Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Kevin Smith Remakes "Emissary" For The Flash With "The Runaway Dinosaur!"

The Good: Moments of character, Moments of performance, Special effects
The Bad: Banal plot, Awkward cuts, Some terrible acting, Derivative and inconsistent writing
The Basics: Kevin Smith directs the return of The Flash with "The Runaway Dinosaur," an unfortunately derivative episode.

There are very few directors whose works I tend to follow and actually get excited about. Kevin Smith is, as unlikely as it might initially seem, one of them (and no, I haven't yet made it through Tusk!). So, when I saw that he was directing the latest episode of The Flash I was even more initially excited about the episode than usual. And Kevin Smith does fine with "The Runaway Dinosaur," but it is hard not to see it as being incredibly derivative of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's pilot episode "Emissary" (reviewed here!). "The Runaway Dinosaur" personifies the Speed Force in a way that is reminiscent of the wormhole aliens (Prophets) from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Smith even uses similar lighting for them at key moments, which makes the comparison especially apt.

"The Runaway Dinosaur" follows on the events of "Rupture" (reviewed here!), which makes it impossible to discuss without revealing some spoilers about where that episode ended. After all, with the apparent death of Barry Allen and Zoom terrorizing Central City and Earth-1 effectively, there is a massive sense of consequence at the outset of "The Runaway Dinosaur!" And "The Runaway Dinosaur" deals with those consequences and, despite there not being a writing credit for Kevin Smith, there are a number of language changes from the regular speaking voices for principle characters - Iris, for example, uses "hell" as an expletive more often in the episode than ever before - that make the episode stand out as a Kevin Smith work.

With the S.T.A.R. Labs crew reeling from the shock of Barry Allen's apparent death, they are unable to take a beat when Jesse Wells and Wally West are discovered. Jesse's heart has stopped beating, while Wally seems generally all right. While Henry Allen stabilizes Jesse, Iris and Cisco go into the basement morgue at S.T.A.R. Labs to recover Eobard Thawne's notes on Barry's treatment. Barry, meanwhile, wakes up in a nebulous place where he meets the embodiments of the Speed Force. The Speed Force tells Barry Allen that he can go home . . . if he catches the blurry speedster flickering out of his perception in the zone.

In the morgue, Iris and Cisco discover that Girder has been resurrected as a zombie and he mindlessly leaves S.T.A.R. Labs and begins to wreak havoc on Central City. While Allen goes through Thawne's notes, Wells and Ramon attempt to vibe a way to Barry. Barry, however, refuses to leave the Speed Force as his return would be without his powers. While Iris and Joe hunt down Girder, Barry Allen must confront his feelings of loss for his mother and recover his powers.

"The Runaway Dinosaur" features a number of weird script problems, outside the change in Iris's narrative voice. Iris runs into the breach room while Cisco is vibing, insisting that Wells is killing Ramon . . . without any basis for that assumption. Similarly, Harrison Wells suddenly has knowledge that he would have no possible basis to possess or assume when he says that Barry Allen in the Speed Force will be able to see and hear anyone in contact with Ramon when he vibes. This is based on what, exactly?! Wells had no known experiences with Vibe on Earth-2 and, unlike Eobard Thawne (Harrison Wells in the first season), has no experiences with being inside the Speed Force (save when he went with Barry and Ramon to Earth-2 through a breach, more than through the Speed Force). Harrison Wells would have no way to make that assumption.

That lack of consistency in the characterization and scientific continuity is paired with poor performance moments and some of the weirdest cuts of the series to date. "The Runaway Dinosaur" was cut down from over fifty minutes to the necessary 42 minute run time and one has to hope there was something cut that makes Henry Allen telling Joe West that his story is going somewhere when Jesse L. Martin is not on the screen emoting anything and there is no Joe West line cutting into Allen's story to justify Henry's otherwise weird line.

While "The Runaway Dinosaur" is being praised in some quarters as the best episode of The Flash to date, it is arguably the most erratic. In order to squeeze in a cameo with Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith admits to the series one of the worst acting deliveries of the series. Mewes is fine, but the woman who accompanies him in his cameo has one of the worst, most awkward breaks in a line that should have necessitated a second (third or however many takes it took to get it right!) take. And, as Barry Allen moves through his trippy timeless zone encountering embodiments of the Speed Force in familiar faces, he is suddenly unable to recognize his own father?!

Girder returns and "The Runaway Dinosaur"'s b-plot acts as an effective sequel to the first season episode "The Flash Is Born" (reviewed here!) and the choice of resurrected metahumans appears more or less random. Girder is utilized to allow Iris and Joe to have a plotline away from S.T.A.R. Labs and because he is one of the few metahumans who is actually outright dead (but, given that Eobard Thawne traded his life away for his own machinations, it seems like a severe deficiency of heroic characters to see if there is no possible way to resurrect him properly and transform him from his zombie state back into a regular metahuman).

Despite some of the guest actors giving cringe-worthy performances, Grant Gustin gives an amazing, emotive portrayal of Barry Allen in "The Runaway Dinosaur." He roots the potentially boring sequences with Barry in the Speed Force.

Kevin Smith does fine with the material he was given - one imagines that for the first special effect sequence of Barry in the Speed Force, Smith might have been heard muttering "We're spending more on this effect than I spent on Clerks!" - for the most part. For the episode's big moments between Barry Allen and Iris West, he gets great performances. The humorous moments of the episode work well and are cut in a way that makes the episode feel even more erratic for the moments that flop.

The result is that "The Runaway Dinosaur" packs a lot in and delivers inconsistently.

For other works by Kevin Smith, please visit my reviews of:
Chasing Amy
Clerks The Animated Series
Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back
Jersey Girl
Clerks II
Zack And Miri Make A Porno
Cop Out
Red State
Jay And Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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