The superhero sub-genre is in shambles right now. Yes, it’s still making money because it has some momentum while going downhill. But the days when almost every other Marvel film made a billion dollars are gone. They do not get the critical acclaim that they used to get. The behind-the-scenes news has exposed the inhumane conditions in which the writers, directors, actors, VFX artists, and essentially everyone but the producers had to work. And while a multitude of factors were involved, the biggest one being the oversaturation caused by greed, I feel that The Boys performed a solid hit job on the insidious nature of superhero franchises by showing the connective tissue between nationalism, capitalism, fascism, and the malleability that comes with a lack of education. Is Gen V’s mix of commentary and gore as biting as The Boys? Well, let’s find out.
Craig Rosenberg, Evan Goldberg, and Eric Kripke’s Gen V, which is based on the comic books by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, follows Marie Moreau, who learned about her powers—which involved controlling blood regardless of who it belonged to—when she got her first period. She freaked out and killed her parents, leaving behind a sister, Annabeth, who obviously hates her. In order to prove that she isn’t a monster, Marie wants to enter the revered Godolkin University of Crime Fighting and learn how to be a superhero. Out of the hundreds of budding Supes on campus, the show focuses on Andre (who can bend metal), Emma (shrinking and embiggening powers), Cate (mind control via touch), Jordan (who can shift between genders, with each gender having a different set of powers), and Luke (fire). The school’s head is Indira Shetty, who runs Godolkin like a factory that shapes kids into becoming a potential member of The Seven. However, two public incidents put everyone’s futures in danger, thereby forcing Moreau and the rest of the group to take desperate steps to safeguard themselves from whatever is looming over their heads.
Disclaimer: This review of Gen V is based on the first six episodes that were given to the press.
Gen V does play out like a young-adult series where there are cliques, juvenile drama, jealousy, backbiting, cheating, the leaking of sensitive information to shame someone, influencer culture clashing with level-headed human beings, and more. The writers, Goldberg, Kripke, Rosenberg, Jessica Chou, Brant Englestein, Erica Rosbe, and Zak Schwartz, essentially make the show feel like a mashup of Student of the Year and X-Men (there is a Bryan Singer joke). The way the characters interact with each other, the tragic nature of the backstories, and how they delude themselves to reach their immediate goal—it’s all quite entertaining and relatable. The Boys are known for being quite unsubtle, and Gen V is pretty explicit about what they’re talking about. There’s almost no room for interpretation. So, if a character’s powers represent self-harm, bulimia, lechery, manipulation, schizophrenia, etc., it’s underscored by that character itself. But does the show do anything with the themes that it advertises very loudly? I don’t think so. The to-and-fro between the murder mystery and the personalized wars is jarring, and since it all happens in one location, the abrupt shifts become all the more evident.
The ranking system in The Boys, which showed the popularity and marketability of the Supe in question, was obviously a critique of how people shape their personalities according to what the target demographic likes or dislikes. I think applying that procedure of sparking competition amongst the students, along with the nature of the subjects that are taught to them, in Gen V is an exaggerated version of the theory that is often floated online: the youth doesn’t need to learn basic science, math, history, or art because it has no real-world application; instead, they should learn how to become popular and make money. And the writers go to some extremes to show why that way of thinking is absolutely wrong and that you’re better off being regular human beings with a functioning brain that helps you earn a sustainable income. That doesn’t mean you have to be, as the kids nowadays say, an NPC, but you also don’t need to be licking the boots of capitalists every day. Yes, the irony that this is a Prime Video show isn’t lost on me.
There’s one other thing that bugs me about Gen V. Before coming to it, let me just say that the show looks just like The Boys. It’s grungy, moody, dirty, smelly, and sickening. The attention-to-detail is totally insane. The work done by Clare Kilner, Rachel Goldberg, Nelson Cragg, Steve Boyum, Philip Sgriccia, and every single department under their jurisdiction, starting from the sound to the VFX and the costume, are all perfect. The tone and the pacing of each of the episodes are fine. It gets better with each episode. The editing is not up to par. You know how the editing for the action scenes in the first season of The Boys improved from the disorienting cuts to the slightly longer sequences in the third season? The action in this spin-off reverts things back to that season-one aesthetic. You can see that the actors, the stunt performers, the VFX artists, the SFX artists, and the sound designers have put in a lot of effort. However, it’s completely ruined by the shot choices and the editing. Coming back to that “other thing,” it feels weird for the series to introduce bisexual and bigender characters and then center all of its risque scenes around the heterosexual characters, too, in great detail. This non-commitment to its queerness was present in The Boys, and it looks like the showrunners aren’t in the mood to rectify this issue anytime soon. Yes, it is ironic that the villainous characters in the show measure a Supe’s marketability by how straight and White they are, and then the writers kind of echo that sentiment while treating its queer and BIPOC characters.
Although Gen V doesn’t have a lot of familiar faces like The Boys, or at least ones that I’m not very familiar with, the entire cast proves from the get-go that they can go toe-to-toe with the popular stars of the franchise. A lot of the show’s weight lies on Jaz Sinclair’s shoulders, and she carries it with such gusto. Marie is in a fish-out-of-the-water situation, but she doesn’t want to show that while also keeping up with the change in the proverbial water bodies. So, it’s a complicated performance, and Sinclair pulls it off. Chance Perdomo as the resident nepotism baby is fantastic. He brilliantly essays Andre’s sense of responsibility, his fake brotherhood, and the shock he’s facing as his bubble is bursting before his very eyes. Lizze Broadway is great as Emma, who wants to be likable while hating herself every time she has to use her superpowers. Maddie Phillips is the “it girl” in this horrifying scenario, and while she is amazing throughout the show, she knocks it out of the park in the episode that’s entirely focused on Cate. London Thor (the coolest name ever) and Derek Luh are excellent at portraying Jordan’s identity issues as well as her devil-may-care attitude. Patrick Schwarzenegger makes quite the impression. Clancy Brown proves yet again why he is one of the best. Shelley Conn, as the conniving and elegant Indira, is splendid. And the list can go on and on. Hence, I’ll just say that everyone in the show deserves a round of applause for their performance, and keep an eye out for the cameos, some of whom are Supernatural alums.
With all that said, I have to state the obvious now. The very existence of Gen V is sort of hypocritical. The Boys was supposed to satirize the superhero sub-genre and how franchises commodify the characters and the stars playing them while making them feel expendable. With Gen V, the showrunners have fallen into that trap, and the fault lines are already noticeable. The central plot and the subplots aren’t very compelling. You can sense the effort being put into creating an interconnected franchise. And then there’s the overall quality of the action, which is absolutely obnoxious. I am sure that, due to the branding of the show, it’s going to catch on, and people are going to watch it. However, if the showrunners and the producers are depending on brand recognizability instead of making something fresh and memorable that can stand out on its own merits, haven’t they become the thing that they sought to mock? Well, that’s just my opinion. Please watch Gen V on Prime Video, form your own opinion, and feel free to share your thoughts with us.