Synopsis of 1×1 & 1×2: Rip Hunter: Time Master assembles a crew of misfit superheroes to save the world from the immortal Vandal Savage, also themselves.
Rating: ★★★1/2 out of Five
Rip Hunter’s Waverider is full. Counting himself (and discounting the AI that runs the ship), his crew totals nine, the same number it should be noted as once populated the Serenity. There’s a rich guy in a flying suit who is an exact combination of Iron Man and Ant-Man, a vague assassin with very exposed shoulders, a nuclear man made up of a scientist and a mechanic, two Lotharios with heat-based guns, and a pair of reincarnated hawk people. They are the only team capable (and unimportant enough to the time stream) of stopping Vandal Savage, the immortal who will one day take over the world.
What the hell did I just say?
There comes a time in every shared universe endeavor when the people in charge feel so confident in their creation that they’ll green-light something truly bizarre. In late 2014, when Marvel Studios was settling into being a cultural powerhouse and had already output their best film in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we were given Guardians of the Galaxy, a hilarious movie starring a talking raccoon and a sentient tree that proved so successful it’s hard to remember how much of a risk it was before it turned Chris Pratt into one of the biggest movie stars on the planet.
The time has come for DC’s Guardians. After the continued success and acclaim of The Flash and Arrow, the CW (already largely DC: The Channel) feels confident enough in the Greg Berlanti/Marc Guggenheim duo to let them swing for the weird, as if those two fellas needed even more projects on their plate. Thus, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, an ensemble show about a crew of send-offs from The Flash and Arrow traveling through time every week to take on the immortal future Dictator of Earth, Vandal Savage.
Often I’ve applauded The Flash for leaning into the weird of its comic book origins, but no amount of color-based supervillains could have prepared me for Legends of Tomorrow. Within the first few minutes of its debut episode, Legends drops us into a meeting of the Time Masters Council as Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) pleads to his shadowy brothers and sisters to give him a time vessel and let him hunt Vandal Savage, the man who killed his wife and child, and, you know, conquers Earth. Denied by his brothers and sisters in time, Rip hijacks a time vessel, fully loaded with Science and run by Gideon, an artificial intelligence one day invented by Barry Allen and the constant companion of The Reverse-Flash.
The way Rip sees is, there is but one thing to do: recruit a team and stop Savage. He picks up some of the finest (and most antiheroic) Central & Starling Cities can offer and scampers off into the time stream.
This two part pilot finds our heroes dropped in 1975, the perfect place for them to make jokes about fashion and run into younger versions of themselves. Legends of Tomorrow doesn’t seem to be going for anything new in its time travel. It’s overseen by men who grew up on Back to the Future and seem to have been waiting their whole lives to use the same clichés.
Rip Hunter says things like “in the place where—when—I’m from” and there are endless conversations about how we MUST NOT AFFECT THE TIME STREAM. Changes to the time stream are slowly blinked out of existence. Paradoxes are events spoken about in the hushed tones one might use to describe a relative’s drinking problem. Every single time travel trope you’ve grown tired of over the years is on display here.
Having such a huge cast doesn’t make for the most dynamic pilot, either. When big decisions have to be made, that means we often have to watch the same scene five or six times back to back. If a character is part of a duo, they have this scene with their partner. If they’re not, they have it with a guest star from Arrow. This happens twice in “Pilot: Part One.” Twice.
The dialogue is also a little bit totally all over the place. The cast tends to trip over some of the show’s truly unruly paragraphs. I don’t expect Deadwood from my time travel team-up shows, but another editing pass would have done a whole world of good, perhaps giving Rip one or two less monologues about the rules of time travel.
None of this is deal-breaking. A pilot with this many characters is difficult to pull off with elegance. Remember “Serenity,” Firefly’s two part pilot, and how that was probably the worst episode of the show? There’s a lot of fun on display here (who couldn’t love Chronos, the time travel bounty hunter) and the potential of the show is strong. “Pilot” gives us a good idea of what Legends will be like going forward. And it shows off the show’s secret weapon.
The cast is just incredible. I will sit through the worst, most clichéd time travel gobbledygook if there is a great cast on display and Legends has that in spades. Most of these actors have had time to hone their characters on other shows, and there is an atmosphere of comfort to their confidence. Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell are the standouts as Captain Cold and Heatwave, the nefarious criminals on the outskirts of the Legends. They make every moment count. They were already two of my favorite parts of The Flash* and the prospect of seeing them every week is a cause for celebration.
*What do we gotta do to get Golden Glider on this show?
Legends is already good at playing with character dynamics. Teaming up Brandon Routh’s naïve Ray with our two rogues on a heist mission is a great concept and they’ve already played it out in the second half of the pilot. Same goes for putting the two halves of Firestorm together with Sara on a mission to find the younger Dr. Stein, go-go boots and all. As Legends grows and changes, it has in it the potential to become a show like Community or Rick & Morty whose episode premises alone are cause for excitement.
But let’s keep the Firefly comparisons alive for a second. That show, great as it was, always had a pair of weak links in Simon & River. Legends has its own pair of Tams who also bring down the bigger ensemble, who are a duo given unto the show whose storylines are always about the two of them and not the rest of the crew, who pull away from the rest of the team to have scenes that are the most boring things conceivable if you aren’t invested in their overall mythology plotline. On Legends, these drags are the Hawks.
Ciara Renee and Falk Hentschel don’t have the same charisma as the rest of the cast. They are bolstered in this mediocrity by the worst share of the writing amongst the gang. The rest of the group gets to be fun and witty and make rash choices. The Hawks sit around blandly talking about their “destiny” and reincarnation and their true love and it is just terrible. They also brought down this year’s Flash/Arrow crossover with their black hole of life.
You could blame this maybe on the actors’ unfamiliarity with the characters, but Darville doesn’t have the same problem with Rip, so what’s the deal here? Why do genre shows do this? Why do they have the characters most central the premise of the show be their least interesting ones to watch?
I hope that Legends of Tomorrow keeps Carter dead, and not just because I hate him. I know how easy it would be to bring him back. His whole thing is reincarnation. They could pick up another version in a second. But the drama at the end of “Pilot” would be lost with his resurrection. His death is the pilot’s biggest surprise and the rally point around which the Legends accept their positions as the only team for the job. It’s important.
Don’t make the same mistake as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Don’t bring Coulson back.
Legends is a show with a lot of potential energy* that needs some time to come into its own. The cast enlivens the exposition-heavy first episode enough to give me hope that once that heavy-lifting is no longer needed, this will be a truly rousing program to check out every week. In summation: Captain Cold is bae, #KeepCarterDead, let’s do this thing.