I wanted to love "Arrow." I really did. Unfortunately, the pilot of the new superhero series is the textbook definition of a mixed bag. For every scene and/or character I enjoyed, there was another that left me grimacing. For every strong element of characterization, there was a very CW-like scene where bad actors stare pensively at one another. For every sweeping shot of the gothic Starling City or the island's unforgiving landscape, there was a scene with sets that seemed pulled from other CW shows. Generally, for every genuinely positive or promising element to the premiere, there was some very genuine negativity.
An example of this genuine negativity? The voiceover... Good lord, that voiceover. I could point to Harrison Ford's narration in "Blade Runner" as worse, but that's about the only other example that comes to mind. The narration is overwrought, badly written, and most importantly unnecessary. Series lead Stephen Amell gets a lot of things right in the premiere, and the expository narration is not one of them. Amell's performance in the pilot is a mixed bag itself -- while he seems at home with the action and tense stand-offs with antagonists, he is completely out of his element and uncomfortable with the dialogue in scenes where he must convey Queen's public party-boy persona ("I missed... TEQUILA!") and it shows.
The pilot kicks off with Amell's Oliver Queen on the tail-end of his five year stay on a desolate island. Many unanswered questions arise from Queen's unwelcome vacation on Lian Yu: did he teach himself archery? Survival skills? Hand-to-hand combat? Russian? Was he alone the entire time?
Well, that last one is answered almost immediately, as an otherwise innocent shot of the rocky landscape pans over to a very familiar mask. Evidently, Queen and big bad Deathstroke The Terminator had a little tussle in Purgatory, and if the arrow through the mask's eye is any indication, Queen came out of the situation the victor. It sure seems like our intrepid hero's lengthy stay on the island is rife for flashbacks to flesh out his present day adventures and the changed outlook of Oliver Queen.
Indeed, aside from the action sequences, the few cut away scenes to the shipwreck and island provide the strongest elements of the pilot, particularly in terms of characterization. Jamey Sheridan as the Queen family patriarch is a dependable and strong performer, providing the pathos and motivation behind Ollie's vigilantism. I was hopeful he would stick around for at least the first few weeks (or hours/days in island time) to add a little more backstory to some of his seedier business pursuits, the wrongs that he expects his son to right, but his death is a bit more abrupt than that.
The cast is perhaps a bit too loaded, full of supporting players both strong and weak. Full disclosure: I hate Kate Cassidy. She's an awful soap-opera-level actress with perhaps two facial expressions. Here she plays Laurel Lance, aka Not Rachel Dawes, lawyer fighting for the underdogs and downtrodden. She has a little more to hold against Ollie than her Bat-counterpart, however: Laurel's sister was on the ill-fated voyage of the Queen's Ransom, engaging in a tawdry affair with Ollie when the ship went down.
Laurel also has a bit of history over the past five years with one of the stronger supporting characters, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), best friend of Ollie and if his name is any indication future arch-nemesis. In the pilot, Donnell's is one of the few performances that comes off natural and believable, with decent comedic timing to boot.
Ultimately, the saving grace for the pilot is the breakneck action. The director, photographer and star really display what a high-end visceral thrill the series could be in scenes like a riveting chase sequence through abandoned warehouses and an exceptional fight scenes. It really seemed like there were two different productions in the premiere -- the A-crew putting together what proved to be outstanding action sequences, and a B-crew who phoned it in with the scenes adding backstory and characterization. Obviously, there needs to be some emotional tie-in so that audiences care about the characters fighting, but the benefit of a serial like this is that said characterization can be drawn out and not quite so dense. Consequently, this is a weak element of the series where the execution can potentially be strengthened over time, and I'm hopeful that it will be.
Overall, the thrilling action scenes outweigh some of the more laughably bad attempts at characterization and pathos in the pilot. The contrast between its strengths and weaknesses say a lot about where the series as a whole could go: if the showrunners concentrate on making this "'Revenge' For Dudes" this offers to be a fun, action-packed hour; if, on the other hand, the action is sparse and the show is as heavily dosed with melodrama as the pilot... well, the series is less promising. Hopefully, they stick to the former.
Final Grade: B-