I remember when I first moved to London and would spend my days trawling through seemingly endless sites looking for and subsequently applying for seemingly endless jobs. I’d have the TV on in the background, and I’d always stop what I was doing when the ‘coming soon’ show reel on Sky One featuring Arrow came on.
• Format: Blu-Ray
• Rating: 15
• Run Time: Approx. 1056 minutes
Sadly, when the show started airing I didn’t really think much to it so stopped watching. But I always felt bad for giving up on it, so one night on a slow visit home I sat in my old bed and binge watched the rest of season one, and I’m glad I did.
I enjoyed season two from start to finish, but started losing interest with season three. When four came out I’d watch each week until I didn’t care anymore, and was all but ready to write the show off again. But with the release on season four on Blu-Ray I decided to give it another go, and just like what happened with season one, I’m glad I did.
The story picks up five months after the events of season three, and begins with Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) being dragged away from their picket fenced retirement, straight back on to the crime filled streets of Star City. The city is under siege from a new threat, H.I.V.E, a network of highly skilled and specially trained soldiers under the leadership of a man named Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough). Realising that the city needs a new beacon of hope, and with The Arrow now ‘dead’ Oliver takes up the mantle of The Green Arrow, and once again vows to save his city.
The first half of the season focuses mainly on setting up Damien Darhk and H.I.V.E as the big bad of the season, as well as tying up any loose ends left from season three, introducing characters and setting up the events leading into Legends of Tomorrow.
It’s actually a lot better than I remember it being when I was watching it each week, with the quick pacing and multiple stories lending themselves well binge watching. Waiting a week in between episodes made the pacing feel choppy and unfocused, but here in the box set it works a lot better.
It’s the second half of the season where things begin to go downhill, and when Darhk’s master plan is finally revealed and the whole thing stumbles head first into complete nonsense. The plan itself is so ridiculous that even Joss Whedon would have written it off as laughable, and he made a robot strap rockets to a city.
Arrow was always supposed to be a grounded show, taking influence from Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but as the years have ticked by more and more supernatural elements have crept in, leading us to Damien Darhk, who himself is a skilled magic user with ties to The League of Assassins, and the blandest villain we have seen on the show so far.
The problem with Damien Darhk is he is far too powerful. He could easily take out the entire team with the flick of his wrist, but he never does. It isn’t the teams skill that’s keeping them alive like it was in past seasons, it’s Darhk’s own Bond-villain-like arrogance. Even when he loses his powers for a couple of episodes he somehow still comes out on top, even stronger than before.
Neal McDonough plays the part so wooden you’d be forgiven for thinking Team Arrow were fighting Pinocchio the Wizard. He constantly has this weird, bemused look on this face, and his scenery chewing is second only to John Barrowman who returns once again as Malcolm Merlyn, who is relegated to annoying background meddler.
I don’t know if it’s how the character was written or how Barrowman is playing him, but Merlyn is just bad this season. Most of his dialogue consists of reminding everyone that he’s Ra’s al Ghul, The Demons Head, and Thea’s father, and his delivery is so hammy it’s hard to watch at times. It’s like catching your Dad shadow boxing in the dining room, dressed like a ninja, and trying to talk his way out of it with “It’s okay, I’m a magician!”
This season’s big mystery feels pointless too. The first episode ends with a funeral scene, asking the question ‘Who is in the grave?’, but it’s a set up that lacks any emotional impact for one simple reason – No one ever stays dead on these shows! We have Lazarus pits, time travel, multiple Earths, technology, and now magic. And with the character already confirmed to be returning next season, Arrow‘s habit of killing people off but not really has become trite.
It’s a shame because when the death happens we get to see some of the best, most emotional acting the cast have ever done on the show. Even I got a bit emotional, and I don’t even like the character that kicks the bucket.
There is far too much drama this season for my liking. Oliver and Felicity’s relationship is a big focal point that gets old quickly. It’s the same old rubbish again this season as it always is – Oliver says everything is different now, keeps something from her, Felicity finds out, gets upset, Oliver apologises, Felicity forgives him, someone gets hurt, Felicity gets mad, etc., etc. ad nauseum.
Things only get worse when Felicity’s mum joins the season. She is one of the most annoying characters in the show. She is completely oblivious about everything going on around her, constantly talking over people, does not read social situations at all, and makes every situation about her and her alone.
Even when she’s having a rare moment of sincerity she’ll soon twist the situation to make herself the victim. They try to make her sympathetic by forcing a story about how she hates being lied to because of Felicity’s Dad was a gambler etc., and the payoff to that just leaves her looking like a massive hypocrite, which doesn’t help her case at all.
At this point in time the shows biggest problem is Felicity herself. Or more the way her character is being handled. She’s great when she’s providing support to the team, and has proved time and again that without her help there is no Team Arrow. Family and relationship issues don’t make people interesting, people make people interesting, and by forcing so much baggage on her they’re damaging the character.
For all the bad, however, there is also a lot of good this season. The two part cross-over event with The Flash is fantastic. It introduces and fleshes out new characters and does a great job setting up Legends of Tomorrow. Both The Flash and Arrow episodes are included on the box set too, so if you prefer one series over the other you won’t have to miss out on anything.
The action has been ramped up too, with season four boasting some of the best fight choreography the series has seen so far. One fight scene in particular sees Thea/Speedy (Willa Holland) fighting a member of H.I.V.E through a hall way, into an elevator, up to a different floor, and out of the elevator into another hallway in one take. Although not quite on the same level as Daredevil, it was no less impressive to watch, and really drives home how good a fighter Thea is becoming.
Matt Ryan was able to reprise his role as John Constantine for the episode ‘Haunted’, which adds more mythos to the island of Lian Yu (the island Oliver was stranded on for five years, except when he went to Hong Kong for a year because retconning is a thing), and shows us where another of Oliver’s tattoos came from. It was great to see Constantine on screen again, and I’m still holding on to hope that the character may one day return to our screens.
The box set has some fun extras too. There are two mini-documentaries about Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Vandal Savage, explaining their comic book origins and the changes made to the characters while adapting them for television, as well as the process used to create them with digital effects. The Damien Darhk focussed video, too, is really interesting, explaining why they decided to make him mystical instead of tech savvy, and delving into the complexities of his characters. There are extra scenes and a gag reel too, which to my surprise made me laugh.
All in all Arrow season four isn’t terrible, it just isn’t great. There are enough good elements in it that stop it from reaching the lows of shows like Gotham season one, but it definitely feels like it has lost its way. I’m glad I gave it another go, though, as despite its many flaws it was still enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to seeing where things go as we begin season five in a few short weeks.
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