It’s safe to say that Arrow season 3 is no-one’s favourite run of The CW’s DC comics show. Crossing the 50-episode mark is an accomplishment, but there’s a sense that the show is struggling to find an engaging hook.
On the DVD commentary for episode one, The Calm, Marc Guggenheim mentions that they plan out every Arrow season as if it were a movie. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how Arrow season 3 falls down the regular pitfalls of third-in-the-trilogy superhero movies.
One of these is the matter of juggling too many villains, many of whom we’ve seen before anyway. By this stage, Arrow is having to recycle and reimagine villains that they’ve already used. We get a second Count Vertigo, a new iteration of the Suicide Squad, John Barrowman looking shifty as Malcolm Merlyn for the third year in a row, and even a return for Manu Bennett’s Slade, whose arc really should have ended last year. Matthew Nable’s Ra’s Al Ghul is the best newcomer, and either Vinnie Jones’ Brickwell or Amy Gumenick’s Cupid is the worst.
Arrow season 3 resurrects a superhero sequel issue that we’ve not really seen on the big screen since Batman & Robin as well – too many heroes. We begin the season with The Arrow, Arsenal, Canary and Diggle all out in the field. By the end, we’ve seen Black Canary, The ATOM, Wild Cat and The Flash in action as well. All this character juggling – coupled with the format-forced need to keep cutting away to Ollie’s pre-series flashbacks – means that there simply isn’t enough time to give Oliver Queen satisfying development.
What he gets is a ‘can I be the hero and live my own life?’ arc that’s reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. This is a fine topic to discuss, but rather than really delving into it, time constraints mean that we hear this conflict mentioned a lot, but never really feel like we’re chewing into the meat of the topic. Stephen Amell has impressive charisma as always, but these multiple-plate-spinning scripts are some of the worst that he’s had to wrangle an engaging protagonist from.
This disappointment is also partially due to the fact that so much time is spent on Felicity Smoak – a fan-favourite character (played marvellously by Emily Bett Rickards), but one whose popularity detracts from the show at points. Did we need an entire episode about her ‘secret origins’? Did we need to spend so much time on her romance with Ray, when obviously she would end up with Ollie in the end? Arguably, the answer to both of these questions is no.
This isn’t to say that Arrow season 3 doesn’t have its moments, because it does. A particular highlight is the mid-season finale in which Ollie swordfights with Matt Nable’s Ra’s Al Ghul. There’s a real sense of danger here, and some eye-catching duelling choreography, too, even though the cliff-hanger ending was clearly always set up to be undone.
For the most part, though, the show gets muddled with juggling so many heroes, villains and side-arcs that it forgets to spend enough time on Arrow’s greatest asset – Stephen Amell, who simply doesn’t get to be a superhero for enough of the running time.
On this DVD box-set, you’ll find plenty of extras. Your enjoyment of them will probably depend on how much you like Arrow season 3. The Calm gets a full 45-minute commentary from co-creator Marc Guggenheim and co-executive producer Wendy Mericle. There aren’t many big insights, here, though, beyond the likes of ‘we dressed a Vancouver street as Hong Kong.’
The commentary for The Climb – the Ra’s duel episode – fares better, exploring the idea of uprooting Oliver and bringing him to the League Of Assassins’ Nanda Parbat HQ. As one of the best episodes of the season, it’s good to get some more behind-the-scenes intel on this one. The CGI stubble on Matt Nable’s stunt double’s face was a particularly surprising fact.
The deleted scenes are fairly interesting, too, offering extra material for a few of the villains and some more dialogue scenes that could have helped focus the show on Mr Amell a bit more. Thea gets a little extra time to shine, too.
There are also featurettes aplenty, including an introduction to Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer/ATOM character where Routh curiously wears his superhero suit for the duration of the interview (“It makes me feel legit,” he mentions). You also get an eye-opening deconstruction of the Nanda Parbat sets, a chuckle-inducing gag reel (John Barrowman has a Karate Kid moment), and a detailed discussion of the costume design behind Arrow. Also – there’s a smidge of Comic Con footage from 2014.
All in all, this isn’t a great season of Arrow, but this box-set offers an impressive range of extras if you want to delve further.
Arrow season 3 is out on DVD and Blu-Ray from Monday the 28th of September.
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