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Runaways - Reunion + Rewind + Destiny - Triple Review: "An Excellent Adaption"



Reviewer's Note: As Hulu aired the first three episodes of Marvel's Runaways at once on its streaming service, I've decided to do a triple review of all three of them. When the show starts airing episodes on a weekly basis they will be reviewed as individual episodes shortly after their release date. Haven't watched the episodes yet? Check out Samantha Benjamin's awesome spoiler free preview of the first three episodes here. This is very much a spoiler filled recap/review. I haven't been able to go into detail as to what happened in every episode due to the sheer amount of material in these three episodes, but I should have covered all the major plot points - however, if there's anything I've missed feel free to point it out below.

One of the first comics that I read when I was getting into reading Marvel and DC was Brian K. Vaughan's Runaways, a critically acclaimed series focusing on a group of kids who found out that their parents were evil. Due to being overwhelmed with how many comics there were as a newcomer, I never returned to read beyond the first volume (which was excellent), until recently, in preparation for the TV series where I fell in love with the series and the characters all over again. The stories themselves contained enough potential to be ripe for a television adaption, and it's great to see that the result has been incredibly successful based on what we've seen so far. The show effectively balances its characters well, introduces audiences to the world to the point where both newcomers and veteran fans alike will both be satisfied as Hulu continues its streak of excellent television.

From the start, I was hooked. The cold open introduces us to a teen going by the name of Destiny, who's running on the streets where she finds herself accosted by two Spanish men. She doesn't speak Spanish, and is clearly scared. Sweeping into her rescue come the mysterious Church of Gibborim, an organization that doesn't exactly like the term "Cult". The Church of Gibborim recruits Destiny and we learn that despite Destiny's initial objections, the men were actually trying to save her, saying that they'd be better off with them than in the Church. It's certainly a mysterious opening tease that establishes the Church as a potentially sinister organization that may be hiding more than what it lets on. Destiny is also not the first teenager they've recruited, there are others, too, looking for a salvation.

Whatever happened to Destiny is for the moment, unclear, as there is a time jump to six months later where we're introduced to the Runaways themselves who look like they've just walked straight out of the comics. The character costumes, their personalities and their background is done with more care than someone who's just glanced over the wikipedia pages for their characters and taken the best bits, even though there are some minor changes from the source material. We are introduced to Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz) who first see playing Star Wars Battlefront on his Playstation, where he's starting to get nostalgic for missing his friends after a year spent apart. It turns out his friends were brought together because of their parents, who were part of an organization called The Pride, who convened at volunteer groups. However, his friend Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano)'s sister, Amy, died two years ago and that drove a wedge between the group where they moved on and until the moment that Alex tried to get them back together, never looked back. There's enough material here for a flashback episode in the future, for sure.

This is very much a pilot episode and as a result introducing the characters is the main focus for the moment. As well as Alex and Nico we get introduced to Chase (Gregg Sulkin) who has ditched his former friends to hang out with the popular kids, slacking in his grades as a result, at least according to his father, Victor (Buffy's James Marsters). Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner) is the perfect public face for the Church of Gibborim whilst Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer) and her adoptive sister Molly Hernandez (Allegra Acosta) are both facing issues of their own, Molly dealing with the problems that come with puberty whilst female empowerment and rallying against the patriarchy seems to be driving Gert forward. Alex himself hasn't really recovered in his social life since the group split up and is virtually friendless, and tries to spend most of this episode taking multiple attempts to try and get the band back together.

For a pilot, Reunion does a very good job at introducing the characters. We care about them and they're quickly going to become fan favourites if the show continues its form. There was a reason why the comic worked so well and that was because Vaughan made you care about the characters themselves and really fleshed them out. The plot is secondary in this first episode that does a good job at establishing who they are and their relationships with their parents. Their struggles feel relatable, even when Nico ends up trying to practise Satanic rituals on a L.A. beach. It's early stages but I reckon this show will definitely find an audience, especially among comic book fans, but it's also likely to draw in fans of Stranger Things looking for something similiar to tide them over.

Most of Marvel's shows so far have been on Netflix (Daredevil, The Defenders, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Punisher) or ABC (Agents of SHIELD, Inhumans), so it's good to see that the company is branching out beyond the two networks. Despite the teenage, young adult feel of the show it opts for a darker atmosphere in parts but at the same time, there are plenty of quips that remind you that yes it is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's unlikely that we're going to see references to the Avengers or SHIELD anytime soon however, especially given how independent the comic series was at its early stage. This is a good decision as the teen drama came first in the comics and the superhero stuff came second, and it looks as though the show has managed to tap into that.

The soundtrack feels synthy and chilled and oddly enough reminded me Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive and The Neon Demon. (College & Electric Youth's A Real Hero would definitely suit the tone of this show). The music choice for now fits the tone of the series perfectly and never feels too overbearing, whether the show is using Raury's Friends as Atlas Academy is introduced or Tony Quattro’s Fuerza when Nico starts investigating her mother's staff in Destiny. Reunion director Brett Morgen brings a great look and feel to the show with his direction and this is hard to believe that it's the first time he's directed a fictional project. He has experience of course in documentaries, but Runaways seems like an unexpected but welcome addition to his filmography. He's then followed up by Roxann Dawson in Rewind and Nina Lopez-Corrado in Destiny who both take the directors chair, to great results, as the all three bring their A-Game to the table. Just three episodes in, the show is staking a claim to be one of the best-looking Marvel series around at the moment, with its consistent direction and production design being a real boost to the show's quality. Based on what we've so far, I hope this isn't the last Marvel show that we see on Hulu, although that may not be possible with the current Disney streaming service situation.

The changes to the source material put the emphasis on character work and we get to see the characters at school which is something that we never got to see in the comics. The dynamic created between the characters is influenced by the social hierarchy of the school and it adds some fascinating potential for character development. They don't remain apart for long however, as these characters end up getting back together again when they follow Alex's message that leads them back home, with various touches on the way that help make the characters figure out who they are. Chase eventually decides that he shouldn't have thrown his lot in with jocks who try to take advantage of Karolina whilst at a party, and ends up fighting them off (it's worth leaving a trigger warning for attempted rape here, which was one of the more uncomfortable scenes in an otherwise excellent pilot and it could have easily been removed altogether). Karolina herself is undergoing a rebellious phase of her own, and takes off a bracelet that she was given when she joined the church at birth, and her body lights up as a result. Nico herself is drawn back to Alex's too, arriving shortly after the others.

During the time that the team start to bond over what happened to them, they end up deciding that a party isn't a party without some alcohol and go looking for it despite the fact that The Pride, their parents are currently having a meeting. They end up stumbling into the meeting of their parents, who have colluded together in secret and partaking in a ritual that somehow involves Destiny. It shocks them, and they try to look closer only to be disturbed by a forcefield preventing them from entry. That forcefield breaks, forcing the kids to run upstairs before they are spotted, only to learn that the door is blocking them from leaving.

The second episode, after resolving the cliffhanger from the premiere, decides to shift the focus to the parents and explore their relationships with themselves and their kids further. This is a good move as the showrunners avoid falling into the trap of painting the parents as standard, cartoon-y villains that are entirely one dimensional. They're complex and nuanced characters and the juggling act on display in the second episode really helps flesh them out beyond the glances that we saw in the first hour. It's so crucial to the series to get the parents right and the fact that it takes place on the same day as the previous episode allows us to see events of the day from a different perspective with great results.

The drama that allows us to explore the parents as couples dealing with their own problems goes someway to explaining why they do what they do. It allows us to see them sacrificing another innocent soul, potentially the last one, and it gets a clear divide between the group as to who's okay with going ahead with this and who's rather reluctant, with different family members falling into different categories. The Wilders themselves have found themselves in a difficult situation when an old gang member from Geoffrey's (Ryan Sands) past, Darius comes back into the picture demanding ransom money in exchange for not killing those who he used to work with. Geoffrey threatens Darius' family to get Darius to cool off, only for Darius to remind him that he's lost all his honour that he used to have. To complicate the situation further, one of Darius' allies has been able to steal the data that Geoffrey has on his phone. The decision to focus on the parents individually before bringing them together much like the writers did with the kids really helped develop them further, to the point where they're almost as compelling as the kids themselves. This second episode essentially served as another pilot episode, and you can see why Hulu decided to release the first three episodes back to back as a result to help ease transition between them.

The family dynamics across the board are all different and it will be interesting to watch them unfold in their own respective ways in the episodes going forward. The Steins are different from the Wilders and the Wilders are different again from the Minorous. There's no story that feels repetitive and each has their own feel that helps make it stand out. For the Steins, Chase's abusive father looks down on his mother as well, and Janet manages to talk Chase out of standing up to him. Janet's argument for sticking with Victor is one that emphasises his brilliant mind, and it's with Victor that we get the closest reminder that we're in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, as we've seen him working in his laboratory using technology that would feel right at home in a SHIELD facility. He's so dedicated to his work that when Janet gets a call from someone else Chase knows almost instantly that it's not his father, and takes this as an opportunity to remind his mother that Victor has forbidden her from calling anyone.

The Minorous (Brittany Ishibashi & James Yaegashi) are still grieving for the loss of Amy and as a result it's pushing them apart from their living daughter, Nico. Tina uses a staff to close herself off from the rest of the world in Amy's bedroom after Nico accidentally broke one of Amy's trophies, and Robert reminds her that if she cuts herself off from Nico then she risks losing Nico too, as well as Amy. One thing that should be mentioned here out of all the characters Tina Minoru actually was a minor character in Doctor Strange, played by Linda Louise Duan - but the producers of the show decided to recast her role for the show as the character was not actually named in the film, only in the credits. Dale (Kevin Weisman) and Stacey Yorkes (Brigid Brannagh) are also worth mentioning here as they seem like the least enthusiastic about the Pride meeting out of all of them, to the point where Dale even forgot that a Pride meeting was going ahead. Both of them are bio-engineers, but we don't get to spend a lot of time in Rewind with them as the focus is largely on the rest of the parents.

Now let's go onto the Deans. Frank (Kip Pardue) in this case is a fading actor who has devoted to the Church and as a result his acting career has stalled completely. Instead of Frank it's Leslie (Annie Wersching) who's very much calling the shots as one of the leaders of the Church. Frank has to accept that he has to leave Hollywood behind, and it's long since past time for his career in the movie business. Leslie isn't having an easy day herself though as she has to do her best to convince Destiny, the girl from the cold open, to try and remain in the Church with her. It turns out that Destiny's been hiding secrets about having a daughter that the Church didn't know about, but it's too late to go back now, this close before the Pride meeting. They have to go ahead with Destiny, inviting her to become an "Ultra", in a ritual that is supposed to take place in the desert.

Destiny quickly realises that the basement with a bunch of strangers is something that is very much not part of what she believed the ritual to becoming an Ultra was. Stacey hands Destiny a drink that's supposed to purify her, and then the adults crowd around her undressing her. Despite being told that Destiny is going to be okay and nothing's going to happen to her, she quickly breaks down and pleads with them not to go ahead with what they're doing to her. All the while, Leslie is lying to her, and even Geoffrey at least has the courage to say that he's sorry. But it's too little and too late to stop the ritual from going ahead, and Destiny is gone in a box that apparently takes her away to an unknown place.

This leads us up to the end of the first episode where the glowing light flashed from Molly's phone, breaking the parents' concentration with the ritual. The kids are able to make it out of the chamber after Molly uses her mutant powers to break down the door (due to rights issue with Fox she probably won't be a mutant on this show like she is in the comics), but for the purposes of this show, she has the same powers. Alex is able to put a plan in action to distract his parents who come looking for them, shutting off the lights to make it look like a circuit blew. This works, allowing the group to process what they've just witnessed without fear of being immediately discovered. Nico is the one that puts forward the fact that they might have killed Destiny, whilst Gert tries to put across that they were conducting a harmless experiment, and Chase brings forth the theory that his dad may have finally figured out time travel. Normally if this wasn't set in the Marvel Universe most people would think he was crazy, but when you consider that there are the Avengers out there and one of them is a Norse God and another is a giant green-rage monster, time travel couldn't be that much of a stretch. Although I've mentioned earlier that Runaways avoiding Marvel Cinematic Universe connections for the most part being a good thing, part of me is curious to learn how these characters reacted to the Avengers showing up or the collapse of SHIELD, and even instances like Civil War. But then again, even Agents of SHIELD is moving away from its connections to the movies, so it seems like that is out of the question for now.

To Victor's horror, he discovers that Destiny didn't vanish like she was supposed to and was still in the box. That means that the final sacrifice for whatever it was the group were doing hasn't gone through, and Frank is told that whilst he tries to do some investigating of his own, there are certain places in the Church that he's not allowed into because he's not Mrs. Dean. Whatever mystery is there, Frank is going to have to find out along with the rest of the audience. The episode ends with the teenagers being left to their own devices. Nico watches her mother putting the staff away, and Chase notices that the Self-driving SUV that Victor owns has a considerably large space in its trunk. Karolina herself is worried that something is happening to Destiny and decides to send her a text to see if she's okay, whilst wondering what the bracelet she's wearing does to her. And meanwhile, Molly is insistent that there's something else going on on top of this, and gets Gert to sing her a lullaby, which ends up getting picked up by of all things, a dinosaur through the vents, who listens to the sound of her voice. And back at the Wilders, Geoffrey notices a hairpin belonging to Molly left behind on the steps. It's enough to make him suspicious that the kids might know more than they were letting on, and ends the episode on a very interesting note.

The third episode, titled Destiny, picked up where the second left off, looking at the fallout from the events of the night and dealing with the kids coping to the news that their parents might be more than they appear in different ways, as the show pushed the storyline front and centre now that all the set-up had been completed. We open with a flashback ten years ago where a fire leads to Molly being adopted by the Yorkes after the death of her parents, and the mystery of how the fire started remains unknown. It turns out that the hairpin that Geoffrey found was given to Molly by her parents, making it an important possession for her. At the group meeting called by Alex, Karolina reveals that she has been texting Destiny who apparently sent a picture detailing her being in London, but it's quickly revealed to be a photoshop. She decides to head to the Church to find information about Destiny using her status in the Church to see what she can find.

The episode itself also introduced one of the best elements from the comics, the dinosaur (Old Lace? Quite possibly, but the creature doesn't have a name yet in the show). The metaphor about the creature breaking free from its cages to represent the kids breaking free from their own 'cages' of their parents worked really well in the context of the series, but the creature's introduction also worked well as a way to put Gert and Chase closer together, as the two characters found themselves pitted against it when they investigate Victor's lab. The dinosaur is calmed in the end by Gert, who gets closer to Chase in this episode quite literally ending up in his arms, but you can tell it's not a romantic moment.

The serious tone that was established in the first two episodes is essentially pushed to the wayside in Destiny as the tonal shift takes a turn for the more bizarre, with the introduction of Old Lace playing a very big part in this. The tension and stakes were upped dramatically in episode three, with the kids spending most of the episode trying to act as though they actually still are normal kids and don't know anything about their parents. It's not clear how long they intend to keep up the ruse, but given how many of the kids are trying to hide the secret it's only a matter of time before somebody slips up and The Pride find out.

Molly is the first one questioned about why her hairpin was found in the Wilder's study, and ends up providing an excuse that she was looking for alcohol, which was essentially the truth of why they were heading in that direction anyway. Nico meanwhile gains access to the magical staff and uses a paper snowflake from her sister's scrapbook to inadvertently make it snow inside the room. She calls over Alex, which of course results in an awkward situation when Tina comes home and finds Nico and Alex in the same room. The two have to pretend to be hooking up to avoid rousing further suspicion, and later, Alex kisses Nico goodbye after getting kicked out of the house by Tina.

Trouble is gripping each member of the Pride and their children on different fronts, coming in different shapes and sizes. Karolina's investigation at the Church about Destiny's disappearance doesn't lead to anything, whilst Victor Stein is grappling with the after-effects of killing Destiny in Rewind, wondering why his machine didn't work correctly. There's further drama behind the scenes as Robert Minoru is revealed to be having an affair with Janet Stein, and they're both deadly serious about going through with it to the point where they're willing to leave their respective other halves. This will no doubt drive even further tensions between the Pride when the secret comes out, and they are beset with their own issues just as much as the teenagers are. It's also worth mentioning that one of the weakest elements of the show so far is down to its large cast, which means that there are characters who get lost in the shuffle and aren't given the opportunity to develop as well as others. It is early stages however and that has plenty of room to change.

The episode itself ends with Destiny's body turning up on the beach. Leslie, who has met with a person in poor condition at the Church to ask if they feel anything only to be told that they feel "nothing", finds out from Tina that Destiny has been identified on television, which will no doubt create a backlash for the Church given that she was a member and create unwanted questions. Tina then drops a hint that she may know about Victor and Janet's affair, suggesting that they aren't picking up their phones, but it's Leslie who knows what must be done. Another sacrifice is needed.

One of the strongest elements of the comics was how well it blended teen drama with the action and it seems like that is what the show is doing here. Its smart balance of both has been helped by the fact that the showrunners have experience in this department, with showrunners Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage having plenty of experience in the field. Schwartz himself has been responsible for the popular teen drama The O.C in the past and it doesn't take much of a leap to work out why Runaways has been labeled as Marvel's own take on that particular series, with the teen drama being a forefront of the show so far. Regardless of any comparisons though, with just three episodes the show has already created its own unique corner in the cinematic universe, and I cannot wait to see where we go from here.

What Did you think of the first three episodes of Hulu's Runaways? Who are your favourite characters so far? Are you familiar with the comics or are you a going into this series blind? Let me know in the comments below.





 
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