This is a spoiler free Legends of Tomorrow review. Read on with confidence!
Once upon a time, it was standard operating procedure for a high profile genre TV show to get a two hour pilot. From The Incredible Hulk to Star Trek: The Next Generation to Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman to brilliant (but gone-too-soon) one season wonders like The Flash (the original) or The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, if you wanted to get an audience to buy into a complicated, expensive world, you gave ’em a feature length first episode to get things rolling.
In recent years, that has mostly fallen by the wayside (Agent Carter is one exception), especially for shows that have to be sold to the network after a pilot has already been produced. To bring this back to Legends of Tomorrow, its closest TV relatives, The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl, all had to get by with 40+ minutes of TV time to get you involved. Legends of Tomorrow, though, had the benefit of a straight to series vote of confidence from the network, and as a result, we’re getting that two hour “event” launch on the CW, albeit broken up over two episodes.
Of course, there’s no other way you could possibly have pulled off a show with a concept as out there as this one.
Rip Hunter (Doctor Who alum Arthur Darvill) is a Time Master working to combat the rise through history of an immortal despot named Vandal Savage (Casper Crump). To prevent Savage’s ultimate rise to power in the not-too-distant future, he picks a handful of 21st century heroes, including shrinking tech genius Ray “The Atom” Palmer (Brandon Routh); resurrected assassin Sara “White Canary” Lance (Caity Lotz); Firestorm, a nuclear powered hero who is actually two men, Professor Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and young football star Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh); two supercriminals with the on-the-nose code names of Captain Cold and Heat Wave (Prison Break‘s Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell); and Hawkman and Hawkgirl (Falk Hentschel and Ciara Renee), two endlessly reincarnated warriors from Ancient Egypt who are crucial to the plan to defeat Savage. The team will have to visit different time periods to disrupt Savage’s plans for world domination at key moments to prevent his horrible war-torn future from coming to pass.
Are you dizzy yet? If you aren’t a follower of shows like The Flash and Arrow (or a devoted DC Comics fan) you might be, and that’s completely understandable. See what I mean when I said the first episode has a lot of work to do?
Don’t worry, though, because it gets the job done, despite some clunky introductory dialogue early on, and there’s plenty of action, laser gun battles, and what is unquestionably the coolest space/time ship seen on TV in years to help the expository medicine go down. The first episode not only has to get the team together, it has to spend a little time introducing these characters (most of whom are already familiar to viewers of The Flash and Arrow) to a new audience, without making loyal CW superhero fans feel like they’re wasting their time.
The good news is that you don’t need to know how the Atom or Firestorm got their powers (stories that Arrow or Flash viewers are familiar with), and Legends instead gives us some convincing moments with Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer or Victor Garber’s Martin Stein explaining why they would accept a mission like this in the first place. I also can’t stress enough how welcome the return of Caity Lotz delivering weekly ass-kickings is, and her character has far more fun than she ever was allowed to on Arrow. If you’re new to this world, don’t think too hard about the past, because I’m pretty sure that you’ll get all you need on screen.
Legends of Tomorrow is so unapologetically nerdy in its blend of deep DC Comics mythology and Doctor Who timey-wimey shenanigans that it will probably be immediately embraced by fans. The thing is, I am so completely the target audience for this show that it’s very easy for someone like me to just dive right in and accept it all. I’m curious to see what people who aren’t as invested think about it, and how willing they are to take this journey. Something tells me that as long as you’re willing to buy into the fairly bonkers central concept of an unlikely group of superheroes and villains fighting Immortal Future Hitler, you’ll be fine. I think we’ve finally reached a point in pop culture where the superhero paradigm is so well accepted that audiences can accept these characters without having origin stories shoveled on us at every turn.
In the event you aren’t completely sold by the first episode, come back for part two. It’s that second hour, once all of the basic set-up is out of the way, that gives a better idea of just how much fun this show can be. Legends of Tomorrow goes to some pretty wild places, it’s far funnier (genuinely) than the shows that birthed it, and takes some legitimate chances. I watched both halves of the pilot back to back, and it played perfectly as one long episode. Perhaps now that superhero TV is an increasingly crowded landscape, Legends would have done better to air these on one night.
This is a promising start, though. Legends of Tomorrow looks great, occasionally hinting at that “lived in” sci-fi feel I usually associate with the original Star Wars, the Tom Baker/Peter Davison Doctor Who years, or Firefly. Superheroes, laser guns, spaceships, time travel, and a sense of humor all in one show make the appeal of this one tough to deny, whether you’re new to this world or a seasoned veteran.
Oh, and don’t worry…if you’re a superhero fan looking to spot lots of DC Comics mythology, there’s absolutely no shortage of that. Looking for all the DC Comics references in the first episode? Click here for all the spoilers!
Legends of Tomorrow premieres on January 21st at 8 pm on the CW.