After coasting along okay on its two flagship superhero properties—Arrow and The Flash—the CW goes for broke with DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow. If one superhero is good, shouldn’t eight heroes and villains be so much better? After all, those X-Men and Avengers movies do well for the other side, right? Unfortunately, piling so many costumed characters into one series has the unfortunate effect of diluting, rather than empowering, CW’s new comic-book show. It’s a case of too much being too much.
After time traveler Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) sees his family killed by world-dominating supervillain Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) in 2166, he goes back to 2016 to pull together a team of second-tier misfits to try to stop the frequently reincarnated Savage before he takes over the world. Hunter does this against the advice of his fellow Time Masters, even though he helpfully tosses out names like Caesar and Hitler to set up the show’s premise: Turning back the clock to kill a being of supreme evil.
Unfortunately, Hunter drafts so many soldiers in the fight against Savage, it’s hard to keep track, or even muster up the energy to pull for a few favorites. The CW’s other DC series wisely crafted themselves around a singular, engaging hero—the enigmatic Stephen Amell as Arrow, the boyishly charming Grant Gustin as Flash—meticulously building out the cast with a carefully crafted support network (Team Arrow and the staff at S.T.A.R. Labs, respectively.) The majority of the team debuted on the franchise’s flagship shows (White Canary and Atom on Arrow; Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Captain Cold, Heatwave, and both halves of Firestorm on The Flash), but those efforts aren’t enough to yield audience investment in the characters.
Some fare better than others, like Caity Lotz as formidable back-from-the-dead assassin White Canary. Brandon Routh, a former Man Of Steel, shows that he still fits right into the DC universe as Atom. Wentworth Miller has been having fun chomping on The Flash’s scenery as Captain Cold, and he doesn’t disappoint here, making him far and away Legends’ most entertaining character. Other duos don’t hold up as well: Scientist Martin Stein (Victor Garber) has to share a superhero body with Jay Jackson (Franz Drameh) to create the nuclear Firestorm, and their bickering is almost as tired as the effort to craft an anguished centuries-old love story between Hawkman and Hawkgirl.
The winged ones are tied to the series’ central villain by an ancient Egyptian love triangle and the meteorite that keeps reincarnating the triangle’s three points throughout the ages. Painful expository dialogue tries to help explain these complicated backstories, with references to the intensity of their eternal romance, citations of the number of times Savage has killed them, and mentions of what they were up to before they were reunited in this life—and pulled into Hunter’s temporal crusade. The two-part pilot is full of these redundant reminders, be it Jackson’s callback to his football-prodigy-turned-auto-mechanic arc on The Flash, or Heat Wave informing his partner “We’re thieves, crooks, criminals!”—something Captain Cold surely hasn’t forgotten since they left Central City.
Clunky dialogue aside, the special effects are fun, as is the time travel—if the viewer is able to keep all the timelines straight. The team’s first outing takes them to 1975—with a period-appropriate soundtrack, a mid-’70s wardrobe courtesy of Hunter’s ship, and a reasonable facsimile of young Victor Garber—but it’s not without its plot-driven consequences. Technology is misplaced and an important meeting doesn’t occur, complications that suggest further Back To The Future hijinks where changes in the past adversely affect events in the future. And since Savage and the Hawkpeople have been reincarnated so many times, ostensibly the time-travel possibilities are wide open.
But to what end? It’s not like they’re ever going to catch Savage, because then the show would be over. (While they’re at it, they might as well rescue the castaways from Gilligan’s Island and help Dr. Sam Beckett make the Quantum Leap home.) Although The CW’s other superhero shows structure their individual seasons around different big bads, the Legends team’s obsession with Savage appears a bit all-encompassing, and may not leave much room for other superpowered forays. At least Darvill, drawing from his bizarre travel experiences on Doctor Who, seems to be having a lot more fun here than in the second season of Broadchurch.
The groan-worthy dialogue’s a head-scratcher, as Legends Of Tomorrow was developed by the team responsible for Arrow and The Flash, while showrunner Phil Klemmer is a veteran of quippy favorites Veronica Mars and Chuck. But the bigger mistake here might have been creating a show starring characters who wouldn’t be compelling enough to anchor their own star vehicle. The Marvel team movies work because almost all of those characters stand strong on their own in solo adventures. But if nobody wants to see a Firestorm or Hawkman movie, it’s likely that nobody really wants to see those characters as a part of a ragtag team of superheroes either. The Legends’ total sum turns out to be inferior to its individual parts.