REVIEW: Marvel's Runaways Season 2 Is Uneven But Still Promising

The character work is generally stronger than the production values, and Schwartz and Savage manage their unwieldy cast (encompassing six teen characters and 11 adults) effectively most of the time, finding time for individual subplots with nearly every character. The teen romances that progressed a bit awkwardly in the first season come off more smoothly this time, and both of the group’s main couples (Nico and Karolina, Gert and Chase) have strong chemistry. Poor Alex gets sort of left out in the cold, and his potential romance with a character outside the main group (lasting only a few episodes) is mostly just filler.

In the first season, the teens discovered that their parents were kidnapping runaway teens and sacrificing them to Jonah, giving them a strong motivation to make a clean break (even if it took the entire season to get there). But the more that Schwartz and Savage hedge their bets on letting the parents go full-on evil, the less compelling the conflict is. If their parents are just misguided pawns of an alien manipulator, what’s the point of going to such great lengths to avoid them? In the comics, the Runaways moved on relatively quickly from the Pride to face other adversaries, but the show remains fixated on the parent/child conflict, which ends up dragging the narrative down.

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Even Jonah has his sympathetic moments in the season’s first half, especially as he explores his relationship with Karolina. The result is a show that seems determined to keep lowering its dramatic stakes, having characters assert that apparent threats are actually less dangerous than they seem at first. The interpersonal dynamics can’t quite make up for those shortcomings, although they’ve developed nicely over time, and Schwartz and Savage (along with their writing team) can still come up with fun, lively banter reminiscent of their seminal work on The O.C. and Gossip Girl.

The young actors, too, have grown into their roles, although Acosta still has trouble balancing Molly’s young-girl naïveté with her burgeoning maturity (and the writing doesn’t help her much on that front). The adult actors sometimes feel like they are jockeying for screen time, particularly in their many group scenes, but they shine in less crowded scenes when their children force them to confront their misdeeds. And McMahon has plenty of experience as a sneering villain, delivering threats with the proper amount of menace and condescension.

The first season of Runaways was defined mostly by its promise, as the slowly paced story led up to the premise familiar to comics readers. Through the second season’s first six episodes, the show still seems built mainly on promise, with a similarly slow pace (this season’s story is spread out over 13 episodes, rather than 10) and a lead-up to a climax that gets further and further away. It’s more lighthearted and low-key than other Marvel shows, and the characters are pleasant enough to spend time with. But the spark of excitement that defined Vaughan and Alphona’s comics has yet to make its way to the screen.

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