It’s fair to say that the CW’s LEGENDS OF TOMORROW had a shaky start. For the first few weeks there, it seemed as though the show that promised to be able to travel anywhere in the vast time and space of the DC Comics universe was stuck in a rut. Indeed, for a short season, the show spent the first three episodes in the same location following an uninspiring villain plot, so much so that it could have been readily relabeled Legends of 1975. Then something curious happened, something that it took its sister show Arrow several seasons to do: it started having fun with itself.
Although set-up in the fourth and second seasons of Arrow and The Flash respectively, by using characters first introduced in those shows, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW is a mostly self-contained series that doesn’t require prior knowledge. In fact, the pilot episode does an excellent job of rapidly introducing genius and Iron Man wannabe Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), resurrected White Canary Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), Jefferson “Jax” Jackson (Franz Drameh) and Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber) – who jointly form Firestorm – Mick “Heat Wave” Rory (Dominic Purcell), Leonard “Captain Cold” Snart (Wentworth Miller), Carter “Hawkman” Hall (Falk Hentschel), and Kendra “Hawkgirl” Saunders (Ciara Renée). Time traveller Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) gathers them together to go off on a mission through time to stop the immortal Vandal Savage (Casper Crump), who in the future has taken over the Earth and razed it to the ground. As they encounter various versions of Savage throughout time, they must put a stop to things that will impact on their own futures without jeopardising the time line.
From about the fourth episode of the series, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW finds its groove and stays there. It in the “White Knights” episode, and the follow-up “Fail-Safe”, the crew lands in Cold War era Soviet Russia. It’s a cool spy thriller at times, filled with levity and team-building, from Kendra and Sara training each other to deal with their respective traumas, to the bonding of the Firestorm team and the beginning of the character arc that sees Captain Cold become the anti-hero that he has been in recent iterations of the comics. Similarly, in the episode “Star City 2046”, they encounter a post-war world that has fallen to the forces of darkness, with only a familiar looking archer that calls himself Connor Hawke (played by Joseph David-Jones) trying to keep the peace. Oliver Queen (guest star Stephen Amell) from Arrow, who is initially said to have been missing for years, is a fractured shell of his former self when eventually discovered in the ruins of his 2016 headquarters. Finally sporting his trademark beard, albeit by way of some questionable makeup and prosthetic applications, he is missing an arm and no longer the city’s primary protector. It’s not only a great visual reference to various comics that fans have enjoyed, but a cracking episode that delivers on the promise of what the series could offer.
Yet it is the back half of the season where it really begins to soar. A beautiful couple of episodes set in the 1950s deal with race relations and the unlikely, but surprisingly charming, romance between two of the core characters.There’s the almost obligatory visit to the Old West, explaining Rip Hunter’s ubiquitous duster coat, and several character turns, betrayals and shocking fates by the time the season is done. Like Doctor Who, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW can be whatever it wants from week to week, and while many of the episodes play it fairly safe in terms of traditional plot and structure, it manages to introduce several DC Comics characters and settings, rarely hemmed into a single location for long. The last five episodes of the series feel like a non-stop action film, a long story arc set largely in a future world, and it’s unlike anything else the CW/DC Entertainment is offering on television right now.
This is what ultimately makes LEGENDS OF TOMORROW one of the most fun superhero shows on television, the point of difference it offers from the darkness of Arrow and Gotham, or the extreme brightness of Supergirl. It’s a true team show, and every character has something to contribute to the whole, even if Wentworth Miller talks as if he’s chewing large chunks out of a villain in a 1940s gangster film much of the time. The team make-up will undoubtedly change for the next season, and that will change some of the dynamics that worked the first time out. Yet with hints and cameos from other members of the DC Universe teased for the season 2 – including a crossover with Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl and a sufficiently teasing cliffhanger – it’s the show that has the most chance of adapting to whatever is needed most in this terrific time to be a geeky television viewer.
2016 | US | Executive Producers: Chris Fedak, Sarah Schechter, Phil Klemmer, Andrew Kreisberg, Marc Guggenheim, Greg Berlanti | Cast: Victor Gerber, Brandon Routh, Arthur Darvill, City Lotz, Franz Drameh, Ciara Renée, Falk Hentschel, Amy Pemberton, Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller | Distributor: CW (US), FOX8 (Australia) | Episodes: 16 | Rating:★★★★ (8/10)