Last night The CW premiered its new take on DC's Green Arrow with Arrow, a title that always makes me think of this. And boy howdy, is this shit bland. In particular, Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen is just dead-eyed and uninspired, giving a monotoned voice-over that manages to make the phrase "I will bring justice to those who have poisoned my city!" sound like a chore. I feel like that sentence should be fun to say. Try it at home. Easy to pronounce it with some feeling, right? And yet.
An Oliver Queen without personality is an insurmountable hurdle to a show about the Green Arrow. A billionaire playboy should be, you know, playful. Hot-tempered but spirited. Plenty of people had problems with Justin Hartley as the Green Arrow on Smallville (mostly goatee-related problems), but the guy had charisma. A sense of humor. Easy confidence. Amell gives a mournful, self-important performance that I cannot abide. Even when he's in playboy alter ego mode, he is irritatingly solemn. Yes, yes, he just spent five years on an island after a shipwreck killed his father, his girlfriend's sister that he was currently banging and a bunch of other people. But everything about the show betrays a deliberate inclination toward the Nolanesque, and Amell's Queen is the most blatant Nolan mimicry of all. No more fun superheroes for you!
Arrow is certainly trying for a more realistic approach to the comic with varying levels of success. He wears makeup instead of a mask. His arrows deplete bank accounts instead of delivering boxing gloves. They all live in Starling City for some reason now. We're treated to one of the most abrupt montages in recent memory, in which Oliver shows up at some random warehouse with a pickaxe and carves himself out a lair real quick. Oliver's love interest is Laurel Lance - Dinah Laurel Lance, we learn in the last few seconds of the pilot - and her method of justice-meting is as a pro bono attorney fighting against the corrupt and powerful. No fishnets or sonic cries for her. Lance is played by CW regular Katie Cassidy, and she's a suitable substitute for Rachel Dawes, I guess. If one thought that every superhero story needs a Dawes, which I never did.
Oliver has a little sister named Thea whom he calls Speedy because, as he goes to great lengths to inform us, he used to chase her around the house when she was little. Of course now she's a pill-popper, so the name has layers, you see. She does not appear to have any sidekick potential. His best friend is named Tommy Merlyn. Merlyn is just some dude, far as I can tell.
There are several other weird, backwards nods to the comic, but I don't mind any of that. I have no problem with the differences in the details so long as the fundamentals remain the same. But as Phil reported last week, this Arrow is definitely not a liberal.
“I think it’s a mistake to say Oliver Queen is a liberal superhero targeting the wealthy,” Amell says. “He’s targeting people who abuse their powers. Now is that mostly going to be the wealthy? Sure. Is Arrow a Democrat? Absolutely not. Is he a Republican? No, he’s not that either. He’s an idealist. And he’s going after a certain type of person, not a certain class of people.”
This feels like a fairly brazen attempt to make everyone happy, which doesn't really feel like what Oliver Queen is about. He's also given very specific instructions by his father before he passes away, which rather takes away any merit on Oliver's part. He doesn't take action and decide to face the city's criminals on his own - he's just carrying out orders. He lives at home with his mom and her new husband, Walter Steele. This automatically makes him a little less cool, obviously.
So take away his agenda, his independence, his personality, his mask, the word "Green" - and what's left? Some clumsy parkour, for one. The action sequences are bad, with a corporate office showdown lifted directly from The Dark Knight Rises and the now-requisite rooftop foot chase that feels like it's been in every action series pilot since The Bourne Ultimatum was released. One bold choice made by showrunners Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg is to make Arrow something of a stone-cold killer. After a botched kidnapping attempt, he kills all of the abductors in moments, including one who flees, posing no threat to him. "Nobody can know my secret," he drones before snapping the guy's neck. So Arrow promises plenty of guilt-free murdurin' by our protagonist, which is kind of fun. It corresponds tidily with all of the wayward machine gun violence employed by every single Starling City criminal.
As boring as Amell is, the pilot actually isn't boring. It's stupid, sure, but it's entertaining. The episode ends on a TWIST! that I find wildly unsurprising, but amusing nonetheless. That's the thing about Arrow - it could have been a pretty enjoyable diversion. Hundreds of machine guns and neck-snapping superheroes and pill-popping sidekicks all sound kind of fun, if not particularly Green Arrow-like. But a fun show requires a fun lead, and this Arrow is notably, demonstrably not fun.