Friday, February 28, 2014

Arrow: Sharp and on point

Apparently I've not written about Arrow on here yet. Which I find amazing because it's probably the best moving picture* content DC is putting out right now. Over the last two years Arrow has become one of the my favourite programmes currently running. So I'm gonna spew random thoughts on the series to date, so I can look more closely in the future.

Ever since Kevin Smith rebooted him, and more explicitly Brad Meltzer did a run straight after, Green Arrow has been a one of the DC heroes I really enjoy. I've always liked the characters that have no powers, but hang with the big names. Batman sort of exemplifies that, but he's The God Damn Batman. He almost doesn't count. But Oliver Queen most certainly does**. Partly because of his social politics, and that they moved him so far away from just a Batman clone who uses a bow and arrow. So it's a little odd then that I love a show that puts him right back under the shadow of the Bat.

There's no denying that Arrow owes a lot to the Nolan incarnation of Batman. Dark shadowy hero, consumed by his mission using his money to give him every advantage. It was a long jump for the jokey, showy, and skint version that had introduced me to the character. But the fact they take so much from the Andy Diggle and Jock's Year One comic was more than enough for me to give it the benefit of the doubt and keep watching.

It was also pretty stealthy about getting the audience to accept superpowers. Season 1 kept things pretty street level right up to the point when Malcolm Merlyn unveiled his earthquake machine, something that sounds like it's straight out of Roger Moore-era James Bond. Or a comic book. Yet season 2 comes along and Arrow is slowly getting people used to the idea of super powers in the world. First Solomon Grundy turns up, though they hide his name pretty well, he is most definitely running around with super strength thanks to a serum. Then we get the reveal that Slade Wilson back on the island also got injected with the same serum, quickly followed by Roy Harper getting a dose. It's a slow process, and it feels a little strange to start with, but the producers are pacing it well, and if things really start ramping up it's going to feel a lot more natural then if Superman flew in to help with the earthquake at the end of Season 1.

But the slow reveal of powers is nothing. More then superpowers is its inclusion of many DC characters. We got a pretty perfect representation of Huntress in season 1. Deadshot went from a one-off villain who was probably dead on his first appearance, to a reoccurring thorn who has major connections to Ollie's partner Diggle. And now both of them are becoming part of the Suicide Squad alongside Michael Jai White's Bronze Tiger and Sean Maher's Sharpnel (Okay, that last one isn't a big comic name, but FIREFLY ALUMNI!). And that's just scratching the surface, and missing one rather important one I'll get to later.

First we have to discuss the person who is perhaps my favourite character in the whole show. Who wasn't even meant to be in it for more than an episode. I am, of course, talking about Felicity Smoak. Emily Bett Rickards was hired to do a cameo as a cute tech genius who was only really there to move the plot along. She did well, the producers called her back, repeat a couple of times and she's suddenly a major character who's integration into the show feels incredibly authentic. Now she's an integral part of Team Arrow, and you can't imagine how Ollie's mission would work without her.

Compare this to the lady who was meant to be the main female of the show and you can't help feel sorry for Katie Cassidy. I'm not ashamed to say she was another mark in the show's favour when I was deciding whether I should watch it or not. She was pretty damn good in Supernatural, and incredibly nice to look at. Yet Laurel Lance never really appeals to the viewer. In the first season there's the whole yo-yoing between Ollie and his best friend Tommy that make her look terrible. Then in the second season she hates Arrow, turns Ollie away, becomes first a drunk then a junkie, and goes mental at her sister for coming back from the dead. There was a moment where she was the only person who suspected Brother Blood, and her investigation actually made it feel like Laurel added something to the show, but that quickly disappeared when everyone convinced it was the drugs and she backed right down. It's no wonder Ollie gave up on her and went off with the sister.

Oh yes, Laurel's sister, Sara. A major surprise for me was that the throwaway character from the first season, who's sole purpose seemed to be to provide a wedge between Ollie and Laurel, suddenly comes back from the dead, and not only that but she's the Black Canary, a role most viewers expected Laurel would take up somewhere down the road, since it's hers in the comics. Mix in training by Ra's al Ghul's League of Assassins and we have yet another character overshadowing Katie Cassidy's.

Arrow was set up with a five year plan. Two years in and I'm pretty sure we're going to see the whole thing. It's brilliant, and thankfully the ratings reflect that. And I can't wait. There's a lot of talk in the fan community that maybe Arrow is part of DC's cinematic universe, just like Agents of SHIELD is part of Marvel's. It makes perfect sense, and would really help lay ground work for their inevitable Justice League movie. Seeing Stephen Amell stand alongside Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck would really sell the concept of an all-star team after the success of the show. The less ridiculous cramming of cameos into Zack Synder's Superman/Batman the better too.

And not just Arrow, as we're getting a Flash spin-off too. We were first introduced to Barry Allen early in Season 2 of Arrow, as a kid looking to prove that super powers are possible (it's never said that blatantly, but that's his goal), and after a two part introduction, including an incredibly sweet romance with Felicity, he has the faithful accident that gives our CSI his superspeed. The original plan was to film a third episode debuting Barry's new found swiftness (much to Felicity's dismay I'd wager) in the back half of the season that would act as a backdoor pilot for The Flash. But that wasn't even needed. So impressed with Grant Gustin's performance as Barry, they have already commissioned the pilot so they don't have to shoe-horn in the Arrow characters. Hopefully we get a second DC series just as good as the first. And you know a crossover won't be far away.

*Yes I am using this incredibly outdated term because Arrow really might be the best out of all the TV, animation and film projects they have going on. And 'moving picture' was about the only one that encompassed all three..

** Okay, I'm a self confessed Nightwing fanboy, and Dick Grayson does also perfectly capture that. But that's muddying the issue. Shut up.

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