Review: Marvel’s Runaways Season 1

Producer(s): Brett Morgen, Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Joe Quesada, Karim Zreik, Jim Chory, Jeph Loeb, Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Kelly Van Horn, Emma Fleischer.
Director(s): Brett Morgen, Roxann Dawson, Nini Lopez-Corrado, Ramsey Nickell, Jeffrey W. Byrd, Patrick Norris, Peter Hoar, Millicent Shelton, Jeremy Webb, Marc Jobst.
Writer(s): Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Kalinda Vazquez, Tamara Becher-Wilkinson, Rodney Barns, Michael Vukadinovich, Quinton Peeples, Jiehae Park, Kendall Rogers.
Composer(s): Siddhartha Khosla
Starring: Rhenzy Feliz, Lyrica Okano, Virginia Gardner, Ariela Barer, Gregg Sulkin, Allegra Acosta, Angel Parker, Ryan Sands, Annie Wersching, Kip Pardue, Ever Carradine, James Marsters, Brigid Brannagh, Kevin Weisman, Brittany Ishibashi, Louise Duan, James Yaegashi.
Distributer: Hulu
Genre: Adventure, Superhero, Teen Drama
Rating: TV-14
The original Runaways comic was created by writer Brian K. Vaughan (Lost seasons 3-5) and artist Adrian Alphona and debuted in 2003. Five years later, Marvel studios played with the idea of creating a movie based on the comic, but couldn’t get the project off the ground despite the studio’s love of the story. It was decided that, since the series would not be coming to the big screen, it might be best to look for an opportunity on television. When Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage showed interest in the idea, negotiations began. It was Hulu that ordered the first episode while pursuing a full season, and a deal did not take long to ink. Season two is set to release towards the end of 2018, with a 13 episode season.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: The show revolves around a small cult, though the cult is never described in depth. There are a couple of sacrifices made to restore the actual leader of the cult. Though small rituals are seen, they are never elaborated on and have little meaning within the show’s overall plot. One of the main characters is a Wiccan, though the belief is only mentioned.
Violence: There are a few fight scenes, as well as a bombing. Some blood, but nothing graphic.
Language/Crude humor: S*** is used frequently. A joke about a sexual object is made early on. X-ray goggles exist in the show. They are used for what one might expect (though nothing is shown).
Sexual Content: The show has many sexual moments. Two characters fake a heavy make-out session, turning into a bit more to get away with something else. Several moments of female cast members in only undergarments. Two female characters kiss more than once. There is a rather graphic (no nudity) sexual scene replayed a couple times. Two main characters sleep together. An adulterous affair is shown.
Drug/alcohol use: Alcohol is referenced early on. Some drunkenness implied. One character’s superhuman blood is used as a drug to an extent.
Other negative themes: The show has many examples of horrible parenting. It also implies an acceptance, and possible encouragement, of underage and out of wedlock sexual activity.
Positive Content: Many of the characters will do anything for the others, forming strong bonds. There is a heartwarming, though short, story arc with a couple of the characters and their parents dealing with the restoration of their relationships.

Storyline

Marvel’s Runaways follows a group of six childhood friends who accidentally discover the charity meetings their parents have been having for years are in truth a front for an underground cult that happens to do human sacrifices, charitably. Determined to take down their parents’ operation, the friends begin to investigate, attempting to find the truth about the cult’s motivations and end goal. Not everyone is convinced of their parents’ wrongdoing, and some have more difficulty with the situation than others. While some relationships begin to fracture, others show signs of life, forcing hard choices and plunging everyone into conspiracies upon conspiracies. Does anyone really know the truth?

Review

After a relatively strong debut, I had high hopes for the Runaways, and these hopes are what made continuing the season so difficult. There are quite a few storylines to follow within the ten episode season. The writers, it seems, were intent on giving everyone their own moment, which is commendable as it gives each cast member a chance to showcase their talent. Despite this effort, not everything aligns well. Some spoilers ahead.
The most immediate issue for the show comes in the form of pacing. Episode two, for example, takes us through the first episode again, but from the perspective of the parents. This was interesting for the first twenty minutes, but quickly lost its luster once it became clear not every parental storyline needed to be crammed into one sitting. The writers could have easily weaved the parents’ arcs into the main plot instead of stagnating an entire episode, especially when you only have ten to work with. The pacing problem is most obvious when it comes to the final two episodes of the season. The season finale is incredibly slow, despite a pretty great final shot, when compared to the prior episode which showcased the giant confrontation the whole season had been building towards, which really felt as though it should have been saved for the finale. The finale deals with the aftermath of this confrontation, but the episode’s plot felt as though it was stretched to fit a fifty-minute time-frame, which made for a less compelling finale.
The performance problems in the first episode continued throughout the season. The younger cast members in particular looked as though there were times they didn’t even want to be on set. During important moments, such as fight scenes, the cast would look lost, or even appear to be thinking more about where they were supposed to be standing instead of making the scene look natural. This gave tense moments a dress rehearsal vibe instead of catching the desired impact of the scene. Unfortunately, the large moments when the Runaways come together to fight back against the Pride’s plans become much less satisfying as a result. Even the strongest performers had several moments of flat or awkward line deliveries. Some members of the parental cast also appeared to have trouble transitioning from menacing villains into forced participants, though there are moments in which this can be blamed on the writing.
To give an example of the inconsistent writing, there was plenty of time spent on painting many of the Pride members in a sympathetic and conflicted light, as people who had unwittingly become involved and were now forced to continue under duress, often because of their desire to protect their children. This immediately becomes a problem when, given the opportunity to protect their children, they instead choose to stand by and watch while their kids are thrown dangerously close to a sheer drop. Sadly, I feel as though the only parent who would have done anything about the situation was the only one absent from the scene.
There are a couple of standout storylines. The redemption of Chase’s abusive father is heartwarming, until the plotline is abruptly cut off. Nico’s mother also has a great redemptive arc that gets sidelined too quickly. Which brings me to one of my biggest problems with the show: The writers never seemed to know how much time to spend with an idea. Some of their plot threads drag on far too long, and others are cut short just when they are beginning to develop, or simply move so quickly that they do not feel earned. One romance in particular suffers from this “sudden fire without a spark” problem.
With all of this said, there are some positives to the show. The main cast can still boast their remarkable chemistry. Ariela Barer and Gregg Sulkin play incredibly well off of one another, as do Rhenzy Feliz and Lyrica Okano. Some of the strongest moments come from Sulkin and James Marsters’ portrayal of a troubled father-son relationship. The tension when they greet one another as Chase tries to guess what version of Victor would come out will give the audience the same anxiety Chase feels in the moment. The other strong point is Siddhartha Khosla’s score. When the show wants to create an atmosphere, it goes all out. The music captures the tone of the scenes, even during the moments when nothing else does.

Conclusion

Despite a promising pilot episode, Marvel Runaways fails to deliver consistency on multiple fronts. Characterization and story arcs vary both in pacing and payoff, performances remain uneven throughout, and the writers never seemed to get into a groove. Strong camera work and great music create their own narratives, but not even this brought everything together. The show does deliver some great moments, but they don’t do enough to counter the lack of balance.

The Bottom Line

Though I remain positive about the future of the show, Runaways' first season struggles to find consistency in multiple areas.

 

6.7

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Isaiah Kaufman

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