It’s pretty amazing just how fast we went from the grounded and gritty world of Arrow‘s first two seasons to the fantastical time travel team-up that is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. The third and latest in a spate of DC Comics-based shows from producer Greg Berlanti for the CW Network, Legends of Tomorrow, like its sister show The Flash, embraces the lightheartedness of its source material. But while The Flash does a fine job balancing the drama and heroics, part one of the Legends of Tomorrow‘s pilot goes for broke with full-on comic book goofiness.
There’s no doubt that both The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow were born out of the idea that audiences actually like seeing superheroes enjoying themselves. While Arrow‘s The Dark Knight-esque feel secured a loyal following early on, The Flash seemed like DC’s small screen answer to the success Marvel was having on the big screen with bright colors and high adventure. It worked out: The Flash became one of the last season’s biggest hits. So, it made sense that the next spin-off built within Berlanti’s Flarrow-verse would go even further down the superhero rabbit hole.
But even for hardcore fans of Arrow and The Flash, it’s fascinating how far they went. A team-up show featuring Flarrow B-listers is a difficult concept to sell, but add in a heavy dose of time travel? Seems downright gutsy. And yet, thanks to a propulsive script coupled with movie-worthy special effects, Legends of Tomorrow pumps out the sugary Saturday morning cartoon fun.
The premise is straightforward enough. In the distant future, the villainous Vandal Savage (Casper Crump), who has somehow survived being disintegrated in the most recent Arrow/The Flash crossover last month, has conquered the world. A time master by the name of Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) tells the time master high council that the only way to defeat Savage is to travel back in time and assemble a team of heroes to take him on. If all of this sounds very Doctor Who, don’t be alarmed. The show absolutely draws inspiration from the famous time lord; executive producer Andrew Kreisberg even admits as much during a recent episode of Kevin Smith’s Batman-centric podcast Fatman on Batman, as well as casting Darvill, who played the Eleventh Doctor’s (Matt Smith) companion Rory Williams from seasons five to seven, as the time master.
Shortly thereafter, we get a montage of Hunter rounding up all the heroes on his short list. They include the A.T.O.M. (Brandon Routh), White Canary (City Lotz), Firestorm (Victor Garber/Franz Drameh), Hawkman (Falk Hentschel), Hawkgirl (Ciara Renée), Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), and Heatwave (Dominic Purcell). Right off the bat, this team looks a little suspicious, because included along with the heroes are two Flash antagonists: Captain Cold and Heatwave. But it’s smart writing to create internal conflict within the team so quickly.
After some exposition to why he’s gathered them together, Hunter drops the series’ log line: “In the future, you are not heroes…you’re legends”. The group then must make their own decision whether or not to go along with Hunter. While some have some nefarious reasoning for going along — Captain Cold and Heatwave dream of pulling off some of history’s biggest heists — others are more sincere. Ray Palmer, a.k.a. The A.T.O.M., realizes that no one really cared when he appeared to die at the end of the third season of Arrow. He wants to cement his legacy as someone who made a difference, and Dr. Martin Stein, the oldest of the group, agrees to go because he doesn’t know how many adventures he has left.
Once the full team is assembled and ready, they board Hunter’s ship, The Wave Rider, which looks like some wild hybrid between the exterior of the Millennium Falcon and the inside of the Starship Enterprise. The first stop’s the 1970s, in order to find college professor Dr. Aldus Boardman (Peter Francis James), who’s been closely researching Vandal Savage for decades. There’s a brief side story in this episode, in which we learn that Dr. Boardman is actually the son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl from a past life. While it’s thoughtful of the writers to sprinkle in some emotional moments, part one of the pilot simply moves too fast for the plot line to develop; a short time later, Dr. Boardman is killed during an attack on The Wave Rider by a gun-toting, metallic-suited bounty hunter named Chronos (Steven Blum).
Chronos’ attack on the ship and the team marks a pivotal point in both the episode and the entire series. After holding back Chronos long enough to escape, Hunter reveals the truth. The team he’s assembled don’t become legends in the future: they’re actually a team of those that have zero influence on the current timeline. In essence, they’re a ragtag team of losers. More so, Hunter’s plan to assemble a team to defeat Savage was rejected by the time master high council. He’s doing this on his own because in the future, Savage murders his wife and child. Hunter’s essential a fugitive now, and he’s dragging a bunch of metahumans and vigilantes along with him.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a show if the team abandoned Hunter after this revelation. Instead, they see a chance to change their future, a chance for redemption. They aren’t legends in the present, but if they can defeat Savage and bring peace to the future, then that’ll surely cement their legacy as Legends of Tomorrow.
Part one of the Legends of Tomorrow pilot isn’t perfect. It’s uneven at times, particularly with the addition of the Hawkman/Hawkgirl’s son storyline, and for a show that plays so heavily on time travel, the team spent only a small portion of the show actually back in time. But overall, it does a nice job setting the stage for what looks to be one of the most fun and eye-popping shows on TV this spring.