunion limbo. If you go into this expecting Vought’s world to be turned upside down, you might be slightly disappointed. Regardless, no matter how little was achieved in the first episode, it’s still a blast having The Boys back.