Warning: major spoilers below! You know the drill. Don’t read this recap until you’ve seen the first part of the pilot episode for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. You’ve been warned!
If you’re a time traveling superhero in need of an army to take down an immortal supervillain, do you jump on the nearest timeship and recruit the Flash, Arrow, Vixen, and the A-list heroes of The CW’s DC Universe? Or do you go get the second stringers?
Surprisingly, the first episode of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow actually dealt with that question. Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) told his assembled team of misfits that they were considered legends in his time, hoping to convince the lot to join him on a time-hopping adventure. But in reality, they were expendable. In 100 years, no one would miss them.
The pilot episode started off promisingly enough with Hunter’s appeal to the Time Masters for permission to change the past. And without waiting around, he simply went to 2016 and began kidnapping his potential team.
The heroes and villains on Hunter’s wishlist were given a very utilitarian introduction. Ray Palmer, a.k.a the Atom (Brandon Routh), got the best spotlight, and one final team-up with the Green Arrow, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell). Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) also received a good send-off by sharing the screen with her sister, Laurel (Katie Cassidy), and receiving her new superhero name—White Canary—and costume.
Everybody else on the team came as part of a pair. Professor Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and Jax Jackson (Franz Drameh) were the two halves of Firestorm. Hawkgirl/Kendra Saunders (Ciara Renée) and Hawkman/Carter Hall (Falk Hentschel) were reincarnated lovers who really weren’t on great terms with each other. And finally, Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) and Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) were literally partners in crime who joined Hunter largely because the idea of stealing priceless historical artifacts was very appealing to them.
Everything up to Hunter’s initial pitch to the team moved at a nice steady pace. But the episode’s momentum was derailed when Hunter gave the team members time to think about their decision. Ray and Sara’s final scenes in 2016 were great; the rest were largely superfluous… and one was truly awful. Professor Stein was so eager to go on an adventure through time that he literally drugged Jax to make him come along. Seriously?! And not only that, Stein conveniently forgot that he has a wife. Would it have killed the production team to bring Isabella Hofmann back for one quick scene as Clarissa Stein?
That’s not even the worst part of the episode. The worst part came when Chronos (think of him as a poorly conceived Boba Fett knockoff) came across some dudebros and basically killed them for no reason because the show wants us to think he’s a bad ass. It didn’t work.
The design of Rip Hunter’s time ship, the Waverunner, was eye-catching, but it seemed more like a Star Trek ship than anything else. Strangely enough, this time travel drama lacked a lot of urgency. In theory, a time ship should allow the riders to travel through history at their own pace. But the episode became too casual once the team arrived in 1975, and half of the team had nothing to do.
Fortunately, Sara, Mick (Heat Wave), and Leonard (Captain Cold) simply blew off Hunter’s orders to stay behind and decided to go get wasted. Amusingly, they ditched Jax and didn’t waste any time getting into a bar fight. There’s technically no reason those scenes had to happen, but that unlikely trio was having so much fun that it nearly bailed out the second half of the episode. Mick’s joy about ‘70s beer prices and the bar fight itself were really funny.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team wasn’t having quite as much fun while visiting Dr. Aldus Boardman (Peter Francis James), history’s foremost expert on Vandal Savage (Casper Crump). It was a nice touch that Boardman turned out to be the son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl from their previous lives, but the episode never successfully made that relationship feel real. Instead, it was used as a shorthand to create some emotion when Boardman was fatally wounded. The whole thing felt manipulative and unearned. Even Boardman’s final scene with Hawkgirl seemed devoid of actual feelings and oddly robotic. This episode got a lot of the superheroics right, but it fell far short on the human level.
Of course, Chronos caught up with the team in 1975 and supposedly outmatched them…but the only person he injured was Boardman before Hunter and his team escaped. That was really boring to watch—Chronos was such a generic character that he actually made the show less fun to watch when he was onscreen. Even openly calling him a Boba Fett knockoff is crediting him with a little too much zest. If the team was being chased through time by someone more compelling than Chronos, then the show would have a lot more to work with.
The final minutes of the episode dealt with Hunter’s confession that the team isn’t destined for greatness, and that he’s on the run from the Time Masters for attempting to change the past and wipe out Vandal Savage’s legacy. While that seemed obvious from the beginning of the episode, that was a secret that probably would have been a more powerful reveal down the line. A betrayal like that should have stung, but it barely registered at all.
While Ray and Sara were at least given plausible desires to use this mission to change their respective destinies, the episode faltered when Jax forgave Professor Stein for drugging him, and Jax equated the experience of Chronos’ attack to his time on his football team. What?! Are we sure that Jax isn’t an android? Because no human person would have said that.
In the end, everybody decided to remain on the Waverider and see through the mission to stop Savage. And in the last scene, the Savage from the past got his hands on a very powerful weapon, while spelling out his own motivations. He’s going to help humanity collectively evolve…one war at a time.
On the whole, this episode had mixture of highs and lows…and the lows were shockingly bad. This show’s creative team should know by now exactly how to make these superheroes seem like relatable people. And with a few exceptions, they failed. On the plus side, Legends of Tomorrow has a great premise and at least half of the cast members were really strong in the premiere. If the series can get the same kind of performances out of the rest of the cast and work on the show’s issues with characterization then it might actually be a worthy addition to The Flash and Arrow’s world. At the moment, it still has a long way to go.
What did you think about the first episode of Legends of Tomorrow? Let us know in the comment section below!
Image Credit: DC Entertainment/The CW