Green Arrow takes on Damien Dahrk in this action-packed season
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Season four of Arrow will be known as the year when the gritty vigilante series went fully comic book and embraced the wider possibilities of its superhero universe. It seems like yesterday when super-producer Greg Berlanti started the modern era of DC superheroes on television when Arrow premiered four years ago on the CW. Having grown beyond its original mandate with more superheroes in the mix, the stakes are higher than ever as enthusiasm shifts to newer series like Supergirl. Season four sees the return of some old friends and the exit of some characters.
Oliver Queen, better known as the Arrow, started on television waging a one-man crusade to clean up the mean streets of his home town, Starling City. The Green Arrow is now but one of several superheroes patrolling Starling City, including comic book favorites like Black Canary. The Flash’s ratings success paved the way for Arrow to fully embrace its proper DC heritage.
Oliver now properly goes by Green Arrow and his home city has been shortened to its rightful title of Star City. These may seem like minor details but hardcore fans have wanted these changes. Not to mention a huge crossover this season with the Flash that introduces Vandal Savage, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl into the Arrowverse. This is all in preparation for spin-off DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. It’s the biggest crossover yet for Berlanti’s Arrowverse, showcasing several heroes at once as the Flash and Green Arrow battle Vandal Savage.
Season four introduces a major new villain to contend with that has mystical superpowers, Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough). Team Arrow has its hands full against Darhk and his criminal organization known as H.I.V.E. all season long. Darhk doesn’t pose the same kind of threat that Arrow’s best villain, Deathstroke, posed to the emerald archer.
McDonough plays Darhk as a criminal businessman that likes getting his hands dirty when necessary. Think of him as Lex Luthor with mystical powers. Darhk will personally kill someone if necessary but he’s just as likely to send out his “ghost” assassins for the job, trained killers willing to commit suicide if caught.
Given the highly serialized nature of Arrow, this season largely picks up from the events of last season’s finale. Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) take a break from superhero adventures, leading to their engagement. It’s a relationship fans demanded since season one, when supporting character Felicity became immensely popular and soon became a leading character.
A relationship officially known as Olicity on Twitter, Arrow’s producers finally give fans what they’ve wished for all along. Sometimes getting what you wished for doesn’t always produce happiness. It’s an arc running most of the season and in typical Arrow fashion, the eventual emotional toll detracts from its pure superhero storytelling. If one criticism can be leveled against Berlanti’s slew of superhero programs, they have a spotty record handling romantic relationships for their heroes. One of Arrow’s greatest strengths has always been Felicity’s uncanny wit and funny lines. That trait stands out less with Felicity concerned about her relationship all season.
The big mystery of season four is an ominous scene told early in the season which doesn’t pay off until the season is nearly over. Oliver is standing over an unidentified grave, grieving over the death of someone close to him. It’s a scene from the future, which caused much speculation all season on fan sites. To the show’s credit, everything is played close to the vest. Characters from Diggle (David Ramsey) to Thea Queen (Willa Holland) look like good candidates to die. Almost no character is potentially safe. Season four eventually sees a major shift in the cast formula stemming from the reveal.
The season starts out fairly strong with the new threat posed by Damien Dahrk. Oliver enters politics, offering him a job other than playing superhero. Several exciting guests show up over the course of the season, including the return of Sara Lance (Caity Lotz). Sara was killed off in season three’s shocking season opener, but everyone knows superheroes never truly die. Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) searches the ends of the Earth looking to bring her sister back from the dead. It took some time but Katie Cassidy finally warms up to playing Black Canary. Her improvement as the costumed hero is one of season four’s highlights.
Fans will be hugely excited to see John Constantine (Matt Ryan) make a guest appearance. Borrowing the character established by NBC’s canceled Constantine show was a stroke of genius. It’s a memorable one-off appearance faithful to the popular comic book character.
It’s an ignominious end to what had been a rather strong season.
It’s an ignominious end to what had been a rather strong season.
The problems in this season begin to manifest near the end of the long season, 23 episodes in all. While sister show The Flash always embraced bigger than life concepts like time travel and parallel dimensions, Arrow was first constructed as a grounded vigilante series. It’s possible Arrow’s batch of producers worked better for it when the show was a conventional action show about an urban vigilante.
The season’s final episodes devolve into a hackneyed mess with lapses in logic and characterization. It’s like Arrow’s producers threw something together after realizing only a couple of episodes were left in the season. It’s an ignominious end to what had been a rather strong season. While the season remains highly watchable for fans, many will want to forget the last few episodes exist.
I won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater despite some problems during a long and uneven season. Arrow remains compelling superhero entertainment if you’ve gotten this far into its convoluted history and keep expectations in check. Season four has its moments, especially when superheroes from other shows crossover. The season is a long slog likely best enjoyed by skipping past the pointless island flashbacks.
Arrow has always been a darker, grittier show than most superhero fare. Supergirl and the Flash live in bright, well-lit worlds. Arrow by comparison looks more like an action thriller, especially when Team Arrow takes a mission or fights villains. That makes it a less vivid, flatter visual experience.
Interiors possess decent clarity but fairly average resolution. Exteriors are often shot in dim light, leading to adequate shadow delineation with hints of ISO noise. Arrow is less impressive-looking than its sister superhero shows but offers what viewers have come to expect from new network productions.
Warner Bros. includes all 23 episodes of season four and one bonus episode of the Flash on four BD-50s. They’ve come under criticism of late for starving their AVC encodes on television sets, cramming too many episodes on too few discs. This low-bitrate AVC compression adequately handles the fairly crisp 1080P video but isn’t perfect. Hints of macroblocking and banding will be visible to videophiles on the largest displays.
The compression inadequacies are less visible than overt artifacts. It’s more about softening the overall picture quality and lowering shadow delineation in the darkest scenes. This Hi-Def video is certainly more impressive than the HD broadcast presentation, which is loaded with artifacts.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack constantly immerses the listener in a dense sound-field loaded with strong bass. Punches and kicks land with serious thump. Action scenes provide the most discrete moments, utilizing directional cues like Green Arrow’s arrows sailing through the air. Clean, crisp dialogue is nicely balanced with the active mix. This is a new television production with perfect fidelity and strong dynamics.
WB offers thirteen! different subtitles in a white font, including English SDH. French, Spanish and Portuguese dubs are included in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks.
The real bonus here for die-hard Arrow fans that don’t watch the Flash (what is wrong with you if you aren’t watching the Flash?) is the included Flash crossover episode. That is a nice treat since the two-part crossover between Arrow and the Flash wouldn’t make sense without watching both. Collectors should check Best Buy for their exclusive steelbook version of this season.
WB offers the four-disc set in a slipcase. Included inside are an episode guide detailing each one and an UltraViolet digital copy good for the entire season. The special features are the usual mix of deleted scenes, a Comic-Con panel, and a couple of neat featurettes with heavy DC participation by such people as superstar writer Geoff Johns.
Star-Crossed Hawks (11:20 in HD) – Geoff Johns and others recount Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s histories in the comics, as well as covering their new history on Arrow. Some insight into the VFX behind their wings is provided by the crew member responsible for them.
Star-Crossed Hawks: The Hunt For Vandal Savage (11:02 in HD) – A recap of Vandal Savage’s comic book origins and how he’s been changed for television. Some of the material is rehashed from the first featurette, including the same producer quotes.
Smooth Criminal: The Damien Darhk Story (14:57 in HD) – This featurette traces the villain’s comic book origins to his portrayal by Neal McDonough.
Comic-Con Panel (23:19 in HD) – Shot before the season aired with cast and crew. These panels are always good fun for hardcore fans as the actors try to play them very loosely.
Gag Reel (06:02 in HD) – A series of cast flubs and goofs.
Deleted Scenes (Episodes #1, 4, 5, 10, 13-15, 19, 21, 23) – Mostly superfluous scenes that got axed for time, these play separately from each attached episode and without introduction.
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