Over the last half-decade superhero movies have taken over the big screen, to the extent that many feel they’ve outstayed their welcome, but it’s a totally different story on the small screen. Yes, there have been numerous animated adaptations of just about every popular comic book hero, and then there was the long-lasting Smallville series. However, there’s been a noticeable dearth of live-action, superhero television series. That is, until Arrow came along.
The show stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen – who returns to his home city of Starling after five years of being presumed dead. Having actually been trapped on a secluded island, Queen reappears as a billionaire CEO by day and the vigilante Arrow by night. Following an average first season, which suffered from a few teething problems, a slightly repetitive nature and less than compelling characters, the second season was an upgrade in every way possible – more varied action, a far stronger villain, and quite clearly also a bigger budget – which, when it comes to TV of this genre, usually does mean better entertainment.
As Arrow’s viewing figures flourished, a spate of shows were announced to follow in its wake. The Flash, alongside Gotham, Constantine, Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter have all either already started airing, or are due imminently. And that’s before mentioning what could end up being the crown jewel of superhero TV, the Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist standalones, leading to The Defenders miniseries, set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe of The Avengers, and to be aired on Netflix.
Before most of that though, Arrow is back for round three, and by the looks of things, it’s going to be the best series yet. The show has always managed to tread the line between realism and fantasy well; the second season introduced genuine superpowers, upping the game, while also putting Ollie – who, for all his quick reflexes and supreme skill with his hands and his bow, was still a plain old human – on the back foot. He was no longer the dominant force in his hometown of Starling City, but still one of the last things between it and the anarchy at its door.
The third season will see this go further. Having fought with the ‘dark archer’ Merlyn in season one, before battling former friend, now foe, Deathstroke, in season two, the third outing sees a very familiar villain appear out of the shadows – Ra’s al Ghul. Played not by Liam Neeson, despite his hint at reprising the role, but instead by the more obscure Matthew Nable, al Ghul’s appearance has, as is the trademark of Arrow’s main villains, been in the making for some time.
As Deathstroke, aka Slade Wilson, was fed into the show in season one before becoming a threat, season two saw al Ghul’s League of Shadows descend on Starling City to aid Arrow in facing Deathstroke’s super powered army, foreshadowing the now imminent arrival of the main man. Add to that festering subplot the continuing flashbacks of Ollie in Asia, as well as the revelation of sister Thea’s parenthood, Laurel Lance and Roy Harper’s superhero transitions, and a host of guest villains such as the 2nd Count Vertigo, this time played by TV veteran Peter Stormare, and season three can’t arrive soon enough.
Of course, Arrow is not without its problems – the aforementioned Batman-isms included. These seem to crop up rather a lot, beyond the expected basic similarities of the Green Arrow’s world and that of the Caped Crusader. Throwaway lines seem lifted from Nolan’s Batman, and the portrayal of Starling City feels part Nolan, part Tim Burton. On top of that, the show never quite escapes that fact that it’s a product of The CW. The US network is the home of 90210, Gossip Girl, The Tomorrow People and Nikita – in other words, there’s a running theme of teen-style soapiness. Arrow, thankfully, handles this better than could be expected, but it’s still there, such as with the fan favourite potential romance between Ollie and excitable assistant Felicity, complete with the classic portmanteau of ‘Olicity’.
Get past this and you’ll be rewarded with an action packed and engaging romp of a time, one that isn’t just brainless, but will subtly ask intriguing questions, not least about the morality of vigilantism.
Arrow Season 3 starts October 7th on The CW in the US, and October 30th on Sky 1 in the UK.