Review: ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ is Big Damn Fun (That May Break Your Brain)
Last January, rumors that Arrow might birth another spinoff around Brandon Routh’s Atom seemed too ridiculous to pay any mind at first, at least until DC doubled (or rather quadrupled) down on said insanity for a full team of castoffs. We’ve had a year to live with that Legends of Tomorrow concept, and two episodes screened for critics, but let’s assure you off the bat: this premise has become no less ridiculous.
I’m split far enough down the middle to keep this direct: Legends of Tomorrow is a disaster. It is a mess of rushed exposition and absurd rule-making, spliced together with breathtakingly fun spirit, endless character combinations, and undoubtedly the strongest superhero action ever put to TV.
It is Big. Damn. Fun.
It is also undoubtedly the dumbest, most infuriatingly rushed storytelling the Arrow-verse has to offer. Think Guardians of the Galaxy by way of Doctor Who (let the record show I wrote this before The CW said it verbatim last week), and far less modest with its superhero movie influences* than Arrow cribbing from Batman Begins.
*Chalk this up to releasing screeners ahead of a finished score, but the two episodes in question used actual selections from Man of Steel, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and even Interstellar. It’s one thing to place a temp track with a rationale of “this music evokes the sentiment we want to replicate,” but it’s at least a little troubling that Legends seems to be reverse-engineering its bigger moments with that line of thinking.
Anyone familiar with either of the first two trailers already knows the gist (and incase you missed it, you’ll see that rooftop meeting a third time): Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) tears across time to recruit eight “Legends” on a mission to stop Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) throughout history. In doing so, the series itself strives for meaning and purpose beyond a cash-in of leftover characters, but more often struggles with the sum of its parts.
There’s Ray Palmer, weirdly obsessed with people making a bigger deal of his legacy, and strangely unconcerned with whatever condition we find Felicity in by Arrow’s return; a clumsily-resurrected (and named) White Canary, Hawksplaining Man and his better half, 1.5 Firestorms we’ve actually spent time with, and The Flash’s bestest, coldest baddie. Also, Dominic Purcell as Drax. I will accept no other interpretation of this character.
As you can imagine, there’s enough setup to retread by character introductions alone, that very little about the series itself has time to properly congeal in the first two hours, let alone answer some of the more ridiculous questions any sane person might raise over Rip Hunter’s recruitment. Why join this showy nutcase with nary a shred of evidence? What if either half of the three duos had doubts*? Where’s the urgency, if the Vandal Savage we know is dust, and won’t become a major threat until sometime around 2166?
*Without spoiling anything, this will indeed present a problem in the pilot for one member, and its resolution is one of the most bafflingly insane, morally repugnant acts to be glossed over by a DC TV series. It is astonishingly dark, ill-thought out on the writers’ part, and barely addressed again in the next hours.
Therein lies Legends’ most divisive problem, one that should feel familiar to Doctor Who fans: Can you silence the voice in your head picking apart glaring leaps in logic, or are you along for the ride? We’re talking about the same universe in which a hooded vigilante in grease paint kept police baffled for years, and a lightning bolt gave Grant Gustin the ability to run through time, rather than liquefy his internal organs around every bend. If you count yourself by the former, Legends of Tomorrow will unwaveringly infuriate you with its slapdash approach.
Time travel stories work best with simple boundaries, where Legends seems almost intent to Genisys its Terminator. Let’s say Vandal Savage is a huge problem in 2166. Okay! Feels like we have a bit of time to noodle that one out, rather than ask eight strangers from 2016 to abandon their lives to a future they wouldn’t live to see anyway, and there’s no indication Vandal can alter time. We also know where Vandal’s dust pile was a few weeks ago, and that’s probably a decent place to start, right? Not to mention, succeeding in their mission anytime before 2015 would disrupt Arrow or The Flash’s timeline*, prevent the emergence of Hawkgirl, and … well, you see where this is going.
*There’s a bigger, unseen problem at work, one likely reflected in its Thursday timeslot: Any ripples in time should presumably affect, even hold dominion over both Arrow and The Flash, a precarious position that has to reset itself by the following Tuesday to cover Central or Star City not starting episodes reduced to rubble. There’s a quick comparison of changes to the timeline as cement that takes time to solidify (or undo), but it’s very much an obstacle to real consequence, the writers’ frustration with which feels apparent at times.
If you’re along for the ride, there’s a tremendous amount of fun to be had here. Dialogue between nine or ten distinct personalities crackles throughout that gorgeous set, and there’s enough varied mission work for any number of unexpected pairings. The series stands tallest with room enough to “get weird in the ‘70s,” and let its looser characters simply start trouble for the hell of it. Once the initial fumbling setup wears off, the second hour even parades a heavy Back to the Future influence that feels much more in tune than its action-heavy B-plot, even if the corners cut to allow said homage might give you nosebleeds. They might even be worth it, for the fun of Sara Lance casually swiping joints, or exchanging bemused flirts with Victor Garber.
Character-wise, Caity Lotz’s innate charm endeared the character through three seasons of Arrow, and we all know Victor Garber as an old pro. Legends still faces an uphill battle with a few of its lesser-developed castoffs, as the Hawks aren’t any more accessible than our last meeting, nor are Ray Palmer’s fixations on legacy any easier for Brandon Routh to add internal depth, while Franz Drameh’s Jay Jackson seems mostly aboard for the quips and incredulity. At least Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell perfectly straddle the camp and carnage (the latter more fun than any past appearance), while Arthur Darvill’s Rip Hunter isn’t given very much beyond exasperation in the first few hours.
As I said, I’m at a loss. Plans for a second season aren’t exactly set in stone, nor would the underdeveloped Vandal Savage be their focus anyway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the first sixteen episodes completely shift focus now and again. As it is, Legends of Tomorrow just barely holds itself together, and doesn’t feel worth the taxation on Arrow or Flash this season, even in its brightest spots.
It’s a hodgepodge of different ideas and deliberate rips from silver screen, and I still can’t make heads or tails of why we really needed such a weird branch of this world, entertaining or otherwise. It’s ten shows at once, and terribly unfair to ask audiences to sort the best pieces for themselves.
AND ANOTHER THING …
- There is a startling amount of kidnap-drugging in the pilot alone, that mysteriously never bothers anyone, or comes up again.
- I miss Vandal Savage’s comic origin. What, caveman-intellectual was too high-brow? (Get it?)
- “Unfortunately, Savage’s movements are hidden throughout history.” :::Enter man with literally eight photos of him throughout history:::
- “Call me Marty.” :::eyerolls into eternity:::
- Worth noting, there’s a twist toward the end of the second episode that comes as a genuine surprise, provided they don’t walk it back with timey-wimey shenanigans.
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow will premiere its first outing on The CW beginning Thursday, January 21.
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