This week, Legends of Tomorrow premiered on the CW, home of other DC shows like the Flash and Arrow. Both of those shows are hitting their stride. I prefer Flash to Arrow, but I think that is because I’ve always liked Flash better as a super hero, and the Flash TV show is a little campier, a little more “comic book”, and I like that kind of thing. But Legends of Tomorrow is trying for something a bit more epic in scope: taking a group of B tier heroes and villains, pairing them up with Time Master Rip Hunter (played by Arthur Darvill, a Doctor Who alum who played Rory. I suppose Arthur can’t escape his temporal heritage, even across the “Pond” here in America) as he hunts down immortal madman Vandal Savage. Producers Berlanti and Guggenheim, among others, who have really developed Arrow and Flash into engrossing shows, have taken an exciting risk in assembling such a large ensemble cast and trying to keep it from devolving into an CGI-infested superhero MTV’s Real World drama. (No offense to the CGI work in this show intended, which is indeed top notch.)
Each member of this ensemble superhero cast has their own reasons for joining up (or at least pretending to join) and has something to prove to themselves, to the other members of the group, and to us as viewers. One of the things I like about the show, even after just the first episode, is that it is aware of these shortcomings. The characters themselves realize their inadequacy when likened to the heroes of the other super hero shows from whence they came. They discuss the fact that they are either failures, rejects, or fatally flawed in some way. However they are all in different stages of acceptance of this fact. The Atom, Ray Palmer (played by Brandon Routh, who got his start in the DC universe by playing Superman in Superman Returns), for example, flatly refuses to believe that he will amount to nothing in the future that Rip Hunter hails from. Captain Cold, Leonard Snart (played amazingly by Wentworth Miller), on the other hand, has no problem admitting that he is a criminal with no desire to save the future. Rather he is interested in stealing from the past. All this lack of confidence and rampant dishonesty make for a compelling genesis of this group and of the identities of its heroes. They are liars, either to themselves or others. I won’t spoil what those lies are or could be, but this will make for good character drama, and character development. However I worry that this might derail the show into a cloudy pity party for a while, similar to what Arrow fell into for a while. But sometimes it is worth the wait while characters sort themselves out so they can become the heroes they know they can be, and the ones we want them to be (again, I’m looking at you, Arrow).
The plot moved fast in this pilot, as they have 9 characters to introduce into a time travelling situation, but suffice it to say, it was competently handled. I’m just a bit surprised that Rip Hunter, given the ability to travel to any point in time, selects his whole team from 2016. Were there no superheroes in the 2126? In 1816? It seems that there might have been more opportunity for interesting character drama and humor had Rip Hunter brought on heroes from different time periods.
We have seen many of these characters before either on Arrow or Flash, for various durations. Many, like Hawkman and Hawkgirl on Flash, and Vandal Savage on Arrow, were throw in towards the midseason finales of those shows to prepare us for their entrance on this one. Others, like Captain Cold and White Canary, have been members of those shows’ casts longer. This is one of the smart things that the writers and producers planned. Many of the characters and their back stories were introduced over the past couple of seasons of their sibling shows so that the expository job of the pilot episodes of Legends of Tomorrow could be minimized. This way they could jump straight to the main plot and drive of the new character, Rip Hunter and his unsanctioned revenge quest. His back story is quite trite, but I hope they give him more dimension as the season progresses. The Time Master Rip Hunter, leader of this mismatched crew, is the lone wolf, who’s only foil is perhaps Vandal Savage himself, who as an immortal is also a master of time. One concern I have is that Vandal Savage seems to be pretty boring as far as villain goes. Just wants to rule the world, kill anyone who gets in his way. Nothing particularly compelling, say, compared to say Harrison Wells from season 1 of the Flash, who you love and hate from week to week, or Damien from Arrow, who has a high charisma score. But perhaps they will reveal something to get us more into him later on in the season.
The heroes are paired off quite intentionally into charismatic duos, so that they can play off each other against the larger unit. Firestorm is in fact two people, and older white scientist and young black athlete and mechanic. Captain Cold and Heatwave are both criminals, but with different motivations and dispositions. Hawkman and Hawkgirl are star-crossed immortal lovers, one having recovered his memories and the other just getting hers back. Atom and White Canary are both Arrow alums, with vastly different perspectives on being heroes. It will definitely be an interesting experiment in the first ensemble cast superhero show. There is fun banter and interaction between all the diverse personalities (the bar room brawl in the 1970’s involving White Canary, Captain Cold and Heatwave is particularly hilarious), as well as moving changes of heart regarding their motivations (the scene between Jefferson acquiescing to Professor Stein comes to mind) and sets the stage for many possibilities of growth to come. There is lots of room between each duo and the larger group as a whole for development, humor, betrayal and unexpected alliance, making this a show to keep an eye on for 2016.