This review contains spoilers.
It’s impossible to deny the ambition of The CW’s latest new superhero series Legends Of Tomorrow – a sprawling time travel adventure where a gaggle of superheroes attempt to avert a future war of near-apocalyptic proportions. There aren’t many networks trying anything as audacious as a Doctor Who/Avengers/Terminator mash-up right now, so the fact that this show exists at all should be applauded.
These admirable levels of ambition make it even more disappointing to admit that Legends’ pilot episode isn’t particularly brilliant. Perhaps – after months of hype from Arrow, The Flash, and The CW’s marketing team – this first episode was always going to be a let-down.
After all, it gives itself far too much to do in 45 minutes. The pilot needs to introduce a spacefaring hero, establish a new set of time travel rules, explain the idea of Time Masters, bring together a team of superheroes (and villains), spell out who they are for the casual viewers and rebuild the threat of Vandal Savage, as well as offering enough basic enjoyment – action, jokes, teases of things to come – to hook us in for next week.
I’d argue that it doesn’t do any of these things amazingly. Arthur Darvill’s Rip Hunter comes across like an arrogant space-cockney, the Time Masters are blatant Doctor Who knock-offs, and none of the cherry-picked supporting characters from Arrow and The Flash are given enough screen time to make them truly engaging. And Vandal Savage is barely seen.
This makes it hard for us to believe that Savage is an unstoppable menace on the level that Legends needs us to buy into. This is only compounded for those that also watch The CW’s other superhero shows, because we’ve seen that it only took two episodes to stop him last year. Already, there’s no doubt at all that the Legends will get him in the end and that Hawkman and/or Hawgirl will strike the killing blow. One thing that Legends really needs to find is some stakes. Does anyone believe that The CW would really destroy Central City, or any other locale where they could place a future spin-off series?
There are bits that worked, though, and these give me hope that Legends will build to something better than its pilot episode. Seeing the newly christened White Canary teaming up for a 1970s bar brawl with Captain Cold and Heat Wave while Love Will Keep Us Together blared from the jukebox was a hugely fun sequence, for example. And it’s very telling that this scene, arguably the best of the episode, was one of the rare few that didn’t feature a shoehorned explanation of the plot.
Playful interactions like this are the lifeblood of any show with this many characters. By comparison, the two separate tragic-death-of-a-son arcs that Legends crammed into its first hour of existence felt like studio-mandated exposition that we all could have done without. Generally, the dialogue throughout the episode seemed hammy, too. And Stein drugging Jax is not okay. But all of that’s out of the way now, and maybe things will get better from here.
The pilot to Legends Of Tomorrow won’t go down in history as legendary, then, but it’s worth remembering that the show’s fate isn’t decided yet. Frontloading all this exposition could pay off if the next few episodes are strong. I might’ve preferred a Firefly-esque pilot where we weren’t told everything about each character, but that’s not what we got, and it’s not worth dwelling on that for too long. Instead, let’s just hope things improve next week. See you then!