Veteran time traveller, Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill), recruits a band of heroes and villains with the goal of preventing the rise of immortal despot Vandal Savage (Casper Crump): Victor Garber and Franz Drameh’s Firestorm, Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold, Ciara Renée and Falk Hentschel’s Hawkgirl and Hawkman, Caity Lotz’s White Canary, Brandon Routh’s The Atom and Dominic Purcell’s Heatwave. Legends of Tomorrow is their story. Is it one worth telling? We’ll talk about that after the spoiler break (there will be mild spoilers).
The Good (With Room to Improve)
Legends of Tomorrow looks great. The interior of Rip’s time-ship, the Waverider, is a wonderful balance between bright and dark futures (the Millennium Falcon and the USS Enterprise in one vessel, if you will). The CGI is top-notch, and there’s a lot of it. Nowhere does it sing quite as much as when it’s put to work creating landscape for establishing shots or to replace the background behind our heroes. War-torn London, Ancient Egypt, Future Kasnia, and more, really pop off the screen, and the visual effects for our heroes’ powers are seldom short of excellent.
The overarching story is… pretty good, actually. As you’d expect in a time travel show, there’s a chunk of paradox at work, but it’s not complicated for the sake of it (which these things often are) and the logic of both inception and resolution do hold up (which is something this year’s The Flash sometimes struggled with). But your enjoyment of it will likely come down to how much you enjoy character development rather than earth-shattering reveals. Yes, there are huge spanners thrown into Rip’s plan as the series continues, but they’re far less interesting than the dynamic between the Waverider’s crew, which means that individual episodes live or die by the members of the crew they focus on.
Darvill’s Rip Hunter is solid, if a little too influenced by Doctor Who’s David Tennant in dress, manner and mannerisms. I can’t say I ever really warmed to him, but I’m not sure I was supposed to. Everyone on the Waverider is on a journey to become legend, and that applies to Rip just as much as anyone else. Darvill certainly brings plenty of energy to the role, which is a nice change to the leads of the CW’s other superhero shows (has anyone noticed just how still Grant Gustin is, for someone who’s the Fastest Man Alive?).
Casper Crump’s Savage is an entertaining villain, by turns charming and sinister. There’s something not-quite there about him, though I can’t work out what. Perhaps it’s that we always see him in the role of villain, and it would have been nice to see another side glinting through. There’s a snatch of it towards the end, where he speaks of family, but I’d have liked to see him genuinely fighting the good fight, or at least fighting to prevent a greater evil, just to round out his depth.
Also falling into the ‘good’ bracket is Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer/The Atom. He didn’t strike me as quite the same character I met in Arrow Season 3, but he’s charming, likable and always convincing. Once again, I mourn the tragedy that he never got a full crack at Superman. So why only ‘good’? Sadly, Ray’s ongoing story is tied in with the hands-down weakest element of the show, and that leads to a lot of his scenes dragging (we’ll come to that in a moment).
Wrapping up this section, I’d say that most of the fight scenes are ‘good’ rather than ‘great’. The main culprit is that, like the Flash and what I’ve seen of this year’s Arrow, Legends has a tiny budget for extras. Crowd scenes rarely feature crowds, and armies of baddies are seldom more than a handful of goons. The directors, while generally doing a solid job – seriously, there’s some lovely framing in this show – never really hide their lack of manpower well enough, and it becomes a bit glaring after a while. Equally, the settings all tend to be ones that can be created with simple costume swaps. Despite Savage having existed for 4,000 years, the team never go back in time further than the late 1800s, which feels like a missed opportunity. Then again, expense was likely the barrier to that.
Like I said with last week’s review of The Flash, it’s another swing and a miss for the Hawks. Falk Hentschel’s Carter Hall isn’t anywhere near as bad as his soulmate, but he’s never engaging. This one’s more down to miscasting. Carter Hall’s supposed to be a refined brute; blunt, forceful and self-assured, but leavened by charisma. He’s a true Golden Age hero (which is apt, because that’s where he hails from) – The Shadow meets Highlander. Here, he’s forgettable – a bad enough sin, were he not overshadowed by his winged lover.
I hate what I have to say next, for a number of reasons, but there’s no getting away from it. Ciara Renée’s Hawkgirl is everything that’s wrong with Legends of Tomorrow. Every scene she’s in falls flat or outstays its welcome. Kendra never really develops as a character and Renée ‘s performance never convinces.
Normally, this’d be disappointing, but here it’s a disaster because Hawkgirl is central to the plot. Her life or death is the difference between victory and defeat, but a couple of episodes in you’ll be begging for her to die, just to get rid of the masses of awkwardness that comes with her. The love triangle between her, Ray Palmer and Carter Hall (Hawkman)? Didn’t care. Her desire to reclaim a normal life? Never sympathetic, always whiney.
Is it the writers at fault, or the performance? I don’t know. There’s so much that’s good or great about this show that I find it difficult to believe that the writers and directors simply blanked on Hawkgirl‘s story. Then again, maybe the strengths in the show arise from an ensemble cast taking an average script and polishing it until it (mostly) shines? Either way, a lot of the blame for Hawkgirl falling flat has to fall on Renée .
You know how some actors just can’t act against a green screen? Regardless of the quality of CGI, it never sucks you in because the actor’s so desperately uncomfortable. Renée looks like that on physical sets. She always looks out of place. She wears every stitch of clothing as if it’s a costume she’s desperate to remove. She ranges from forgettable to painful, and you’ll be longing for Katie Kassidy’s uneven early days as Laurel Lance by the time you’re through with this series.
What must be laid at the writers’ door, however, is that Kendra/Hawkgirl is so weak as a character. She seldom shows agency, she loses almost every fight she’s in, and her whole character arc (such as it is) is based on which hunk she’s going to fall in love with. No, not about reclaiming her warrior heritage, not about seizing her destiny with both hands. I can’t help but think that if they’d thrown away half the will-they/won’t-they scripts and replaced them with the elements mentioned above, we’d have a better show.
Maybe, just maybe, I could have overlooked the Hawks’ issues. Trouble is, the rest of the cast is so good that it only shines a light on weaknesses elsewhere.
Franz Drameh and Victor Garber are a great Firestorm. There’s the inevitable fractious partnership, with trust issues to be overcome, but these conflicts are always even-handed, and never overstay their welcome. Victor Garber’s Martin Stein is wonderful. There’s a lot of cliched ‘shut in professor’ rattling around in the script, but there are delightful moments when Stein transcends them. He reminds me a lot of what William Hartnell’s Doctor Who was at his best; cantankerous but charismatic, arrogant but compassionate. If ever there’s an American Doctor Who spin-off? Cast Garber in the lead, and I’ll watch it.
Caity Lotz returns as Sara Lance, and she’s come a long way since her debut in Arrow Season Two. She’s paired up a lot with Renée ‘s Kendra, and her relaxed, effortless portrayal stands in stark contrast. Sara’s background is perhaps the most ridiculous of all the characters on board the Waverider, and yet Lotz always sells it as real. Were I to quibble, I’d say her character arc vanishes without trace part way through the series, but it’s a small thing in the grand scheme.
Oh, and the episode set in the Old West? It’s awesome, though I won’t spoil why. More of those, please.
And the Best
But the best bit of the show, hands down? Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell as Captain Cold/Leonard Snart and Heatwave/Mick Rory. These two know exactly what kind of show they’re in, and deliver performances just the right side of over the top. What do I mean by that? Well, picture Timothy Dalton in every role he’s had since Hot Fuzz, and you’re coming close.
Every truly great scene in Legends features either Miller or Purcell – sometimes both. The dynamic between the two career-criminals is easily the best in the show. Rory has the grander character arc (nothing about Snart’s evolution should surprise anyone who’s been watching The Flash) and Purcell’s portrayal warms (haha) a character who could have come across as nothing more than a brute. But of the two, Snart’s the one that’ll keep you coming back. Miller laces every line with his by-now trademark charming disdain. The show even knows how great he is? How do I know this? He’s the only character with a theme in the musical score. That American Doctor Who they’ll never make? It needs Wentworth Miller as the Master.
Legends of Tomorrow is the sum of its parts, good and bad, and the parts I enjoyed more than made up for those I didn’t. There’s plenty of room to grow, and I’m definitely looking forward Season 2. My recommendation if you’re on the fence? Watch the double-episode pilot. For once, it’s a pretty good guide to what you’re getting in the rest of the run. By the time the credits roll, you’ll know whether or not you want to persevere.