Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E13 - 'Attack On Gorilla City'





Since it began, there have been many things I have genuinely enjoyed about The Flash – to such an extent that it has definitely earn itself a spot as one of my favourite shows, at the moment. Out of everything that the series has done, though, my absolute favourite would be the decision to attempt a live-action take on a character like Gorilla Grodd – the super-intelligent gorilla with telepathic abilities who has been a common foe of the Flash, since his creation in 1959. With his previous appearance on the series proving to be so popular with fans, it was inevitable that Grodd would eventually put in another appearance. And, with his final appearance coming to an end with Grodd being sent to a whole city of super-intelligent gorillas, on Earth-2, it had seemed almost certain that his next appearance would be both highly ambitious, and wildly entertaining.

The set-up for the episode is straight-forward enough. With Earth-2's Harrison Wells being lured into a trap, and captured by the gorillas of Gorilla City, Jesse makes the journey to Earth-1 to recruit some help. With one of the head-lines glimpsed during Barry's trip to the future referencing a gorilla attack on Central City, Barry naturally fears that Grodd's ultimate plan is to use Harry to open another breach between worlds, so that he can lead an invasion.

So, Barry sets off for Earth-2 with two, equally important, goals. First, there is the obvious desire to save a friend. But, also, there is the hope that preventing Grodd's invasion will be another step toward changing the future and preventing Iris's murder.

Once the team arrive, though, they are almost immediately captured, and find in a cell. Soon enough, they learn that Harry was simply bait intended to draw out the one that Grodd really wanted – Barry, himself. Claiming that he needs help from his old foe, Grodd's plan is to have Barry challenge the current king of Gorilla City, Solovar, to a trial by combat. If Barry wins, Grodd will be in position to take over as the city's new ruler – and, he claims, he will put a stop to Solovar's plans to launch an invasion of the human world.

Of course, it hardly counts as any sort of spoiler to point out that Grodd's ultimate plan is something very different. Rather than working to prevent an war between gorillas and humans, Grodd's ultimate plan is to secure a position of power, so that he can launch an invasion of Earth-1, himself – with Solovar, of course, only truly being concerned with protecting Gorilla City from what he sees as an external threat. It was a fairly obvious plans, admittedly – but, the fact that its execution relied so heavily on Grodd carefully playing Barry and Solovar off against each other, depending on their mutual distrust to keep them from realising that they were being manipulated, allowed it to come across as genuinely clever, of Grodd's part.

Much like with Grodd's past appearances, there was a lot to enjoy about this episode. Grodd remains the genuinely intimidating presence that he was in each of his previous appearances – though, now, he is also joined by Solovar, another impressive CGI creation with voice-work provided by the voice-acting veteran, Keith David. Barry's fight with Solovar, in an arena surrounded by cheering gorillas, of course, was also a very creative, and wildly entertaining, action sequence.

Admittedly, it did start to feel a bit obvious that the people behind the episode were going out of their way to try to minimise the screen-time for its cast of CGI gorilla characters, in various ways – but, impressively, the episode was actually able to find ways to turn that into something of a strength. Sure, it was a bit conspicuous that most of the episode was limited to the wilderness outside of the city, and a dingy prison beneath it (with the city, itself, only being put on display through a couple of brief establishing shots), but that didn't actually feel like much of a flaw in an episode which was, ultimately, much more about the tense politics that the team had been drawn into, than the action. Also, while the choice to devote scenes to having both Grodd and Solovar (who seem to share the same telepathic abilities) speaking through a mind-controlled Harrison Wells and Cisco, respectively, may have been motivated by the desire to ease a bit of the strain in the episode's budget, it was a decision which also provided both Tom Cavanagh and Carlos Valdes with the opportunity to take on very different roles.

The cast, as a whole, was also great, as usual – with moments of typically entertaining banter spread throughout the episode. A particular stand-out, in this regard, would have to be the moment the scene shared between H. R. Wells and Earth-2's Harry, toward the end of the episode. Honestly, alongside the impressive CGI work that went into creating Gorilla City, and its inhabitants, it would have to be Tom Cavanagh who was the true high-light of this episode. Throughout the episode, he was called on to play three very different characters – and, he managed to make each of them feel very distinct (we had, of course, already seen plenty of evidence of Tom Cavanagh's ability to create very different characters – but, seeing it within a single episode was particularly impressive.

Among the rest of the cast, though, I would have to say that it was (surprisingly) Julian who I enjoyed the most. Julian's almost giddy enthusiasm at the thought of actually being able to travel to another dimension was a genuinely entertaining development for such a typically sardonic character (even if his actual reasons had more to do with a desire to protect Caitlin) – as was his insistence on cosplaying as Indiana Jones for the journey (even if he did try to argue that it was simply the best choice of outfit for an expedition). Overall, Julian continues with his trend of evolving into a genuinely entertaining character, and a valuable member of the team, throughout this episode – which leaves me especially worried about what his fate may turn out to be by the end of the season.

Unfortunately, there were also some weak points which let the episode down, somewhat. As impressive as it was to see the team responsible for the show's CGI stretch themselves to such an extent, there were some noticeable rough edges to the CGI work during key scenes. The establishing shots of Gorilla City looked a bit more like something out of a video game from a few years ago, for example – while, also, Solovar's movements during the episode's key action sequences did occasionally come across as a bit shaky. In both cases, though, the fact that they were willing to make the effort was, in itself, very impressive – so, if they fell a bit short of what they were aiming for, I think it can be forgiven.

Less forgivable, though, was the awkward 'teen romance' drama that we had between Wally and Jesse, back on Earth-1. Keiynan Lonsdale and Violet Beane have both done a good job with their respective roles, in the past – but, the dialogue they were given, here, was actually pretty close to terrible. Also, while the romantic interest between them had been previously established, I wasn't convinced that the series had done enough to give the impression that they were this important to each other – so, all of that talk about how deeply in love they suddenly are just came across as unearned. It gave the impression that the writers' are trying to rush the relationship.

But, in the end, that's really the only significant negative, here – and, even that isn't enough to spoil what is, overall, a very entertaining episode. Best of all, this is only the first half of a two-part story-line, with the episode's final moment revealing that Grodd will actually be able to launch his invasion of Earth-1, after all. So, not only was this a great episode, but it has also provided the set-up for what should, hopefully, be a genuinely exciting follow-up.

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