Great (if not quite “original”) entertainment!
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete First Season
Victor Garber, Brandon Routh, Arthur Darvill, Caity Lotz, Ciara Renee, Franz Drameh, Falk Hentschel, Amy Pemberton, Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller, Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Paul Blackthorne, Emily Bett Rickards, Carlos Valdes, Jonathon Schaech
(Warner Home Video)
US DVD: 23 Aug 2016
UK DVD: 29 Aug 2016
Way back in 1997 (remember how young you were then?) an unsuccessful TV pilot called Justice League of America was produced for CBS television featuring such DC Comics heroes as The Flash, Green Lantern, Fire, Ice, The Atom and The Martian Manhunter. The reason this pilot was unsuccessful has a lot to do with the fact that it closely resembles an episode of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but without the subtle and nuanced character development that might make such a program appeal to adults (sarcasm, mine).
What a difference (almost) two decades makes. CBS’ sister network The CW is now a DC Comics adapting powerhouse and the latest addition to their “Arrowverse” was rumored to be a spinoff featuring none other than The Atom. However, as introduced on The CW’s Arrow, this Atom isn’t played by the Crypt Keeper as he was in the 1997 film (not joking, look it up) but by former Superman actor Brandon Routh in a much more serious version of the character.
As the pilot episode unspooled, however, I was reminded of a very different TV show: Doctor Who. What do I mean? A time traveler with wild hair and anachronistic clothing appears in his own eccentric, oft-malfunctioning space ship that can travel through time and has a female personality for an A.I. This time traveler with his British accent, long bangs and trench coat travels backwards in time to pick up a team of companions to right what once went wrong in said time ship as they journey across time and space on a series of strange adventures. Did I mention said time-traveler is also played by Arthur Darvill, best known for portraying one of the more recent (and popular) companions of The Doctor on Doctor Who? The similarities couldn’t be more obvious if Darvill’s character hailed from a team of “Time Masters” (as opposed to Doctor Who’s Time Lords).
Well, that part is there too, folks. While the pilot is fun, its derivative nature smacks the observant viewer right between the eyes. And, yes, like the 1997 Justice League pilot, there’s an air of vague cheesiness when a group of grown adults is seen walking around in flashy costumes. As the title might suggest, Routh’s Ray Palmer/ The Atom and Darvill’s Rip Hunter are not alone in this mission. The team also consists of heroes Hawkman and Hawkgirl (Falk Hentschel and Ciara Renée, respectively), a returning Sara Lance / White Canary (Arrow alum Caity Lotz) and the duo of Victor Garber’s Martin Stein and Franz Drameh’s Jefferson Jackson who combine to form the nuclear hero Firestorm.
Interestingly (and thankfully, as they prove to be two of the more interesting characters on the show), Hunter also enlists the aid of two supervillains from the “Arrowverse” in Dominic Purcell’s Heat Wave (Mick Rory) and Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold (Leonard Snart), both having originated on The Flash. Miller and Purcell are also alumni of Fox TV’s Prison Break, a fact the writers have a bit of fun with in the dialogue.
While DC Comics movies have failed to either compete with Marvel’s films or prove true to their source material, Legends of Tomorrow, for better or for worse, is trying to do both those things. The Atom often feels like a stand in for both Marvel’s Iron Man and Ant-Man (though he predates BOTH characters in the comics), White Canary seems like a reflection of Marvel’s big screen Black Widow and even the title Legends of Tomorrow might well have been chosen because it sounds a lot like Marvel’s theatrical hit Guardians of the Galaxy.
While all of this is true, something happened a few episodes in. The show became completely enthralling in its own right. True, the derivative moments are there (Hunter’s library room even echoes a similar chamber from the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie), Legends of Tomorrow comes into its own as the characters manage to become as well-developed and, indeed, exciting as any in the Arrowverse. Time Travel is less used as a MacGuffin here as it is a necessary (and dangerous) tool to battle an immortal villain named Vandal Savage (Casper Crump).
The ensemble cast of characters is intertwined from the very beginning in surprising ways that take a full sixteen episode season to flesh out. What’s more, there are plenty of surprises in every episode. Just when a seemingly throwaway chapter rears its head (the team travels back to the Old West in what could have been a merely “cute” storyline), some of the most exciting surprises are revealed. And while there is a very cohesive story to enjoy throughout the season, there is no simple “formula” to the episodes. This is a very rag-tag group of (erstwhile) heroes and they often change sides throughout the season at surprising times.
Further, the show ultimately does not come off as “cheesy”, but actually true to the comics. The characters just as often appear out of costume and use their costumes when the time is right. For example, Ray Palmer doesn’t walk down an Old West street in full Atom armor. The right tool is always used for the right job. Like Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl, the costumes are well-designed, evoking their comic book counterparts but also standing alone in the modern world. The characters look just as good (and are taken just as seriously) in costume as in street clothes.
Most of all, while the show can be very serious and violent at times, the makers never forget to have fun and allow the audience to have fun with them.
No small part of the quality of this show has to do with some of these very same makers behind the scenes. Yes, the show was developed by familiar names Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg along with new show runner Phil Klemmer, but looking a bit deeper into the credits, you’ll see director credits for Percy Jackson’s Thor Freudenthal, horror and comedy legend Joe Dante and Alice Troughton from, you guessed it, Doctor Who.
The real victories here are in front of the camera. While the writing, the above average special effects, the directing and the continuity all contribute to make a very fine show, the acting is what ultimately sells it. Dominic Purcell can occasionally be over-the-top as can Wentworth Miller, but both fine actors are playing over-the-top characters and often this makes for intentional comedy, rather than silliness. The drama we see with veteran actors like Victor Garber and newcomers like Franz Drameh (who grows up a lot in 16 episodes) is palpable.
Stephen Amell (“Green Arrow” himself) gives an excellent guest performance on the show while Brandon Routh and Ciara Renee prove to be two of the most engrossing characters in the ensemble. Wentworth Miller’s sarcastic delivery truly grows on the attentive viewer. It seems that only he could make a character like “Captain Cold” come off as this “cool”. The characters are complex and hard not to care about.
The 2016 Blu Ray includes the 2015 Comic Con panel in which the show was previewed, featurettes about guest character Jonah Hex (Jonathon Schaech), the Wave Rider time ship and the making of the show along with deleted scenes and a gag reel.
I was skeptical at first about this show, but just as Supergirl managed to redeem The Martian Manhunter on TV, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow redeems not only The Atom, but the very concept of live action Superhero teams for an adult television audience. While not without its flaws, Legends of Tomorrow is just too good to ignore. There are big surprises in every episode, but the biggest surprise is that the first season actually is a really good show. Lucky for the fans, The CW has greenlit a second season beginning in October 2016.