Legends of Tomorrow is the latest superhero TV show airing on the CW network taking place in the so-called Arrowverse (named by the show Arrow, the progenitor of this shared universe) and is an ensemble show featuring B-lister superheroes from DC Comics. In many ways, it’s an ambitious program, one of the first to star a superhero team. A show of this scope should scream “difficult to pull off” just in terms of special effects, scope of the story and air time for the characters. There are many things that Legends of Tomorrow gets right and many missed opportunities.
As an ensemble show, there isn’t one true lead character among the mostly colorful group, but the premise of Legends of Tomorrow is jump-started by time traveler Rip Hunter (Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill). In the future, the immortal supervillain Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) has taken over the world and killed Hunter’s family.
Defying his group, the Time Masters, Hunter steals a time-traveling spaceship called the Waverider (a nod to the time-traveling character from DC Comics) and travels to our time to recruit a team to stop Savage’s rise to power throughout history. The eclectic group he gathers includes Ray Palmer/The Atom (Brandon Routh), whose armored suit allows him to shrink; Martin Stein (Victor Gerber) and Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh), who make up the combined fiery entity Firestorm; Sara Lance/White Canary (Caity Lotz), the martial artist anti-hero featured on Arrow; Kendra Saunders (Ciara Renée), who discovered she is the reincarnated warrior priestess Hawkwoman; and the sibling criminal supervillains from The Flash, Leonard Snart/Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) and Mick Rory/Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell).
When Hunter initially recruits the team to help him stop Savage in the past (starting with the 1970s), he doesn’t tell them that the reason he recruits them is because they have minimal impact on the timeline so their disappearances from normal time wouldn’t really matter. Once they learn the truth, most are crestfallen, but decide to use this opportunity to make a difference outside of their eras and become actual legends.
This TV show, has been described as a mix of Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy. That is an apt way of putting it, but it doesn’t reach the heights of those properties. Much of the time, Legends of Tomorrow is a lot of fun to watch and is fast moving. Cluttered with Easter eggs and nods to all things genre and meta (at one point Snart made a typically snarky statement about having experience breaking out of jail–a tongue-in-cheek reference to Miller and Purcell’s last collaboration Prison Break), and unlike the ABC/Marvel Studios TV shows, it takes full advantage of the shared universe it occupies. It’s thrilling to spot characters from other shows making guest appearances and all the time traveling allows for a further exploration of the Arrowverse. One of the best episodes to date was the most recent one “Star City 2046”, which featured a post-apocalyptic Star City where Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) was MIA and the city was taken over by Green Arrow’s nemesis Deathstroke, actually Deathstroke’s son (Jamie Andrew Cutler). In a nice tribute to the classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, Queen shows up missing an arm and has to be inspired to fight for his city again with the help of Connor Hawk (Joseph David-Jones), who takes up the mantle of Green Arrow.
Still, as much fun as that episode was, it had a flaw in its logic. Sara wanted to help Queen out, but Hunter did not want to get involved because that would be interfering with time and that as a past event in his time it was set and could not be changed. Yet, he wants to travel throughout history to find Savage and alter the timeline. This diminishes Hunter and makes him seem selfish. Then there is the concept that 2046 was the past and set in stone for him, but is the future for the others, so otherwise malleable. There are attempts to address the problems with time travel in the show but they are uneven at best.
That unevenness is the basic tone and flaw of Legends of Tomorrow. Some plots and subplots are engaging and fun, other times the stories are rushed and thin without any subtlety. The same criticism applies to the characters. This was quite apparent in the pilot episode. Rip Hunter just shows up and asks them to joni him and most of the characters all-too-willingly oblige without deeply questioning Hunter or exploring their motive to leave their lives on a lark. It does take pains to develop them and some of the actors like Miller steal scenes with their acting prowess, but the show struggles to juggle all these characters. That is probably a reason why Legends of Tomorrow killed off the character of Carter Hall/Hawkman (Falk Hentschel) early on to thin the herd. But frankly, it wasn’t a loss since his performance as Hawkman was rather wooden.
Like the team, Legends of Tomorrow isn’t quite legendary, but it has huge potential. Given enough time and guidance, it may find its footing and move past its inspirations and become something of a legend.