It was only a matter of time before DC’s beloved Batman-meets-Robin-Hood franchise made its way to the long list of contemporary film remakes; comic book movies and television are all the rage, after all, and with a presidential campaign and the effects of a recession on our heels, we can all use some good old-fashioned tales of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.
The CW’s Arrow premiered on Wednesday, October 10th at 8/7c. to much surprisingly-not-awful-style fanfare (Esther Inglis-Arkell at iO9 even said that the pilot, “all mostly worked,” and if that’s not a compliment for a CW series, I don’t know what is). Though much of this praise can certainly be chalked up to Oliver Queen’s badassery and thoroughly scarred-pecs, let’s not forget that part of our joy stems from the original Green Arrow’s themes of vigilante justice and ambiguous morality. Watching Ollie (Stephen Amell) thwart the status quo just feels… right.
The opening reel of the first episode reveals a cloaked Oliver Queen on an untamed, rocky island, receiving tea and rescue from the crew of a Chinese vessel. The audience is unfortunately led, at this point, to believe that Queen will maintain a mad, bedraggled hippie beard throughout the series (it’s not quite the Van Dyke facial hair of the comics, but at least it reveals our protagonist for the pinko commie he is). Upon arrival in his hometown of Starling City, however, he shaves and fails to don a cheerful persona as he is reunited with his old life.
Queen, a news-broadcast reveals, is the playboy son of a billionaire, and was thought to have died in a boat wreck five years previous. Though he survived, the boat’s other passengers—including his father, and sexy lady friend, Sarah—are lost to the sea. Arrow employs a series of flashbacks and dramatic voice-overs throughout the episode to portray bits of Queen’s thoughts and past experiences on the island; cheerful best friend figure Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) even references LOST to draw a sense of Queen’s confusing back story. “They were all dead,” he says, “… I think.”
And so Queen struggles to adjust. He attempts to re-connect with his sister, “Speedy” (Willa Holland), who earns her nickname in true form, snorting, it seems, anything she can get her hands on. He insults his new stepfather at the dinner table. He stares into the mirror and thinks that “the face I see… is a stranger,” despite the camera panning from his fantastic shoulders to defined stomach and no where near his baby blues. Finally, he drags Tommy to see his old flame, Dinah “Laurel” Lance (Katie Cassidy), who now despises him because he magicked her sister Sarah away for an illicit affair on a yacht and in the process managed to get her killed. Laurel is now a lawyer attempting to take down the evildoers of the city, of which Queen condescendingly warns her against. Because he totally has room to judge.
The next four episodes of Arrow have followed the same vein of awkward family interactions and love-that-will-never-be, with added action sequences featuring Queen’s voice booming above the rabble, “You have failed this city!” Queen remains stoic and fit, and has managed to almost reveal himself as the “cloaked vigilante” in every episode so far. In the most recent addition to the series, he purposefully “outs” himself and, while under house arrest, sends his newly obtained sidekick Diggle (David Ramsey) in his stead so that he might permanently clear his name. I—and, I imagine, any of Queen’s family and friends with two brain cells to rub together—are not sold. Queen returned from his mysterious torture island at least a thousand times shadier than he seems to believe himself to be.
The series thus far has been faster paced than all of Smallville smushed together. Queen’s aborted (and numerous) attempts at reconciliation with Laurel, Laurel’s on-again-off-again affair with Tommy, and the reveal of Queen’s mother’s involvement in Starling’s crime-ridden underbelly, all should have been drawn out. Though Arrow gets props for its attempt to start with a bang, it needs to give its viewers something to earn and work toward—we’re big kids, and we can handle the suspense. Similarly, Queen needs to stop being so terrible at concealing his identity. His constant thwarting of his body guards, obvious lies to Detective Lance, and less-than-subtle threat, “If I were you, Tommy, I’d just be happy I’m alive,” when confronted with his friend’s suspicions, are almost painful to watch. His constant stink-eye doesn’t help the matter either.
Despite its faults, Arrow succeeds where many comic adaptations fall short—it stays true in many ways to the comic, but also manages to stay relevant. For every time the first few episodes reference Deathstroke, Speedy’s drug habit, old villains, and the Arrow’s original costume (though the domino mask is inexplicably painted on this time around), it also pays homage to current events and culture. Whether or not the creators intentionally cast light on today’s economics is irrelevant—the Green Arrow has long been a character on the political fringe, and when Tommy says, “Your dad sold his factory just in time. Why’d you want to drive through this neighbourhood anyway?” we can’t help but think of Oliver as a defender of the “99%.”
Arrow compares and conflates the failures of the private and public sectors at every turn. Though the police (public) are misguided and bumbling, so too are the bodyguards (private). Where then, can the people turn for aid and protection? Laurel says towards the end of the pilot that “You don’t need to go outside the law to find justice,” and yet Queen—not Laurel and her cohort of lawyers—is successful in defeating Hunt. The Green Arrow and a more community-based justice are on their way to replacing what the second episode deems the “three types of people in this city—civilians, criminals, and cops.” Queen, his family, and essentially the entire cast of characters are, of course, all within the upper echelons of society, and so I am interested to see where the series will succeed in actually representing the plight of those that the Green Arrow is meant to be “saving.” Like Speedy tells her brother when he criticizes her choices, “You can’t come back here and judge me. Especially for being just like you.” Queen’s bodyguard-turned-sidekick, Diggle, may save the series in this regard, if the writers are willing to work around his current one-dimensional mentor status.
I’m looking forward to the answers to my questions, and am for once giving the CW the benefit of the doubt in actually addressing them: How did Queen retrieve the names in his father’s notebook? Is Queen’s mother’s name mentioned in his notebook? Where did he commission those fancy bow and arrows without drawing suspicion? Did he eat his father on the lifeboat? And who the hell is John Barrowman supposed to be? Has Captain Jack joined the dark side?
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Emily Nordling eats political commentary like air.