While watching Legends of Tomorrow for the first time this week, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between it and a similar, Marvel-branded property. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the gap between new and current Marvel storylines was used to introduce us to a new grouping of characters brought together by one man on a mission to save the world. Like S.H.I.E.L.D., Legends tackles a similar setup, bringing together eight select supporting members of Arrow and The Flash in the hunt to stop a potential apocalypse. With the allure of time-jumping separating this series from its more-established contemporaries, it faces the grave challenge of squeezing out a refreshing experience of its own, while needing to prove sufficient enough to stand independent of DC’s other primetime juggernauts (although in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s case it also maneuvered around the events of its parent, blockbuster films).
Furthermore, this series has the distinction of rolling out an ensemble cast, which immediately welcomes a wealth of positive and negative tendencies these kinds of shows tend to always have laying around. For that, Legends carries more upside than its parent series – and possibly even more potential to fail.
Rip Hunter (Arthur Duvall), and the world he lives in a good hundred or so years from now, are in a disastrous pickle. Vandall Savage (Casper Crump) has all of Earth in the palm of his hands, and his globetrotting reign of terror spares no lives – including those of Hunter’s wife and son. Illegally skimming through the past and recruiting a team capable of reversing the drastic misfortunes of the year 2166, Hunter stumbles upon the DCU’s B-level cast of do-gooders, wanderers, and notorious criminals. Even though his pitch takes some time to sink in – with each hero/anti-hero’s personal plights rightfully at the forefront of their decisions to either heed Rip’s call or leave him hanging – it’s not too long before everyone is whisked away on the Waverider, and the time-traveling fun commences…
…Although this inaugural episode does run into its largest road bumps once things get going. Neither Arrow or The Flash have Emmy-quality dialogue or performances, but there’s a charm, pathos and determination in their respective casts that make character interactions a blast to sit through. Legends clearly doesn’t have that same advantage, and I felt that much of the show’s ham-fisted script went against the initial magic these individuals carried in their former, more immediate appearances. The dialogue is consistently cringe-worthy, and with the exception of Brandon Routh as the Atom, Caity Lotz’s work as Sara and the Firestorm coupling of Victor Garber’s Dr. Stein and Franz Drameh’s Jefferson Jackson – the show’s overall cast leaves plenty to be desired.
The worst part about that is the realization that the season seems to want to focus its current main story arc on Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and despite DC’s parent series having already laid the groundwork for their backstory – nothing has convinced me that they should bear this level of importance. There’re a whole bunch of reasons for why I feel this way: Ciara Renée and Falk Hentschel are too wooden and whiny in their respective roles, there’s no chemistry between them, and the flashbacks illustrating their conflict with Savage have been poorly constructed. Hopefully, as we get to see this brand-new team develop a more uniform dynamic, these wrinkles get promptly ironed out. For the moment, however, I wouldn’t mind seeing more from the others in future installments.
It’s no secret anymore that this pilot episode was rife with exposition, but I appreciated it because of the payoff it manages to have at the end. The centuries-long history between Hawkman, Hawkgirl and Savage gives the show many opportunities to justify it’s significance and highlight the tragedy that underlines it. Through the revelation of Dr. Boardman as their son, both Carter and Kendra experience their first taste of tampering with and coming to terms with events of the past. Boardman’s very presence and eventual demise at the hands of Chronos (the “Boba Fett-looking” mercenary sent to hunt down Rip) gives them an emotional link to their reoccurring attachment, and tells us as viewers that perhaps this perpetual struggle with Savage will rightfully flesh these two out over time.
Once Rip’s backstory was fully detailed, I wound up feeling for his pain and understanding why he’d risk so much with the time-keeping council he congregated back at home with. The simple fact that his family perished under the workings of Savage accentuates the reasoning behind his initial deceit, and allows me to speculate what his exact limits are in his quest for revenge. I very much look forward to seeing more of Mr. Hunter (along with his revenge-driven arc), and it’ll be interesting to see how big a role Arthur Davill is given here relative to the rest of the crew.
The “legends” at the heart of this multi-faceted crusade will not only need to prove themselves to the world – but to the viewers watching them evolve. Even though the dialogue sort of taints the narrative’s efforts in making this team endearing enough to stick, the seeds for potential are wonderfully planted here in other areas. When Captain Cold, Heatwave and White Canary go out on the town and get into some trouble at a local bar, the show is at its absolute best. We get Sara’s self-loathing taking a backseat to her instant chemistry with the Snarts, and the two Snart brothers indulging in their volatile traits by helping their comrade out of a jam. The setting allows these three to both express themselves and bond a little, and you can see Legends doing away with expository dialogue or needless setup to embrace the elements that help it stand out. As a result, the brilliantly choreographed barfight that ensues becomes a moment where the episode’s time jump to the ’70s is justified (who wouldn’t want to crack some skulls while Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” is playing in the background?), the team dynamic is in full force, and the idea of these characters becoming closer as a unit is irresistibly intriguing.
And by revealing that they are, in fact, not the highly-regarded icons Rip leads them into believing, Legends gives us enough personal incentive for them to try and capitalize on this current situation. Stein gets to see the world, explore pivotal periods of time in person, and – like Ray intends on doing himself – make a tangible difference for the sake of humanity; Jefferson can finally do something he loves, enjoying the cooperative nature of working together to fight for the same cause (smart callback to his high school football days, by the way); Sara can carve out a true purpose that justifies her resurrection; and Cold and Heatwave get to beat up on a bunch of bad guys and have some fun in the process. Even though the team itself still needs to work some kinks out, and the fate of their futures is now up in the air – there’s ample reason for them to bound in unison for the same goal. Let’s hope the show chooses to focus on that more in the coming weeks.
Here are a few side notes I wanted to cover before I conclude:
- Gideon, Waverider’s Siri-like A.I. voice command system, is this show’s J.A.R.V.I.S., and I love that. She seems to have a way with poking humorous fun out of the team, and her connection with Rip is pleasantly engaging.
- The encounter with Chronus proved two things to me: That Legends is definitely going to up the ante in regards to production values and large-scale fight scenes, and that Chronus himself is probably going to be no more than just another man in a robot suit.
- Stein was totally out of line for drugging Jefferson with sedatives, and the fact that they’re now both tied to this endeavor still feels contrived: Stein’s never come close to acting this selfishly before.
- Are we honestly supposed to believe that Laurel had that White Canary suit just waiting in Team Arrow’s basement for Sara all this time?
- Like Sara’s brief scenes with the Snart brothers, Ray and Stein’s shared love for science lends itself to another great dynamic the show creates this week. I don’t know anything about ionic propulsion or quantum fluxes, but I wouldn’t mind seeing them discuss it together some more.
- Savage is a bit of a hit-or-miss character for me so far, and it’s worrisome that he barely appeared this week. He needs to be fleshed out more, or at least given a moment where he demonstrates his position as the season’s premiere baddie. One can only hope he makes his presence felt in a big way during Part two’s proceedings.
Legends of Tomorrow is a show based around its ensemble cast, and for better or worse that approach was highlighted here in its pilot entry. A blend of solid action, generally nauseating dialogue, needless exposition and fun character moments culminate into an engaging hour of television – but a frustrating one, also. Thankfully, most of this week’s flaws are stemmed from setting up this new world we’re to explore, and once the gears begin to shift I have a funny feeling that the “Justice League meets Doctor Who” vibe the show’s going for will lead to some insanely entertaining stuff.
+ Brimming with potential
+ Great action scenes
+ Standout character moments
– Ham-fisted script
– Hawkgirl/Hawkman drag things down tremendously
– Savage not much of an intriguing nemesis