This review contains spoilers.
1.1 Brave New World & 1.2 Odessa
The first season of Tim Kring’s original Heroes was special. I came away from each episode wishing that I too was an ‘Evo’ (they’re called that now apparently), imagining how exciting it would be to inhabit the same world of secretive paper companies and teleporting swordsmen. Subsequent seasons didn’t have quite the same impact; having a power began to seem like quite a lot of hassle and frankly, not worth the bother. The remit for Heroes Reborn then is quite clear: deliver something approaching the quality of the first season with its rich characters and slick converging storyline or face the derision of fans whose patience and good will for this franchise is on life support.
Firstly, don’t be fooled by the network rebranding, this is Heroes season five in all but name. The story picks up in the aftermath of the original show’s finale, exudes the exact same tone and features a generous handful of old characters, the most notable being Noah Bennett (Jack Coleman) who takes a more central role this time around. Indeed, one thing Heroes Reborn needed to get right was the balance between old and new characters. Grounding the new episodes in the history of the original show and providing the audience with familiarity whilst simultaneously letting the new cast take the lead and fully develop was vital. Consequently, featuring Noah (or HRG as fans may know him) so heavily is a risk that doesn’t always pay off. The scenes depicting this ex-Evo hunter as a regular guy with a fiancé and a salesman job tread old ground unnecessarily, likewise the concept of him trying to recover his wiped memory.
Thankfully, before the déjà vu sets in, Mr. Bennet is paired with Ginger Seth Rogen, one of the best new characters in the opening couplet of episodes. Ginger Seth (more accurately known as Quentin Frady) brings a light-heartedness to proceedings that has been sorely absent throughout Heroes as a whole and actor Henry Zebrowski’s comic delivery is one of the highlights of Heroes Reborn thus far, providing a perfect partner for the permanently uptight Bennet.
Teleporter Tommy Clarke (Robbie Kay) is another successful newbie, effortlessly ignoring Heroes’ tradition of annoying child characters (I’m looking at you Micah). Arguably the most intriguing new Evo on display, Tommy’s ignorance of his power’s mechanics, general likeability and mysterious “penny for your thoughts” guardian angel bring the show back to its foundation; a story of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary abilities. And it’s that relatable, human domain where Heroes’ strengths have always been; the original show suffered greatly once its core characters become over-powered warriors, presidents or mad scientists. Tim Kring is going to tell a much better story with a troubled high-school kid, an alcohol-dependant ex-soldier and Ginger Seth Rogen because conceptually, Heroes Reborn is not particularly original. With Marvel’s Civil War film steadily approaching, the idea of registering super-powered individuals and the discrimination that results from such practices is not new ground, but delivering the story from the eyes of regular people rather than superheroes will be where this show comes into its own.
As with any television show or film based around fictional discrimination, the social commentary subtext is inevitable. Evos and regular humans live together quite peacefully until a terrorist attack (blamed on Mohinder Suresh, no less) instigates loss of human rights for those with powers and sparks a nationwide witch hunt, forcing American citizens to flee to Canada. It’s not particularly subtle but it certainly is relevant, perhaps more so than the show’s creators could have foreseen with the recent refugee crisis in Europe; the notion of a population fearing those different to them, the restriction of human rights as a result and the need for a scapegoat has never been more apt.
One hope many fans surely had going into Heroes Reborn would have been for a top class, full-on evil villain in the mould of Sylar. Having a shady corporate organisation as the big-bad is great but there’s nothing quite like the devious presence of a single, powerful individual to provide the show with a high-stakes threat. Sadly, this is one area in which Heroes Reborn is found wanting. Initially, husband and wife murder-duo Luke and Joanne (Zachary Levi and Judith Shekoni) seem to fit the part, and their decimation of a secret Evo meeting is tense, engaging viewing, as is their tragic back-story. However, the lovers lose all their badass momentum after spending half of their scenes trapped in a toy room. It should be fairly rudimentary that you don’t establish characters as a credible threat by having them defeated by a schoolboy and subsequently imprisoned in the opening episode.
Visually, the stand-outs of these episodes are, by some distance, the Tokyo scenes. Directors Matt Shakman and Greg Beeman create some beautiful imagery with the neon, Blade Runner-esque landscapes and architecture of Japan’s capital for the scenes featuring the enigmatic Miko (Kiki Sukezane). The soft yet garish lighting combined with the traditional interior of Miko’s apartment gives viewers an exotic break from the rest of the action in the United States.
But let’s talk about those scenes. The ones in the videogame. The idea of Miko’s father being stuck inside a game and her having to switch between the real and virtual worlds in order to save him isn’t a bad one at all. But the execution doesn’t hit the mark. The animation is reminiscent of 90s CITV classic ReBoot and just as corny, whilst the sequence as a whole feels out of the sync with the rest of the show. It’s a shame considering ‘Katana Girl’s real-world fight sequence was outstanding. I’m never a fan of contrived exposition or revealing too much too early but for something so completely out of left-field, more explanation would have been nice. Why are people popping in and out of videogames in Heroes? Do swords have powers now?!
Both Brave New World and Odessa suffer somewhat with the weight of having to introduce so many characters and plot-points. The first episode especially felt at times like a whistle-stop tour of what the audience needed to know, and not all of those elements were given the requisite screen time to make viewers care. Bearing in mind there are only eleven episodes after this two-parter, the show will have to get its pacing spot-on in order to do justice to all of the mysteries and threats already in place. Overall however, Heroes Reborn has made a strong start. It’ll need to improve in order to be considered a success but the back-to-basics approach, combined with effective new characters and an impending apocalypse is a solid place to start and in all honestly, probably as good as fans of the original series could have expected.
I still don’t want superpowers though. Too much drama.
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