How do superhero ensembles work, exactly? Most fans of either Marvel or DC would generally say that somewhere between contrast and conflict within a group of heroes is where the best drama and character moments can be found. While Arrow had an assemblage of heroic characters throughout it’s third and fourth seasons, the conflict between them all felt on par with a telenovela, but the trouble there may stem from inciting conflict between characters that have been established as family and friends for several years prior, i.e. last season’s hamfisted Diggle drama. As season five opens, the most notable difference between this year and Arrow’s fourth season, is Oliver’s backsliding into a killing tendency. While struggling to take a moral high road in not killing his foes, Oliver closed a chapter of his life in murdering the villainous Damien Darhk to take vengeance on the death of Laurel Lance, and to save Star City from certain doom.
In tandem with Oliver’s backsliding, Arrow once again adjusts its tone to mimic other superhero stories. When Berlanti Productions first set out to introduce a new DC hero to the world in the wake of Smallville’s ends, the result was a Warner TV show more similar to The Dark Knight in tone. In the wake of The Flash’s success, the show then attempted to take on a more heroic, lofty tone, and thus introducing an Oliver Queen turning a new leaf. While Arrow’s fourth season had some strength in becoming a more traditional superhero show, it was met with criticisms ranging from portraying Team Arrow like a season of Power Rangers to pulling focus away from Oliver Queen as a hero, and more on a set of relationship dramas. In “Legacy,” this season’s premiere episode, a lot of these characters from Team Arrow’s past play a tertiary role, and that is probably in the best interest in telling Oliver’s story with more substantial depth. If I can judge tone based on the premiere episode, I find that Arrow will quickly show that it is sporting the flavor of Daredevil this year, following the success of the Netflix/Marvel productions.
This observation is a result of the much improved action direction and fight choreography in this season premiere. Now, this aspect was always the most entertaining parts of Arrow, but the set pieces, fighting style and and brutality shown in the way “Legacy’s” action scenes were shot feel more reminiscent of classic action cinema, and the brutality of the aforementioned Marvel TV shows, and instead of teetering too far on a “grimdark” atmosphere, it’s quick and crushingly brutal, and took me by surprise, frankly. This kind of action scene is the most inviting since Oliver fought Ras Al Guhl in the middle of season three which took several episodes to build up to to make meaningful.
Another important difference in this first episode (one that I hope continues throughout this season) is that the plot has finally directed back to a fully focused character study of Oliver Queen. Other than establishing ancillary moments to show where the rest of the cast comes in, and the new threat being established, Oliver’s juggling his role as Mayor and as the Green Arrow juxtapose one another in a way that can really enlighten an audience on Oliver and his priorities for a good portion of the season.
Arrow continues to follow trends in this genre of superheroes and vigilante justice instead of setting them but season five has begun in a place that feels refreshing and if it continues on the trend I think we’re seeing throughout this premiere, we could have a season of Arrow as good as it’s second.