Arrow, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by David Nutter
Written by Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on The CW
With the recent influx of superhero movies (namely reboots), origin stories have increasenly become less and less appealing. For decades, characters have been introduced to audiences by way of explaining how these super heroes/villains came to be. Like many characters in the DC Comics canon, the story of how Oliver Queen became the Green Arrow has been retold several times since he first appeared way back in November 1941. Origin stories are always a bore, especially when you’re familiar with the story, but Arrow keeps the pilot moving at a brisk pace, making good on a basic premise. Clearly influenced by the likes of Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, and Batman, one would assume that a small or big screen adaption of Green Arrow would be a huge success. So why did it take so long to get it done?
The major advantage of creating a television series for a superhero – who, let’s face it, most people are not familiar with – is that the series allows plenty of time to flesh out the characters of this universe while developing (hopefully) some compelling story lines. Good origin stories answer questions in a concise manner before introducing multiple allies and villains. When it comes to hooking in moviegoers and TV viewers unfamiliar with the original source material, an origin story is often the best way to get newcomers well-acquainted. The pilot for Arrow gives those uninitiated enough of an understanding of who Oliver Queen is while still leaving many mysteries to unravel. What exactly happened to Oliver on that island and how exactly did he acquire the skills and knowledge to become the green-hooded avenger?
Fans of Smallville may be disappointed to learn that Arrow isn’t in any way connected to the long running popular Superman series, nor that show’s version (vision) of Green Arrow. Instead it offers a new and darker take on Oliver Queen and his alter ego – somewhat reminiscent to Mike Grell’s series Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters. But it seems the major influence for Arrow is Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, only scaled down for the small screen. Green Arrow might be the closest we ever get to a Bruce Wayne and with reason. It is historically consistent with the character since the Dark Knight and the Green Hood share much in common. After all, Green Arrow was essentially created as a knockoff of Batman, complete with his own sidekick (replace Robin with Speedy), the Arrowcar (in place of the Batmobile), and even the Arrowcave (replacing the Batcave). Much like Batman Begins, it presents us with a young, attractive, disaffected billionaire who returns home after a long absence, only to become a crime fighting avenger. Thanks to obvious budget constraints Arrow pales in comparison to Nolan’s trilogy, but the show-runners are wise to acknowledge its limitations carefully playing to its strengths and abbreviating its shortcomings.
The pilot episode thankfully doesn’t drastically alter the traditional Green Arrow origin tale. In the pilot we meet Oliver Queen, the son of billionaire Robert Queen, both presumed to have died in a shipwreck five years ago. Oliver who was marooned on an island in the Pacific is finally discovered alive and brought back to his home in Starling City (known as Star City in the comics). His family and friends welcome him back, but they sense Oliver has changed greatly. While Oliver hides the truth about the man he’s become, he desperately tries to make amends for the actions of his past.
The origin story told here doesn’t necessarily make any more sense than it does in the comics. How exactly did Ollie teach himself archery, foreign languages, martial arts, and where would he even find a bow and arrow on a deserted island? That being said, the episode suggests that there’s far more to reveal about his five years of isolation and we are offered hints that perhaps Ollie wasn’t the only one living on the island.
Considering the writers took liberty to poke fun at certain popular TV shows and movies such as Lost and Twilight, one would assume they would be wise enough to avoid some of the pitfalls of those franchises – including clunky exposition, obvious setups and the incredibly overwrought and unnecessary narration. The voice over is so terrible, both in Amell’s delivery and writing, it almost makes a viewer want to tune out. Overly expository dialogue is the laziest form of story telling and undercuts the largely serious and dark tone Arrow is aiming for. This is a problem that needs to be resolved sooner than later.
Thankfully the creators have chosen the right Oliver Queen. The key to the success of the series is choosing the right actor and it falls onto Stephen Amell’s broad shoulders. Physically speaking, Amell fits the bill, but beyond the abs and enormous pecs he easily transforms himself from a man struggling to atone for his past mistakes to the irresponsible playboy he pretends to still be in order to further hide his new alter ego. Arrow and Oliver look, sound and move differently from one another. furthermore, the Oliver we see in pre-shipwreck-flashbacks is an entirely different person than Ollie found in present day. There’s a distinct naturalism to Amell’s performance that really helps ground the character and Amell tells us much about his character without words. And than there is the costume – a much appreciated update to the one seen on Smallville. It slick, dark and updated to a modern setting, something both children and adults would wear on Halloween as appose to the silly green tights.
The show also has fun as it fleshes out its supporting cast. Arrow quickly introduces – and more often hints – at a lineup of soon to be important characters. Without spoiling who is who for the non-comic readers, the writers have managed to weave many of Green Arrow’s familiar allies and enemies directly into the first episode. Some are obvious enough (including a rival assassin named Merlyn), while others can be found with a closer eye. Take notice of the names on Ollie’s checkoff list. The roster of DC characters hinted to appear in Starling City already includes Speedy, Deathstroke (who’s mask is seen on the island), Deadshot, China White, The Royal Flush Gang, and rumours of an appearance by The Huntress. Arrow also holds back on revealing some of the key relationships until the final few minutes of the pilot providing the episode with a twist and even more unanswered questions.
Finally, the direction of David Nutter should be commended. He keeps things moving and does a wonderful job choreographing the action scenes. Oliver’s swift cat-like acrobatic style mirrors the artistry of archery. There are fleeting moments when the camera captures the mystery and magic of the sport executed in a manner that makes all the spectacle and pageantry appear effortless.
We quickly find out that Thea will become Speedy, but the writers seem to want to include Roy Harper’s drug storyline from the comics as well.
There are still some logical problems that need addressing, in particular, how Oliver possesses his fighting skills.
How did Oliver build his ArrowCave so quickly?