Marvel's Runaways Review: Hulu's New Superhero Drama Gives The Comics A Slick And Moody Update
Comic book TV shows exist largely to tell adult stories about adults, without a whole lot of spotlight attention going to the medium's younger generations. Hulu's upcoming Marvel drama Runaways has no such age-related exclusions with its polished and refreshing version of the age-old "kids vs. parents" feud. Delivering dark stories without ever seeming dour, Marvel's Runaways is a mood-driven superhero soap opera with just the right amount of arch self-awareness to maintain a grounded levity. Expect this to be another big win for Hulu.
In one corner of Runaways' world, there are the teenagers, a group comprising former lifelong friends whose central relationship was completely shattered after a tragic accident. And while it takes a measured effort to get used to these characters' personalities, this is an endlessly watchable cast. Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz) is the smart and nerd-esque ringleader of sorts, and he's played like a toned-down version of Joseph Gordon Levitt's character in Brick. He's still got feelings for Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano), a makeup-heavy Wiccan whose comic-originated need to self-harm was wisely changed for the Hulu series.
Then there's the surprisingly brainy star athlete Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin), who earns quite a bit of flirting from the feminism-espousing Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer), who has close to zero respect for the gorgeous and super-privileged Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner), whose mother is at the head of a shady religious organization/cult. And then there's the youngest of the group, Molly Hernandez (Allegra Acosta), who starts out discovering the extraordinary abilities that are lurking just beneath the surface. (Speaking of something lurking beneath the surface, there is definitely a dinosaur in this show.)
In the other, more nefarious corner of Runaways, we have all of the parents, who make up the criminal ring The Pride (which is also a charity, to further draw out the element of duality). Geoffrey (Ryan Sands) and Catherine Wilder (Angel Parker) came to their self-made successes from rather unpampered pasts, and they've no interest in losing all that they've put together in raising Alex. Robert (James Yaegashi) and Tina Minoru (Brittany Ishibashi) are brilliant innovators that have been quite successful together, even though marital problems are quite present.
The most fun-to-hate character is definitely James Marsters' Victor Stein, a perfectionist engineer always quick to point out others' faults, including those of his doting but unhappy wife Janet (Ever Carradine), whose unblemished exterior hides some personal demons. As the non-confrontational bioengineers Dale and Stacey Yorkes, Kevin Weisman and Brigid Brannagh are the nebbish comedy relief parents that feel most like they sprang from a comic book's pages. Finally, we have Leslie Dean (Annie Wersching), a leader within the Church of Gibborim who has a big secret she's keeping from everyone, including her actor husband Frank (Kip Pardue), who seems to be mostly clueless about...everything.
Within both Runaways groups, internal strifes persist. The tragedy that drove the kids apart also did a number on the adults, whose duties and responsibilities for The Pride override some of their personal preferences to avoid working together. And so, naturally, it's during one of their last big meetings that the kids decide to hang out all together again, and they end up witnessing one most incriminating moment in The Pride's mysterious ritual. Runaways' thrills then come from the teens trying to unravel the compounding mysteries, while the parents are trying to figure out what the kids (and others) are aware of.
Across its early episodes, Runaways offers a slow-burn take on superhero origin stories, teasing out the protagonists' different abilities without quickly shoehorning them in or focusing solely on them. Similarly, the show gives its villainous parents some development before slowly peeling back the layers to reveal their more duplicitous cores. It's not the most common route to take for a live-action comic book tale, but Runaways is able to milk every second of drama thanks to co-creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who have graced the world with The O.C., Gossip Girl and Chuck, among other shows. There are plenty of brutal character moments during Runaways that will immediately bring Chuck Bass to mind, and Chuck fans will enjoy watching these characters adapt to the major new changes in their seemingly ordinary lives.
As fun and devious as Runaways is, a few of its drawbacks are worth mentioning. First, there are some big and arguably unnecessary changes made to Karolina's story that will unnerve some comic fans (and other early critiques of the show have called these out). Which, when extrapolated, incites a bit of worry over how closely Runaways will stick to the comics when it comes to bringing this first major act to a close. There are some pretty huge and very specific twists coming that are hopefully handled as faithfully as possible, even if it means going against TV conventions.
Also, it's pretty easy to go multiple Runaways episodes without actually finding any of the characters to be inherently likable The teens are so archetypically self-involved that rooting for any of them seems like work (except for maybe Molly), while it's hard to get pumped for any of the adults when they speak their evil urges aloud so frequently. Thankfully, no characters are worth viewers' vocal hate, so it all balances out eventually.
With Netflix having built up its own NYC-based sector of the MCU, Hulu needed to make a big mark with its first leap into into Marvel storytelling. Thankfully, Runaways has all the elements needed to do just that, since the central story beats that guided the comics are universal in their relatability, even when updated for TV. These obviously aren't parental problems that everyone in the world has gone through, on either side of the coin, but all of the same emotional underpinnings are there. Parents want a secure existence for their kids, and kids want to make sure their parents aren't going to do anything that embarrasses them, especially when it involves ritualistic murder.
With original dramas like The Path, Chance and The Handmaid's Tale building interest and confidence in Hulu's ability to pick quality projects, Marvel's Runaways will almost definitely be a new turning point for the streaming service, proving it can deliver blockbuster superhero storytelling that looks and generally works far better than traditional networks' comic book series.
Thankfully, there's not much waiting time left before Marvel's Runaways debuts on Hulu (opens in new tab) on Tuesday, November 21 at 12:01 a.m. PT. To see when other super-powered shows will pop up on the small screen for the rest of 2017, head to our fall premiere schedule.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.