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Arrow: Season 4
CW's 2012 debut of "Arrow" did a number of things for the network: it helped to wash away the bad taste left in the mouths of many superhero fans from "Smallville's" epic run that really didn't resemble much of a comic book show AND it was the catalyst for what is now a network running strongly on the back of a shared comic book themed universe. Following the trend of what is much maligned by viewers and critics of DC's Cinematic Universe, "Arrow" borrowed heavily from Christopher Nolan's grim-and-gritty Batman aesthetic, following our hero Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) from his return from the dead to his assumption of Starling City's Vigilante. While the show was an unequivocal hit its freshman season, there was a large contingent who desired "Arrow" to more quickly offer up a character who resembled his comic origins.
Season two would be a step in the right direction with Queen shunning his formal lethal ways in an effort to separate him from his enemies, most notably former ally turned supervillain, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke (Manu Bennett). It's a safe bet to call season two not just "Arrow's" finest moment as as series, but perhaps the best in the CW's DC arsenal thus far ("Flash's" sophomore effort comes incredibly close though). Season Three would see a major dip in quality, losing it's all-star main threat due to creator conflicts with Bennett and a tendency for the story to meander in uninspired directions coupled with an increasingly obnoxious level of support characters for Queen. Season four opens with a tough task: how do you win back the goodwill from season two and how do you do this when the previous season closes with Queen and his love, Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) literally riding into the sunset.
In the opening episode of season four, our hero finally embraces his comic book namesake, branding himself the Green Arrow as the threat of H.I.V.E and Damien Dahrk (Neal McDonough) quickly establish themselves as the new players in town. Unfortunately, those longing for the days of our hero hunting solo are long gone, with the Green Arrow joined by no fewer than John Diggle as Spartan (complete with a strange knock-off Magneto helmet, but no other special gear), Laurel Lance as Black Canary (2.0), Thea Queen as Speedy, and Felicity as the show's de facto Oracle character. If this weren't enough, Malcolm Merlyn still lingers his brooding shadow over the show pulling more face/heel turns in this season than the Big Show has in his entire career (that one's for you WWE fans). To call the cast of "Arrow" bloated is a tremendous understatement and a lingering problem that is the catalyst for the near unraveling of the entire series
Unlike seasons past where the progression either presented a continuing threat or built towards a climactic final stretch of episodes where the primary antagonist finally met Oliver and compadres head-on, season four struggles to find a compelling narrative. The first 75% of the season is awash in melodramatic tension between Oliver and Felicity, while the bloated Team Arrow fends off Dahrk and H.I.V.E in a frustratingly inconsistent fashion. Unlike Malcolm Merlyn, Deathstroke, Brother Blood, or even Ra's Al Ghul, Dahrk's powers are firmly rooted in the supernatural and initially, he's a deathly terrifying villain. As the source of his powers are explained, largely throughout this season's flashback sequences, the mystique is washed away and a multitude of contrived efforts to force him into the background are unleashed. Ultimately, Dahrk re-emerges in the final set of episodes less an eerily modern day sorcerer and more half-baked Bond villain.
The muddled tone and bloated cast don't completely tank the season though and the writers do try their best to fix things with a glimmer of hope for season five, but at the end of the day, there are few real highlights in this season. They are peppered throughout and include appearances from John Constantine (straight from his own unfortunately cancelled NBC series) and the requisite Flash crossover. The season also along with the second season of "Flash" gets to serve as a backdoor pilot to the newest DC/CW offering, "Legends of Tomorrow" and while the two-parter across two series' (thankfully that "Flash" episode is included in this set) does reek of gimmickry at times, it is a breath of fresh air in a truly dour and unspectacular season. It's tough to talk about the other memorable moments in the season without spoiling major plot developments, but I will concede their are some earnest emotional impacts as the series moves towards its final endgame.
Like every season before it, the four season of "Arrow" leaves with the promise of something radical and new; I fear though, it may be too little too late and the steady decline since season two (some might argue the second half of season three) is obvious and painful. A bloated cast of tired, one-dimensional characters has sapped the earnest efforts at lightening the tone from the dark and brooding oppression that permeated the first two seasons. I want to believe "Arrow" can be a bit more fun and still be serious, much like its brethren "The Flash" is managing to pull off, but season five is going to make some truly radical changes and stick with them; most importantly the focus of "Arrow" should be on its title character and if the writers can't keep a 20+ episode season engaging from stem to stern, it should think of scaling things back. As it stands, the fourth season of "Arrow" is a crushing disappointment and not necessarily worth everyone's time.
The 1.78:1 1080p transfer is an incredibly polished affair. Colors in the present day sequences are rich and natural, while contrast is finely tuned even amid the numerous nighttime and subterranean sequences. Flashback sequences are handled nicely with a slightly stylized color scheme to visually distinguish itself from the main storyline. Detail is strong and rich, with a light amount of natural grain unremoved through DNR or any other digital tinkering.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a rousing offering that captures the near cinematic soundscape the series has always offered. Dialogue is crisp and naturally balanced. Surrounds are used to incredible effect in the series' trademark action scenes and despite the bloated Team Arrow slowing down the evolution of the series, the sheer number of characters on screen gives the surrounds a healthy, nearly dizzying workout. The LFE is on-point throughout and can give a viewer a jolt should an unexpected explosion be used for dramatic effect. French, Portuguese, and Spanish 2.0 tracks are included as well as English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish subtitles.
Extras consist of a handful of deleted scenes across the four discs. Two featurettes focused on characters (Hawkman, Hawkgirl and Vandal Savage) from "Legends of Tomorrow" are included, as well as one on the season's villain, Damien Dahrk. A gag reel and footage from a Comic-Con panel round out the rest of the bonus features and are the most lighthearted offerings in the set.
The fourth season of "Arrow" is a mess of poor pacing, meandering plotlines, a bloated cast adding little to the overall growth of the season and a distinct lack of focus on its title character. The days of Deathstroke and Oliver Queen's efforts to save his city in a believable (for the superhero realm) fashion are long gone. In its wake is a dismal, overly long season that starts with a bit of shock value and ends with shock value, but does nothing to ensure viewers that things will change for the better. While the Blu-Ray release is a nice technical release, I question the value of the season for anyone but the most devoted fans, who in turn may find little worth revisiting here. Rent It.