If they wanted to make a Batman series, they should have just made a Batman series.
Wednesday night, The CW debuted its newest live-action adaptation of a DC superhero property. Arrow, or “Smallville‘s Replacement”, as some have taken to calling it, introduced audiences to a new Oliver Queen (previously played by Justin Hartley on Smallville) as he sets out on his crusade to rid Star Starling City of its criminal element. Gone are the awkward teenage moments between Tom Welling and Kristin Kreuk as we see a much more adult-themed series begin to take shape. However, if you finish this pilot episode and experience an inescapable feeling of déjà vu, you’re not alone.
Arrow begins with our hero (Stephen Amell) having spent five years stranded on a island following a shipwreck that claimed the life of his father and his girlfriend’s sister. Following his rescue, Tony Stark Oliver Queen returns home to his life of privilege and luxury, which includes a very familiar castle/mansion that may or may not have previously housed a certain follically impaired villain. But it’s not a happy homecoming. His mother has married his father’s business partner, his teenage sister is secretly doing drugs, his ex-girlfriend blames him for the death of her sister, and his best friend is kind of a tool. All of this, coupled with his own (as of yet unexplained) experiences on the island, teaches Oliver there is no going back to his old life of drunken debauchery and casual sex.
Following his failed apology to former flame Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy sans fishnets), Oliver and friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) are immediately kidnapped by masked thugs. Demanding secret information that Robert Queen might have passed to his son, this unlucky trio falls victim to Oliver’s spectacular new hand-to-hand combat skills. This prompts an inquiry from Detective Quentin Lance (The Dresden Files’ Paul Blackthorne) to whom Oliver spins the tale of a hooded man who rescued him and Tommy. With an alter ego created, Oliver begins setting up an “Arrow Cave” in his father’s deserted factory, where he fashions batarangs arrows, trains with tennis balls, and provides fan service for female viewers. Cue Hans Zimmer’s score to Batman Begins.
Oliver’s first target is corrupt businessman Adam Hunt (Brian Markinson). Donning a suit that is thankfully closer to that seen in Green Arrow Vol. 4 comics than Justin Bartley’s emerald biker duds, (yet still sporting a ridiculous painted-on mask à la Smallville’s Black Canary) Arrow confronts Hunt in a move straight out of the Bruce Wayne playbook. Hunt yells at his minions in a parking garage, lights are taken out, minions are arrowed, and Hunt is pulled right out of his limo before Arrow demands he return the money he stole. However, when Hunt refuses, Oliver uses the welcome home party Tommy organized for him as a cover to confront Hunt at his office and steal back the money himself. At said party, Bruce Oliver puts on the childish playboy mask for Laurel in an effort to distance her from the life he knows he is embarking upon. Don’t these guys know that NEVER works?! He then raids Hunt’s office, making short work of the goons and making good use of GA’s famed trick arrows. However, instead of boxing gloves and nets, we now have high tech grapplers and hacking modules. I think I hear Jeremy Renner calling his lawyer…
The bad guy’s funds are transferred back to the folks he swindled, Detective Lance has it out for “the guy in the green hood”, and Oliver crosses the first name off the list he brought back with him. Arrow’s pilot leaves us with a plethora of questions that will undoubtedly be answered in the coming episodes. What did Robert Queen tell Oliver that would prompt Moira Queen to kidnap her own son? What did Oliver experience on the island that turned him into a brooding vigilante? How bad will the inevitable love triangle be between Oliver, Laurel, and Tommy? Season 1 of Arrow will hopefully tell us.
I know I’ve raked this episode over the coals for its blatant lifts from Batman and friends, but there are aspects that, if developed properly, could make Arrow a success. Right from the start, any eagle-eyed DC fan saw the deliberate shot of Slade Wilson/Deathstroke’s mask speared through a pike on the beach of Ollie’s island. Clearly, he was not alone during those five years, but what circumstances brought these two together? Deathstroke has always proved to be a formidable villain for any DC hero, so seeing this character for the first time in live-action has great potential.
When trying to reconnect with his sister Thea (Willa Holland), Ollie refers to her by the nickname Speedy, the name of Green Arrow’s sidekick(s). Later, he sees her buying drugs at his homecoming party. While this character is neither Roy Harper or Mia Dearden, Thea holds the potential for one of the most compelling stories the series might be able to tell. The writers may very well be setting up a retelling of “Snowbirds Don’t Fly”, the famous anti-drug arc originally seen in Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 and #86 in 1971 where Roy Harper becomes addicted to heroin. Considered a watershed moment in the depiction of mature themes in DC Comics, this storyline could be what propels Arrow out of Smallville’s shadow.
Lastly, Stephen Amell’s portrayal of Oliver Queen borders on stiff and flat, but I’m willing to chalk that up to him giving Ollie a touch of PTSD after his ordeal abroad. Here’s hoping the brooding diminishes as he inevitably reconnects with Laurel and Tommy, potentially paving the way for the lighter side of Green Arrow. I’d like to see him develop into the Ollie Queen we all know and love, but his striking resemblance to GA’s New 52 redesign implies that the series might head in the direction currently underway in those books.
Regardless, Arrow has great potential. I’m going to keep up with this show because I’m curious to see Oliver Queen face down comic book-sized conflicts with only his wits and his arrows. (And I’m really excited to see what other DC heroes and villains will be making appearances!)