TV Review: Marvel's Runaways

SYNOPSIS: After discovering their parents are super-villains in disguise, a group of teenagers band together to run away from their homes in order to atone for their parents' actions and to discover the secrets of their origins.

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REVIEW: It almost feels like there have only been two things hitting theaters and TVs in 2017: Stephen King adaptations and superhero stories. The latest offering from Marvel (their sixth series to debut this year with The Punisher still to come) is the long awaited live action Runaways. Based on Brian K. Vaughn's awesome comic about a band of teens who discover their parents are supervillains and team up to take them down, Runaways has been in development for a very long time. With Marvel Studios hitting their stride on the small screen between Netflix's mini-universe and non-MCU offerings like The Gifted and Legion, Runaways feels incredibly underwhelming considering the critically acclaimed source material. Debuting on Hulu on November 22nd, Runaways comes off as a mediocre teen melodrama better suited to air on Freeform or The CW. This is incredibly disappointing, especially since Runaways is debuting in the wake of Hulu's major win with The Handmaid's Tale. While only four episodes of Runaways' ten episode first season were made available for review, it is more than enough to declare the series as the latest misfire in Marvel's otherwise stellar track record.

Set in Los Angeles, Runaways looks and feels like teen series ranging from The O.C. to Beverly Hills 90210. The main cast are all age appropriate and the spitting image of their comic book counterparts. Led by Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz), the teens are all reeling from the suicide of Niko's sister two years prior, they have all gone their separate ways. But, on the anniversary of their loss, they reunite at Alex's home where they accidentally encounter their parents involved in a ritual sacrifice. Now, in the comics this was the jumping off point that forced the teens to leave home and begins their journey to becoming heroes themseves. Instead, the first episodes of Runaways doesn't actually have anyone running away. There is a lot more focus given to the backstory of the parents which makes sense given the fan favorite actors in the cast including James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Annie Wersching (24), Kevin Weisman (Alias) and Kip Pardue. While fleshing out these characters is necessary to build up tension in the season's narrative, Runaways ends up suffering from the same issue that plagued the first season of AMC's Preacher: the characters stay in one place rather than kicking the story into gear.

The special effects are used sparingly but also do not elevate the material above what we have seen on ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the first episode alone, we get some hints at the special powers of both Molly (Allegra Acosta) and Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner) which are consistent with their comic book counterparts. The best cast of the bunch is easily Ariela Barer as Gert Yorkes. While her psychic link with the dinosaur named Old Lace is well executed and surprisingly realistic for a small screen budget, Barer's character has the most distinctiveness from the rest of the cast. The entire main cast is ethnically diverse and representative of what modern American teens look and act like which is exactly what you get when you read the comic book. But, what made Vaughn's Runaways so good was the fast-paced storytelling that instantly had the kids grabbing weapons, coming up with cool hero aliases and fighting back against their parents. Here, the characters spend more time talking than taking action which grinds each episode to a halt.

What I can say on the positive side about Runaways is that the overall production values are solid. Filmed on location in California, the show makes great use of physical shoots that were wasted for the Hawaii set production of Inhumans. Like Netflix's New York set series, Runaways incorporates Los Angeles as a character in the show. There are multiple references to the lifestyle perks of being young and rich Millennials that may make older viewers groan, but Runaways is not designed for adults. Unlike every other Marvel series to date, Runaways is clearly aimed at a teen audience. The profanity is mild, the sex is mild, and the plot is mild. The stakes never really feel significant and because the adults are given more sympathetic backstories, you never really hate them the way you are supposed to hate villains. So, I guess what I am saying is that this really is 90120 with superpowers.

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 I will say that the first episode is by far the weakest of the four I was able to see but the episodes that follow were only marginally better. There is clearly potential for Runaways to turn itself around and become a better story but that will require taking everything and resetting it. Not a single cast-member is out of place in this series but the dialogue they spout is poorly written and the episodes are even more poorly paced. There was a promise during the series panel at this year's New York Comic Con that the show would be connected to the MCU, but there are no overt shout outs to any other Marvel series or film. If anything, this feels like BIG HERO 6 without the personality. Runaways should have stuck to the comic book and made a faithful adaptation that did not try to do anything crazy. There are subtle changes that work here but by deviating too much from the comic, the show has prevented itself from becoming one of the better entries int he MCU.

Marvel's Runaways makes it's Hulu debut on November 22nd.

Source: JoBlo.com



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