The Boys season 4 plays heavy on cameos, and I'm worried it's becoming what it set out to mock

Homelander and Ryan in The Boys season 4
(Image credit: Prime Video)

Four episodes in and The Boys season 4 is tackling a whole bunch of lofty, real life-inspired themes, from pro-lifer podcasters and online smear campaigns to corrupt politicians and rigged elections. Its storylines are proving so controversial, in fact, that the new installment is sparking serious backlash, with some viewers slamming it as "woke" and review-bombing it on Rotten Tomatoes. 

But as many others have been pointing out on social media, The Boys, which is inspired by Darick Robertson and Garth Ennis's violent, lewd graphic novels of the same name, has always been sardonic – it was just frying much smaller fish when it debuted in 2019.

At its core back then, in the year Avengers: Endgame was released, it was a pretty unsubtle skewering of society's obsession with superheroes, and how corporations – through Vought International – exploit our sometimes infantile love of all things caped and comic book. Nowadays, The Boys' biggest flaw is hardly that it's gunning for bigots, narcissists, and right-wing zealots, it's that it's become what it first set out to mock in doing so – and subsequently lost its edge. 

Crazy for crossovers

The Godolkin Four's cameo in The Boys season 4

(Image credit: Prime Video)

Talk about having your cake and eating it, too. Despite creator Eric Kripke previously assuring fans that you needn't watch Gen V ahead of The Boys season 4, four characters from the spin-off make brief cameos in episode 4, in a news report that speculates on the whereabouts of Marie (Jaz Sinclair), Andre (Chance Perdomo), Emma (Lizze Broadway), and Jordan (London Thor/Derek Luh), AKA the missing "Godolkin Four". 

Elsewhere, truth-sniffer-outer Tek Knight (Derek Wilson), who got a fleshed out role in Gen V having been name-dropped in The Boys' previous seasons, also featured in a TV ad. In short, the worlds are seriously crossing over. Now, I'm not really a fan of Easter eggs at the best of times, but you can imagine how far my eyes rolled back when I realized the comedy thriller is now doing things that wouldn't look out of place in the MCU.

"We all kind of quickly realized what a perfect metaphor it is for the exact moment we happen to be living in," showrunner Eric Kripke told The Ringer back in 2020. "The blend of authoritarianism and celebrity and how it's all packaged in social media, The Boys is about all of these things." It's kind of a vague quote, sure, but given how prevalent superhero movies were at that time and how overexposed their stars were, it's not hard to see the link. But parody walks a thin, ol' line, and it's a line The Boys seems not to be concerned with anymore.

I shouldn't be surprised, really, considering Antony Starr's Homelander made an appearance in Gen V's season 1 finale and, in an even more Marvel-esque move, Karl Urban's Billy Butcher rocked up in its mid-credits scene. Yes, I watched and loved (most of) Gen V, that's not really the issue here – again, it just feels like The Boys is selling out a bit by adopting superhero movie clichés and stepping into that space, in a time when they're supposedly struggling, too…

Earlier this year, Disney boss Bob Iger announced that the studio was looking to cut down its Marvel output significantly, vowing to release no more than three films a year. In 2024, it's only bringing out Deadpool & Wolverine, with that movie's director, Shawn Levy, openly discussing superhero fatigue and how he hopes the threequel will help combat it in interviews. Since Endgame racked up $2.79 billion, MCU titles have struggled to even come close to the gargantuan figure. Spider-Man: No Way Home earned $1.9 billion, but its follow-ups have been less than impressive. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder pulled in $955 million and $760.9 million, respectively. Ant-Man: Quantumania pocketed $476 million and The Marvels earned just $206 million. The latter of which had the complicated task of following on from feature-length flick Captain Marvel, and TV shows Ms. Marvel and WandaVision, failing to break even on its sizable budget.

Disney Plus subscribers have voiced how hard it is to keep up with the small screen titles, and how pressured they feel to do so in case it gets referenced later down the line. (For instance, Deadpool & Wolverine is heavily tied to Loki, despite it marking the Merc with a Mouth's third standalone movie and his very first MCU outing). With the MCU faltering, did The Boys spot a gap in the market and find it impossible not to creep its way into it, like Homelander's tongue with a bottle of breast milk? Might it wind up going down the same route?

Back to not-so-basics

The Boys season 4

(Image credit: Prime Video)

You could argue that The Boys was always going to have to grow into something else. It couldn't run for five seasons and stick solely to the "what if heroes were... the bad guys?" thing. It's still fun to watch, and its unpacking of Homelander's unchecked ambition, white male privilege, and faux patriotism is delightfully dark. But its criticisms are just so broad now that it's hard to know what point it's actually trying to make a lot of the time. Perhaps it's naive of me to think so, but I'd like to believe that most level-headed people tuning in aren't down with incels, racists, sycophants, etc… Is it really that biting to continually give these types of people space? A voice? Even if they are fictional? Where's the characterization beyond that? At least when The Boys was riffing on the MCU, it felt like it could laugh at itself. Its objective – and target – was clear. It was essentially taking the piss out of those of us watching, and we were tickled by the fact that we had all kind of fallen for its superhero packaging, too.

Perhaps it would have more impact if the series committed to the bit more than just, "Let's put these losers on a platform to point and laugh at them"? The only time the show has ever really condemned one of its villainous characters – or seen them get some serious comeuppance, anyway – was with white supe-remacist Stormfront, who was horrifically wounded by Homelander's son Ryan in season 2, before suffocating herself by swallowing her tongue in season 3. Other baddies have died, of course, but their grisly deaths are usually played for quick laughs, which undercuts the commentary. Remember when Translucent exploded after Frenchie stuck a bomb up his bum, and Hughie detonated it? If they haven’t met their maker, though, they either just “leave”, like Soldier Boy or end up like Chace Crawford's The Deep, who is now sympathetically presented as a misunderstood himbo, despite sexual assaulting Starlight (Erin Moriarty) in season 1.

Kripke has made no secret of the fact that he sees the series as The Boys vs. Homelander, and with season 5 set to be its last, we can't see the blonde-tipped psychopath making it out alive. But for its satire to really fly in the meantime, it's going to have to figure out what it's really saying about our culture right now, get specific, and return to its more character-driven roots. Or it could just, I don’t know, start firing laser-eyed shots at the MCU again…

The Boys season 4 is streaming now on Prime Video, with new episodes releasing every Thursday. For more, check out our latest coverage on the show:

Amy West

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things TV and film across our Total Film and SFX sections. Elsewhere, my words have been published by the likes of Digital Spy, SciFiNow, PinkNews, FANDOM, Radio Times, and Total Film magazine.