"Arrow" Builds a World of Possibilities for DC on TV Review

I have to hand it to DC, they learned their lesson, multiple lessons really, from Smallville and have gone on to improve their formula with the Green Arrow-centric show Arrow. Instead of having the character languishing in a small-town setting where adventures become hard to explain after a full season or relying so heavily on a “villain of the week” formula that the show becomes painfully predictable, Arrow moves at a breakneck pace right out of the gate and never looks back and doesn’t worry about establishing an episodic rhythm. Instead, Arrow sets up and knocks out villains from the Green Arrow’s gallery of mostly obscure rogues, sometimes doing (seemingly) irreversible damage and making their return impossible. Arrow is the DC live-action series for everyone who found Smallville too corny and dull, and it benefits from a relatively strong cast, long-term storytelling, and well staged action that help us look past the film’s occasional dive into melodrama.

A boat trip ends in disaster, leaving Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) marooned on an island, his girlfriend’s sister dead at the bottom of the sea, and his father (Jamey Sheridan) giving him a mandate to right the wrongs he committed in their hometown of Star City. Five years later, the Oliver is rescued from the island and he returns home a changed man, having lived through an experience none of his family or friends could comprehend. Only through flashbacks do we begin to learn of the shady conflict Oliver stumbled upon while living on the island, and how in order to survive he would have to transform into a killing machine with incredible accuracy using a bow and arrow.

In the present, back in Star City, Oliver remembers the commandment his father passed onto him just before he died, and he takes it upon himself to use his new skills to become a hooded vigilante that roots out the crime and corruption rotting Star City from the inside out. His commitment, however, comes with a price, and his relationships with those closest to him—his sister (Willa Holland), mother (Susanna Thompson), best friend (Colin Donnell), and ex-girlfriend (Katie Cassidy)—suffer in the process. His only allies are his bodyguard (David Ramsey) and the hacker chick (Emily Bett Rickards) who join him in his crusade against mobsters, white collar criminals, and whatever other dregs rise to face him.

Arrow does some commendable world building in its first 10 episodes, establishing plausible explanations for how Oliver puts his ‘Hood’ persona together, how he removes himself from suspicion of being the ‘Hood’, and how he balances (or fails to balance) his vigilantism with his other obligations. For a while, the series feels fairly [read: very] reminiscent of Batman Begins thanks to Oliver having a number of “my experiences on the Island, when you all thought I was dead, changed me” moments and conversations with everyone, but it works for the setup of the series and it allows for it to pick up pace very quickly. From there, references to famous places and characters from the DC universe come charging into the story, and without a week between each episode, the episodes genuinely sprint by without ever taking a breath.

Some of the familiar faces offer instant gratification (like a Deadshot encounter or the introduction of Huntress), while others like the appearance of Slade Wilson (aka Deathstroke) set up promissory twists destined to come in later seasons. It doesn’t hurt that some of the casting choices are quite inspired, like John Barrowman as Merlyn and Kelly Hu as China White, and thanks to all sorts of hints being dropped about a world outside of Star City (like Bloodhaven) and the growing character of Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), it seems like an absolute certainty that a whole of famous DC characters will be dropping in for future seasons. As was said before, Arrow does a lot of world building, and it does it with noticeable ambition.

If Arrow has one failing worth mentioning above all else, it’s that the dialogue and action in the show start off with intermittent rough patches of melodrama, but gradually the show finds the right style for its dialogue and we get far fewer cringe-worthy moments in the second half of the season. That’s helped immensely by the choice to phase in Emily Bett Rickards’s hacker character Felicity as a full-time member of Team Arrow (no one in the show actually calls it that, nor should they ever). Her banter with Amell and Ramsey provides many of the show’s brightest non-action moments, and her arc is far better than other female lead Katie Cassidy’s due to her getting bogged down in a love triangle that feels tired about 5 episodes in.

Overall, Arrow has so much promise, and it comes from the combination of the cast, some movie-quality cinematography here and there, the lightning fast pacing that prevents the show from stagnating, and its use of flashbacks to tell us two stories at once (Oliver at home and on the island). With all of the seeds that have been planted and the questions left unanswered by what we see in its freshman season, Arrow has so much promise that it’s hard not to think this might be the best live-action presentation of a DC character that wasn’t produced by Christopher Nolan. It leaves Smallville and Man of Steel in its dust and it only looks like it’s going to get better. If it does, I wouldn’t have any objection to Amell being called up to the big show for the Justice League movie in 2015.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The massive combo pack includes the season on both Blu-ray and DVD (for a total of 9 discs in a single case) as well as an Ultraviolet digital copy. Two production featurettes cover the series’ adaptation of Green Arrow for television and the stuntwork involved in the process, and a clip from Arrow’s panel at the 2013 Paleyfest are the longest extras in the set. Deleted scenes and a gag reel round out the set.

"Arrow: The Complete First Season" is on sale September 17, 2013 and is not rated. Action. Directed by Guy Norman Bee, John Behring, Nick Copus, Eagle Egilsson. Written by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg. Starring John Barrowman, Katie Cassidy, Willa Holland, Stephen Amell, David Ramsey, Colin Donnell, Emily Bett Rickards.

Sep
17
2013
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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