“I am returning,” grimly intones young Oliver Queen, sprinting across the miserable, deserted island where he has been stranded for five years, “not the boy who was shipwrecked, but the man who will bring justice to those who have poisoned my city.” So far, so Batman Begins. “My name is... Oliver Queen.”
The opening episode of Arrow begins promisingly enough, with Stephen Amell very much looking the part - bearded, shaggy haired and bedecked in green. As a fan of Green Arrow (behind Guy Gardner, he's this reviewer's favourite Green themed superhero) pretty much the only thing I wanted to see from a Green Arrow television series was a bearded Ollie Queen pontificating about politics. We already have Batman to do the whole gritty thing. Unfortunately, Arrow takes its cues more from Smallville and The Dark Knight than it does Neal Adams, so we'll have to wait a while longer before we get to see Ollie in hippy mode. The first thing he does upon his arrival back at Starling City (a seemingly pointless change from the comics' Star City) is to cut all of his hair off. And, for the ladies, look brooding in front of a mirror while topless. The cast of Arrow are very pretty, which does little to allay any fears that Arrow is anything more than Smallville Mark II. Thankfully Colin Salmon brings a welcome dose of his reliable English respectability, playing Ollie's mother's suitor, Walter Steele.
Mentally and physically scarred from his experiences on the island, Ollie finds that much has changed in his absence. As tends to happen whenever a young millionaire goes through a traumatic experience in comic book and TV land, he decides to become a superhero. Befitting his skill with a bow and arrow, he starts dressing like Robin Hood. His first act as Starling City's resident vigilante is to foil his own kidnapping and start threatening the first mobster he can find. Those who like their heroes to act with a little Silver Age sensibility may be disappointed – Ollie has no compunction about using his arrows to kill. Even beyond the sharpshooting, Queen has some seriously sharp moves. The fight scenes in Arrow are genuinely impressive and quite brutal, very similar to those of a Bourne Identity or episode of 24. It's a step above most superhero shows of the past – far better than the stupid 'blur' of Smallville.
Beyond its gorgeous cast and penchant for teenage melodrama, thankfully Arrow has little in common with Smallville. It's more like a scaled back version of Batman Begins than that, complete with scenes in which Ollie roams the streets of his city, despairing at what it has become. Ex-girlfriend Dinah (Lance) seems to serve exactly the same purpose as Batman Begins' Rachel Dawes. Thankfully, it moves with such a fast pace that there's barely any time to concentrate on the show's flaws. It's a remarkably short pilot, given all of the information it needs to convey.
That information comes thick and fast, with plenty of geek references, both to the comic book and other bits of popular culture. A reference to LOST is particularly welcome, as is an exchange between Ollie and best friend Tommy. “What's Twilight?” asks Ollie. “You're so better off not knowing,” Tommy replies. Quite. There's a surprising amount of references to the comic books; girlfriend Dinah Lance, his sister's nickname being 'Speedy' (can we expect a subplot about drug addiction to follow at some point?) and even a sort-of cameo from DC Universe assassin Deathstroke.
Despite a little unnecessary grit and melodrama, this opening episode is a surprisingly strong forty minutes of arrow slinging action. Arrow doesn't quite hit the mark, but practice makes perfect.