‘Runaways’ is an over-dramatic, slow-paced slice of Marvel magic (Review)

November 17th 2017

There is a floodgate of new television shows based on Marvel properties that are being developed right now, so I won’t judge you for not knowing about a few.

Since its initial announcement, one of the most intriguing projects was Hulu taking on The Runaways.

The comic series is a cult classic for Marvel that began in 2003 and was once canceled, but later revived by the company because of its popularity. It still runs strong today.

The description: They were six normal teenagers linked only by their wealthy parents' annual business meeting...until a chance discovery revealed the shocking truth: their parents are the secret criminal society known as the Pride! For years, the Pride controlled all criminal activity in Los Angeles, ruling the city with an iron fist...and now, with their true natures exposed, the Pride will take any measures necessary to protect their organization — even if it means taking out their own children! Now on the run from their villainous parents, Nico, Chase, Karolina, Gertrude, Molly and Alex have only each other to rely on.

Photo: Marvel Photo: Marvel

So, yeah — this is pretty crazy stuff — and the thought of a television or film adaptation of this rightfully caused delight for fans of the Marvel universe.

Along with Freeform's upcoming Cloak & Dagger and the upcoming New Warriors series, they are a trio of Marvel properties based on teen characters being developed for an aimed at a specific teen/YA audience.

A script was ordered for a potential Marvel movie on The Runaways in 2008, and a director and scriptwriter were even named. After being put on hold later that year, in 2013 it was shelved due to the success of The Avengers (which led to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it) and wouldn’t be developed as a film until the MCU Phase 3 slate at the earliest. But when the Phase 3 slate was announced in 2014 and The Runaways was not a part of it, Marvel president Kevin Feige said that a solid draft existed and is always talked about in their film and television discussions, but “can’t make them all.”

Fast forward to 2016, Marvel Television, along with ABC Studios, find their showrunners at the “right time and place” to develop The Runaways into a television series, with Hulu on board to air.

In its first several episodes, The Runaways is quickly establishing itself as arguably the strongest show in the MCU. It’s actually close to being the best show based on a Marvel property out right now, but I’m handily giving that nod to Fox’s The Gifted —but that’s a story for another day. I also haven't seen the critically-acclaimed Legion, but alas. But with both of those shows being out of the MCU, The Runaways can have that title in particular. 

If you watch The Gifted and instantly feel that you may be watching Marvel’s version of The O.C. or Gossip Girl then you’re not wrong...like at all. Why? Because the show’s creators, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, were behind the both of those shows. With a California backdrop, the show heavily adopts elements of The O.C. the most. So mix the teen angst of those shows and dabble in a little bit of Stranger Things and The O.A., and you have The Runaways.

The series stars Rhenzy Feliz, Lyrica Okano, Virginia Gardner, Ariela Barer, Gregg Sulkin, Allegra Acosta as the teen heroes Alex Wilder (no superpowers, he’s the brains behind the team), Nico Minoru (a powerful Wiccan witch), Karolina Dean (an alien who can fly and manipulate/absorb solar energy), Gert Yorkes (has a psychic link to a dinosaur), Chase Stein (skilled engineer with weaponized gauntlets) and Molly Hernandez (superhuman strength).

Photo: Paul Sarkis/Hulu Photo: Paul Sarkis/Hulu

Their evil parents, the Pride, are portrayed by Annie Wersching, Ryan Sands, Angel Parker, Ever Carradine, James Marsters, Kevin Weisman, Brigid Brannah, James Yaegashi, Brittany Ishibashi, Kip Pardue and Julian McMahon.

Photo: Hulu Photo: Paul Sarkis/ Hulu

Though it is one of the best Marvel shows, The Runaways is the slowest. MCU shows have a penchant for being slow and establishing lots and lots of backstory before we get into the meat (Luke Cage is a prime example of this). The Runaways takes this to another level. Four episodes in and we’ve only seen one of the teen superheroes’ actual powers in action. The powers-that-be have made sure that we know every detail of these teenagers, as well as their parents.

It’s also super dramatic —probably the most dramatic of any MCU series. But that’s not a bad thing, in this case. Both the teen and adult actors chew up all of their scenes, but it’s in a good way.

The cast is very diverse in itself, including three black actors with Rheny Feliz as Alex, the leader of the Runaways, and Ryan Sands and Angel Parker as his parents. Both Sands and Parker deliver two of the strongest performances in the series, particularly Parker who plays evil incredibly and eerily well. Who knows how she’ll light up the screen once we really get knee-deep in the Pride’s action.

Photo: Greg Lewis/Hulu Photo: Greg Lewis/Hulu

Aside from all of this #BlackExcellence, other great performances come from Virginia Gardner as Karolina Dean, Annie Wersching as her Joel Osteen-meets-David Miscavige minister mother and Kip Pardue as her former teen idol father. Clearly taking nods from all of the recent publicity received by the Church of Scientology more so than the actual comics did, the Dean family is a delight.

Schwartz and Savage have stated publicly that they don't plan to entirely stay true to the comics, which is great on one hand but something to be wary of on the other. If they stuck truly to the source material, things may get just a bit too weird for TV. But, one good thing about the series so far is that since we get more of the parents’ side of things than we do in the comics, the whole show is kind of placed in this grey area when it comes to morals and who’s right and who’s wrong. Yeah, their parents are “evil” but there is a method to the madness playing out on their end as well. So some of the outrageous plot points of the show that may not seem ‘realistic’ may be softer for this, which isn’t a bad thing. At a glance, having 16 major cast members may seem like a huge task to keep up with for television show like this, but the producers and writers are handling it in a way where it doesn’t feel like too much all at once.

Photo: Marvel Photo: Marvel

Another spoiler alert, plot twist, Alex is evil and knew about The Pride from the jump, deciding to protect himself and his parents from other plotting Pride members. So, he defects. He later atones his wrongdoings, ends up being incinerated by the Gibborum (the entity behind all of the Pride’s actions), later resurrected, and is now in a new incarnation of the Pride with the likes of Black Mariah, Cottonmouth and others. So, yes, this is….a lot, just to say the least. Whether they go there or not, I’m not going to say which I’m a fan of at this point because I’m not sure, but we know Black Mariah is in the MCU (Luke Cage) as Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) as well as her brother that she killed, Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali). Could this somehow run together -- maybe Alex becomes one of Mariah and Shades (Theo Rossi)’ henchmen? Who knows.

But on some plot points of the comic, they definitely need to stay true to the canon. For example, I’ve seen some folks already cry foul on Karolina’s character seemingly having an attraction to Chase. Another spoiler alert for those that don’t know her comic story: The alien character is a lesbian and falls in love with an extraterrestrial shapeshifter named Xavin, who takes the form of a black woman while with her. This would be a bold move for the television adaptation. Perhaps Chase will be used as a storyline tool to introduce Karolina’s sexual orientation? Regardless, Xavin should be introduced at some point down the line.

Although the slow pacing is fine for now, I’m hoping that they aren’t planning to use the entire season as exposition before actually getting into the meat of The Runaways. There is a ten-episode order, so by episode six at least, things need to be really rocking and rolling, or being called Marvel’s The O.C. or Gossip Girl may turn out to be a bad thing.

But for now, The Runaways is Marvel television at its finest.

The show premieres November 21 on Hulu.

 

Trey Mangum is the lead editor of Shadow & Act. You can email him at trey@blavity.com & follow him on Twitter @TreyMangum

by Trey Mangum on November 17th 2017

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