Marvel has been doing knock-out work undermining the superhero genre with its increasingly dire films and TV shows. But back when the atrocious Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and the dreary Secret Invasion were just a twinkle in the Disney subsidiary’s corporate eye, Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys was the original comic-book parody. It was also one of the most disgustingly over-the-top series ever – as anyone who sat through the notorious “Termite” scene from the start of season three will recall only too well (warning: do not Google).
Much like the milieu it has mocked with such gusto, the franchise has now spawned a spin-off. The agreeably plot-heavy and action-filled Gen V is essentially The Boys: The High School Years. The setting is Godolkin University – a sort of Hogwarts for “supes”, as superheroes are known in The Boys universe.
Here, a diverse cast of teenagers learn to master their powers. They include Marie Monroe (an excellent Jaz Sinclair), “a blood blender” for whom Godolkin is a passport out of poverty.
Gen V also stars Patrick “son of Arnold” Schwarzenegger as Luke Riordan, aka Golden Boy, a jock who can turn his body into pure flame. In the Dumbledore role of kindly mentor meanwhile is Clancy Brown’s Professor Brink. Of course, this being The Boys, his bonhomie has a sinister edge.
The Boys, which has delayed its fourth season owing to the Hollywood writers’ strike, is savagely satirical. Its most famous character, Homelander, is essentially a gonzo cross between Superman, Donald Trump and Hitler. Gen V is nowhere near as ferocious. But there are still moments when it wants to make you squirm. They include an early sequence where Marie loses control of her powers and accidentally kills her parents by shooting deadly blood shards from her wrists. The camera hovers with relish over their corpses, sprayed in strawberry-bright blood. As it does, it’s worth pondering whether Gen V is parodying over-the-top violence or celebrating it.
With her powers having manifested, Marie is packed off to Godolkin. She crosses paths with shapeshifter Emma (Lizze Broadway), whose abilities are rooted in an eating disorder. Marie also encounters gender-morphing Jordan, who swaps from male to female according to mood – to the disapproval of their conservative father (Derek Luh and London Thor share the role).
Aside from The Boys itself, the big influence on Gen V is Netflix’s Wednesday, which brought the voguish genre of “Dark Academia” to streaming. As with Wednesday, Gen V orbits a fascinating campus mystery. It’s a tangled tale involving a secret side to the college and its enigmatic superintendent, Indira Shetty (Bridgerton’s Shelley Conn).
The tone is brisk and breezy even as the script explores hot-button topics such as cyberbullying and transphobia. It’s far more accomplished than Marvel’s recent output. But there is the caveat that sensitive viewers will want to keep a cushion to hand. There are times when Gen V is shockingly smart – and plenty of others when it is simply shocking.
Gen V is on Amazon Prime Video from Friday