The latest spinoff of The CW’s lucrative superhero franchise, “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” has a lot of problems to overcome in its two-part premiere, and it doesn’t make it through without stumbling. Still, by the end of its second hour, the show establishes itself as potentially a very promising addition to the superhero genre.
“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” brings together minor characters from “Arrow” and “The Flash” to form an Avengers-like team of heroes. The leader is Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill, “Doctor Who”), a time traveler who assembles the team, like Nick Fury from the Avengers mixed with the Doctor from “Doctor Who.” Rip picks Ray “The Atom” Palmer (Brandon Routh, “Superman Returns”), resurrected assassin Sara “White Canary” Lance (Caity Lotz, “Mad Men”), supervillains Leonard “Captain Cold” Snart and Mick “Heat Wave” Rory (Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell from “Prison Break”), nuclear physicist Martin Stein (Victor Garber, “Argo”) and former high school athlete Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh, “Edge of Tomorrow”), the last two of whom fuse together to form the Human Torch-esque Firestorm. There’s also Kendra “Hawkgirl” Saunders (Ciara Renée, “Big Fish” the musical) and Carter “Hawkman” Hall (Falk Hentschel, “StreetDance 2”), a reincarnated ancient Egyptian princess and prince. Rip explains to the team that they must travel through time to find and defeat the immortal Vandal Savage (Casper Crump, “Helium”), preventing the fall of civilization 100 years into the future.
That’s a lot of exposition to dole out over the course of a pilot, especially with 10 major characters, and “Legends” doesn’t quite manage to do it without feeling clunky. There are a lot of requisite expositional lines with characters blatantly stating their identities as if introducing themselves to the camera.
The show also makes some unwise moves in characterization. Snart’s cartoony anti-hero persona (aided by Miller’s hilarious line readings) and Sara’s simple desire to have fun in whatever time period she’s in make them early standouts, but other characters don’t leave as much of an impression. Despite the show’s insistence that Vandal Savage is a terrifying threat, Crump doesn’t have the dark charisma or coldblooded stare that made Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett, “Spartacus”) and Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough, “Desperate Housewives”) such compelling villains in “Arrow.” Worse, Kendra and Carter immediately drain life from every scene they enter, a problem when a big part of the plot depends on their age-old battle with Savage. And while Garber is great as Martin Stein, Stein gives a bad first impression when he drugs and kidnaps Jackson to force him to join the team on their first time-traveling mission.
Plots based around time traveling can be irresistible when they’re mapped out logically, but sometimes the plot of “Legends” requires you to ignore glaring inconsistencies. For example, after Savage gets a hold of future tech and as a result catastrophe happens in 2016, Rip insists that this is only a projection of the future; time is like cement, and it won’t be set in stone until Savage, in the 1975 timeline, manages to reverse-engineer the future tech. By itself this logic makes a sort of “squint and it kind of follows” sense, but it doesn’t match up with the show’s established premise. The team’s whole journey is predicated on the fact that time isn’t like cement; it’s more like water, malleable and not gradually hardening.
These problems seem significant enough to derail a typical time travel series, but it’s remarkable how much you can overlook if something is really fun, and “Legends of Tomorrow” is certainly fun. It might make no sense to have Martin Stein meet his younger self in 1975 and for the timeline to remain completely unchanged, but damn is it fun to watch. In terms of entertainment, a team of snarky superheroes traveling through time is a recipe for success.
The second episode is also a vast improvement over the first, with far less clumsy exposition to deliver. It also smartly varies the character dynamics, sending Ray, Snart and Mick out to steal something while Stein hangs out with Sara, Jefferson and his younger self. Unfortunately, Kendra and Carter are still relegated to their own boring subplot, though the conclusion of the episode hints that Carter’s role will be smaller in upcoming episodes.
“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” may stumble a bit in its two-part pilot, but when it comes down to it, both episodes are entertaining throughout, and when you have a couple boring characters in a cast of 10, the problems aren’t glaring. If the series continues to focus on the moments of giddy time travel fun, it’ll be a more than worthy addition to the CW Arrowverse.