DC has had a mixture of success and failure when bringing their comic book properties to television. Arguably, Smallville has been their most successful foray into a weekly superhero series, but last night’s premiere of Arrow from Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg shows promise. In a updating of their emerald archer that pulls more from Christopher Nolan than any of their previous TV shows, this Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) is more gritty and grounded than we’ve seen him before. In fact, Arrow is a mixture of keeping the hero grounded in reality as much as possible with the extravagant, unbelievable feats only a superhero show’s premise could get away with, and, surprisingly, it works.
The origin of billionaire playboy, Oliver Queen’s, arrow-slinging alter ego is at its core, the same. Stranded on an island for five years after his father’s yacht sinks Oliver has had to learn the hard how how to survive. The skills learned during this life-altering period is the training he’ll later utilize when fighting crime and corruption in Starling City. What’s interesting is how they’re choosing to present this origin story. We’re only given a glimpse of Ollie’s time on the island in an opening scene where he’s rescued, but in that short scene we’re teased about a major moment that must have gone down during his time there. Let’s just say it’s the first of many DC easter eggs littered throughout Arrow. But what it promises is as the show progresses we’ll be learning just as much about Ollie’s time on the island in the China Sea as we will about his first year as a masked crime fighter, and that interesting narrative choice could prove to be one of Arrow‘s strongest assets.
Once rescued and back home Ollie must begin reconnecting with his changed city and the friends and family of his pre-castaway life. He himself has changed, something we’re continually reminded of through the show’s unnecessary voice over narration, but he continues behaving like the rich party boy in order to keep his new lifestyle choice under wraps. He is basically a young Bruce Wayne at this point, and I doubt it’ll be the last comparison between Ollie and his Gotham neighbor.
Though unlike Batman, we’re introduced to Arrow’s slightly shadier moral code right from the get go. In a scene I’m sure won’t sit well with more than a few fans, Ollie kills a man, quickly by snapping his neck, in order to keep his secret identity a secret. Sure the thug had just killed an innocent bystander, but the distinct cracking of the man’s neck in Ollie’s grasp is a little startling.
The action scenes are handled quite well and a real pleasure to watch. I’m looking forward to seeing Ollie stick quite a few people with his arrows, so much so I can look past his superhuman aim. Five years stranded on an island, sure you learned your way with a bow. And his skill in parkour? I’ll believe it was learned in a jungle. These are the kinds of things you overlook and remind yourself your watching a comic book property brought to life, you’re expected to suspend your disbelief.
Their choice of casting Amell was a solid one. He’s clearly physically fit and well trained for the role, something shown off in a scene featuring his prowess at free-running and a later training montage in the “arrow cave” that features his other physical assets. Let’s just say men and women alike will be drooling over this dude’s abs. Amell is capable of playing both the careless billionaire and determined vigilante, and his performance is good but not extraordinary. Then again, like most of what Arrow offers in its pilot, there’s potential.
Continuing their curious but effective blend of new elements and throwbacks to the comics, the supporting cast is at once familiar and unknown. In some instances this works great, offering just enough for fans to recognize what’s happening and other times blinding us with its obviousness. Ollie’s sister, Thea (Willa Holland), for instance is nicknamed “Speedy” by her older brother and is shown having dalliance with drugs. Then there’s his best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), who might has be called Tommy Bad Guy because any comic book fan knows where that relationship is going. And speaking of relationships, Ollie’s longtime, on-again, off-again flame, Dinah “Laurel” Lance (Katie Cassidy) is here, now a lawyer, and they cleverly manage to evoke their troubled, turbulent past by including the storyline of Ollie cheating on Laurel with her sister, Sarah. Add in the extra grief of Sarah having been with Ollie on the yacht when it sank, and she not surviving, and we’ve got plenty of believable anger, regret, and tension between the two former lovers.
Rounding out the cast is Paul Blackthorne as Detective Quentin Lance, hot on the trail on Starling City’s green hooded vigilante, Susanna Thompson as Ollie’s mother, Moira, Colin Salmon as her new husband, and David Ramsey as John Diggle, Ollie’s new bodyguard. Of these auxiliary characters Diggle provides the show’s few moments of levity, mostly involving ways Ollie must escape his guard in order to proceed with being a crime fighter. The tone of Arrow is quite serious so it’s nice to have it broken up, if only momentarily, by these funnier moments.
There’s also a lot of plot thrown in for their first episode: the mystery of his father’s real business revealed to Ollie before his death, his mother and her new husbands actual motivations, how much happened to Ollie while on an island for five years, – somehow he managed to learn Russian while there – and how did all of this make Ollie decide his best course of action was to become a masked crusader for justice? Not that it really feels fair complaining his setup to superhero wasn’t given enough screen time. All I ever want from a superhero TV show is have the hero in costume kickin’ ass and you get that in spades with Arrow. Plus, I feel confidant that through their (hopefully) clever slow reveal of his past on the island we’ll see that needed development.
All in all Arrow is off to a pretty solid start. For a pilot it does exactly what you need it to, intrigue you enough to tune in next week. I’m not overwhelmed but what I saw, but I’m willing to give the show a few episodes to get its bearings and, hopefully, starting wowing me. The potential is there, along with a lot of borrowing from Batman Begins, but that’s all right. Probably a smart move to work with a blue print that’s already proven successful. But don’t take my word for it, the premiere episode has been made available online at the CW’s website. Give it a shot and let me know what you think!