Based on the first episode, ‘Legends of Tomorrow’, the new spinoff from ‘Arrow’ and ‘The Flash’, is DC Comics’ most ambitious television undertaking to date. It’s also undoubtedly going to be the most difficult sell.
Unlike ‘The Flash’ (and to a lesser extent ‘Arrow’), ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ isn’t fronted by an individual recognizable superhero whose name alone will draw an audience. Rather, this is a team show in which a bunch of B- and C-Listers band together to fight a common foe. All of the main characters were previously supporting players on the other two shows, some of them only recently introduced for the explicit purpose of setting up this spinoff. None of them, separately, has any marquee value. On top of that, the show’s narrative has a convoluted concept that’s trickier to explain than “Hero with a cool super power fights new villains every week to protect his/her city.” Time travel stories are inherently complicated.
The show’s pilot episode has a lot of story to cram into one hour, and a lot of characters to introduce in the process. I’d dare say that a viewer who isn’t at least a fan of ‘The Flash’ going in will have a hard time keeping up, and that the recent ‘Heroes Join Forces’ crossover (which introduced Hawkman, Hawkgirl and villain Vandal Savage) is essential prior viewing.
We start in the future. The year is 2166 and London is under siege by the immortal dictator Vandal Savage, who now has the entire world under his sole control. The guy’s so evil that he takes a moment out of his rampaging and pillaging to murder a woman and her young son himself.
In the halls of an organization called the Time Masters Council, time-traveling adventurer Rip Hunter (former ‘Doctor Who’ companion Arthur Darvill) argues to his superiors that the only way to save the world is to go back and stop Vandal Savage in the past, before he amassed such power. The Council, which holds sacred its responsibility to protect the timeline from disruption no matter what happens in it, is unconvinced. Despite being rejected, Hunter steals a timeship called The Waverider and flies back to the year 2016 (what a convenient date to pick). There, he quickly kidnaps eight individuals that he believes can help him on his mission. Hunter’s new hand-picked team is comprised of:
- Billionaire inventor and part-time vigilante Ray Palmer a.k.a. The Atom (Brandon Routh), who’s sort of a cross between Iron Man and Ant-Man
- Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), formerly the Black Canary
- Genius scientist Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and humble auto mechanic Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh), who can fuse their bodies together to become Firestorm
- Carter Hall a.k.a. Prince Khufu a.k.a. Hawkman (Falk Hentschel), and Kendra Saunders a.k.a. Priestess Chay-Ara a.k.a. Hawkgirl (Ciara Renée) – as I said, it really helps to have watched that recent crossover to make sense of these characters
- Leonard Snart a.k.a. Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) and his partner-in-crime Mick Rory a.k.a. Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell)
The fact that every last one of them allows a weird stranger in a trenchcoat to walk right up and shoot them with what looks like a pistol suggests that perhaps they aren’t really the greatest heroes that Earth has to offer. Nonetheless, Hunter wakes them up, tells them that they’re all legends in the future, and pleads for their assistance. He then leaves them with 36 hours to decide. Most of them need the time to think it over.
Palmer goes to see his buddy The Arrow (Stephen Amell) for advice and a pep talk. Sara Lance does much the same with her sister Laurel (Katie Cassidy), the current Black Canary, who gives her a new costume and tells her that it’s time for her to become the White Canary.
Hawkgirl wants to run, but Hawkman convinces her that this will be their best chance at stopping Vandal Savage – who has been hunting and repeatedly killing them for millennia – once and for all. (Incidentally, Hunter explains that Savage was resurrected after his last defeat and can only be permanently killed if the death blow comes from a hawkperson.)
Snart and Mick have no interest in becoming heroes, but Snart has big ideas about using the time machine to steal great treasures from all through history.
Jefferson flat-out refuses to get involved in this scheme in any way, so Stein roofies him and drags him along to the meet-up anyway. [Insert tasteless Bill Cosby joke here.]
Once they’ve all gotten back together, Hunter brings them aboard his invisible spaceship and takes them back to 1975. The ride is bumpy and has side effects on some of the travelers, including nausea and temporary blindness. Hunter warns that the further you travel back in time, the worse the side effects get, and may even result in death. This then provides a convenient excuse for why Hunter doesn’t just go back to ancient Egypt and kill Vandal Savage before he became immortal.
Hunter leaves Snart, Mick, Sara and Jefferson behind in the ship and takes the others with him to search for a Prof. Aldus Boardman, the world’s foremost (and only) expert on Vandal Savage. Viewers who’ve seen the ‘Heroes Join Forces’ crossover will recognize him as the conspiracy theorist from the old Betamax tape. Hunter says that Boardman will die the next day under mysterious circumstances, and he chose to bring them to this day so that their meeting with him will have minimal disruption to the timeline.
Sara isn’t terribly concerned about the timeline. She announces that she needs to go find a drink. Snart and Mick tag along. After marveling at the $1 beers (wouldn’t the 1975 bartender think their 2016 currency looks counterfeit?), the three of them get embroiled in a big bar fight. Mick has great fun and thinks the ’70s are a blast.
Prof. Boardman immediately recognizes Chay-Ara and Khufu. In fact, in a previous life they were his parents. The reason he knows so much about Vandal Savage is that they told him stories about their former lives. He then witnessed Vandal Savage murder them. He’s eager to help.
Left alone in the Waverider, Jefferson has no luck convincing its artificial intelligence, Gideon (yes, the same one that Reverse-Flash uses), to take him back to 2016. Suddenly, the ship comes under attack by a time-traveling bounty hunter with the very on-the-nose name Chronos (or possibly “Kronos,” not that it would be much better). The ship signals to Hunter to get back right away. Kendra/Chay-Ara/Hawkgirl puts up a fuss and won’t leave without her son, so they bring him along.
Luckily, Snart, Mick and Sara happened to be on their way back to the ship as well. The entire group reunites and uses their combined forces to fight off this Boba Fett wannabe. Again, that it takes all of them to fight one guy is probably not a good sign. They don’t even defeat him, just hold him off until Hunter can launch the ship and hide out in a place called the Temporal Zone (a “time limbo”) to give them a chance to regroup and make repairs. Also, Boardman was hit during the battle and dies after saying goodbye to his mother. Looks like her son’s death was her own damn fault and she should have left him where she found him.
Hunter has a lot of explaining to do. He admits that he was fired by the Time Masters Council and stole the ship. Remember that woman and child who were killed in the opening scene? They were his wife and son. Chronos works for the Council and was sent to retrieve him.
Also, that thing Hunter said about all of them being “legends” in the future was a little fib. They’re actually nobodies, all forgotten over time. He chose them because their disappearance will have minimal impact to the timeline (as opposed to, say, kidnapping The Flash or Supergirl). Palmer takes this news particularly hard. He has tried really hard to be a hero.
Stein apologizes to Jefferson for kidnapping him. He says that he was being a foolish old man who wanted to have a grand adventure. The kid has a change of heart and agrees to stick with him. Sara makes Palmer feel better when she suggests that he should view this as an opportunity to change their fates and become legends after all. Eventually, everybody signs on to continue helping Hunter.
In an epilogue scene, Vandal Savage himself is finally seen again, stealing a nuclear warhead in 1975 Norway.
Considering how many characters it has to juggle and how much plot setup it needs to run through, I found the premiere surprisingly fun. It works in a lot of humor and some effective character beats. A running gag where Palmer, for all his business success and heroics, is disappointed that his former teacher Prof. Stein doesn’t remember him says a lot about both characters.
Every time the episode feels like it’s too blatantly ripping off something else (‘Doctor Who’, ‘Star Wars’, etc.), it just goes ahead and irreverently acknowledges doing that. Capt. Cold even makes a crack about Chronos being a Boba Fett poser. In tone and execution, the show very much wants to be a small-screen ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, and mostly succeeds.
It’s not perfect, and I’m sure that the time travel antics will inevitably lead to countless frustrating plot holes and inconsistencies, but the show seems pretty promising. Whether it will be successful with the target audience is another question. I doubt this one will catch on to the degree that either ‘The Flash’ or ‘Arrow’ have, but it’s entertaining enough that I’ll stay with it for a while.