Their time is now.
DC's Legends of Tomorrow, as is its official title, is the third show in The CW's superhero TV show universe known by fans as the Arrowverse and features already established character from the other two shows, Arrow and The Flash, teaming up to save the world. The show was build up and promoted pretty heavily before its premiere. Both Arrow and The Flash spent a good amount of the first half of their 4th and 2nd seasons respectively setting the stage for the show by giving attention to the characters that would make the jump. That year's annual crossover, Heroes United, could almost be described as a backdoor pilot. You could feel that the CW had a lot of confidence in the show when it premiered in 2016 with a two-part pilot episode.
The reviews were mixed, something that holds true for the rest of the season as well. The ratings were strong enough however, for the CW to pick up the show for a 2nd season in which it low-key managed to reinvent itself and gradually turned into to a beloved critical darling. But why was it that it took the show an entire season before 'getting it right'? How is it that first season is so different than what the show ended up becoming? In short: the show just failed in bringing all of its different elements together in a satisfying way.
The story of this first season focuses on a time-traveller by the name of Rip Hunter who brings together a team of heroes and villains to stop a man named Vandal Savage, an immortal who by 2166 has successfully placed the world under its tyrannical rule. The team consists of Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who gained their powers of flight and reincarnation at the same time as Savage's immortality and who have been killed by Savage over 206 times, the Atom, a tech-based superhero, White Canary, a resurrected assassin, the conjoined meta-human Firestorm and the criminal duo of Captain Cold and Heatwave. Rip convinces everyone by telling them that in his time, they're not just heroes… they're legends. As Savage has managed to cover his tracks extraordinarily well over the years the team’s first stop is in 1975 where the world foremost (and only) expert on Vandal Savage lives, professor Aldus Boardman.
After learning from Boardman that Savage is in Norway the group is attacked by the bounty hunter Cronos send by Rip's employers the Time-Masters. The legends manage to escape, but Aldus dies as a result of the attack. When the team confronts Rip about Cronos, he reveals to them that the Time-Masters are his former employers and he has essentially gone rogue. Moreover, he has lied to the team about their future status. They're not legends at all, in fact, they aren't even remembered and Rip choice them because of this very reason. If something would happen to them on their journey and they wouldn't return, it would have a minimal effect on history. In other words: they're expendable. Initially shaken by this revelation, they decide to keep the mission going and leave for Norway to take down Savage.
The Legends, sans Rip, infiltrate a nuclear weapon sale, where Savage turns out to be the seller. Savage manages to escape and when the team return to the ship, they learn that the future has drastically changed. A piece of the Atom suit came loose during the fight and Savage reengineered its technology and took over the world years earlier. The team splits up: with both halves of Firestorm and White Canary going after the missing piece of the Atom suit, Captain Cold, Heatwave and Atom going off to steal a dagger that could potentially kill Savage and Rip and the Hawks staying on the ship. When Savage ambushes the dagger crew the team launches a full-frontal assault on him. Sadly, Hawkman is killed by Savage and the team retreats once more, mourning their loss. Motivated more than ever to take Savage down, the Legends plan their next move, leading the show into the rest of the season.
That summary was a bit longer then I would have liked, but that's what you get when the pilot is split into two parts. Most episodes of the show after this double pilot can be summed up like this: the team travels to a certain time-period and split up. One group that takes part in the A-story of the episode, while the others find themselves in a B-plot usually interacting/helping people from that point in time. This basic 'loop' as it may is very strong. It lets the plot move forward in the A-story while giving the rest of the characters time for some more character development in the B-stories. Splitting the team up in different combinations is also a smart move. It allows the characters to interact with each other and for the relationships between them to grow and evolve and is a decent way to juggle the big cast.
On top of that, it also makes the moments when the entire team is together much more impactful. This model is far from perfect though and some of its shortcomings can be felt. Some character pairings get more time than other, or developments are rushed between the characters as there are so many characters to juggle, but overall the show handles it all pretty well.
A lot of emphases is placed on the characters, in both the promotional campaign and the show itself and that's a good thing. They are, almost all, well fleshed out and/or go on an interesting journey throughout the season. Both Heatwave and Captain Cold have an interesting journey and the growing bond between the two halves of Firestorm is also done pretty well. The stand-out in my mind is definitely Ray Palmer, the Atom. He has a very cheery attitude, he sees the best in people and his positivity is a breath of fresh air in a show whose tone and storylines can get rather dark and depressing. When the season was still airing, I heard many people complain about Hawkgirl. She was too much of a 'damsel in distress' type that mentioned having been 'just a barista a few weeks ago' constantly but after my re-watch, I can say that's really not that bad. This is present during the first few episodes, yes, but the character quickly grows out of these traits. What is rather annoying though, is that the season has a tendency to repeat plot-points or flip-flop on some developments.
One plot-point during the pilot two-parter is Rip losing the trust of the team but regaining it at the end. The writers must have felt that they didn't quite hit it the first time around because episode 3 is basically a complete retread of this point. Something else that bothered me was the romantic relationship between Kendra and Ray or rather, how the writers chose to handle it. Kendra and Ray form a bond early in the season and after being accidentally left in the 1950s after Cronos attacks the ship they form a couple and even get engaged.
The problem is that, according to a previous version of Hawkgirl she meets later on, that its part of her destiny to fall in love with Carter and that any romance with any other person is doomed to end in tragedy. Well, with a show whose characters literally stated in the pilot that they would write their own destinies you'd think that the storyline would be about proving destiny wrong and cutting out her own path but nope, the moment Hawkman re-enters the picture she's all over him and just gives up on doing what she wants. This story left a poor taste in my mouth, both by how the show handles it and by the message it puts of, which is the exact opposite of what the show is actually trying to convey.
|Casper Crump as Vandal Savage.|
Vandal Savage, as both the seasons big bad and a character, is a big letdown. He's badly written and just not interesting or captivating enough. Casper Crump, while definitely looking the part, just can't seem to deliver and you can just see him struggle with the roll at times. They try to put their own spin on the character by tying his origin directly into that of Hawkman and Hawkgirl, but that doesn't do any party any favours. The writing improves and Casper Crump gets more comfortable in the role over time and there are moments in which some real menace and promise shine through, but this comes way to late in the season and aren't enough to salvage the character. Vandal Savage is a very one-note character throughout, a sadist with a compulsion for world domination and an inability to accept rejection and not much else. If you're looking for a good Vandal Savage then I highly recommend you check out the Young Justice animated show or the Justice League: Doom movie, anywhere but here really.
One last criticism before I move on to a final list of positives and the conclusion is the tone of the show. The season tries really hard to be a blend of humour with some cheesiness and a show with dark moments, morally ambiguous actions from its characters (most Rip) and situations in the vein of 'would you kill baby Hitler' and it doesn't work at all. Most of the time, the shows attempts to be darker and sophistical just feel like a drag. It just isn't handled well nor is it all that interesting I feel and it clashes with the rest of the show. Starting from season 2, the show would wisely lighten up its tone and gradually double down on the cheese factor, but it's something you've really got to push yourself through in season 1.
So, I've talked a lot of negatives here but what does the season do right? Well, I've already talked about the show being rather good in portraying its characters and the same goes for conveying the different time-periods. Time travel shows stand and fall by their ability of conveying the different time-periods the characters find themselves in. From the costumes, the set design, what can be seen in the background and the overall tone, if anything of these is only slightly off it can (and will) shatter the illusion. I was expecting Legends would have some trouble with this, it's on the CW after all, but to my surprise, the show manages to pull off each time-period pretty well. I didn't catch any mistakes, the costumes are well done and I could believe they were, for example, in the '50s or '80s so hats off to that.
Maybe the show just had a higher budget this season in comparison to its sister shows because the CGI was also better than I thought. Sure, it's still GCI on a TV budget but overall I thought the special effects were convincing and well-integrated and there isn't any moment I can think of that is exceptionably bad. The fight choreography is also very good, I especially enjoyed the fight between White Canary and Hawkgirl in episode 9.
|The fight between these two was my absolute favourite of the entire season.|
Another bright spot? The soundtrack, provided by the same composer as The Flash and Arrow, Blake Neely. It's both whimsical and, well, I can best describe it has 'futuristic'. Not only that, but Neely has given or carried over the personal themes of each character and adjusts the music for every time-period they are in. The episode 'The Magnificent Eight' is, as the title suggests, an episode set in the Wild West and the cowboy music in it is great. Even the shows intro has been remixed with a bit of the old Wild West flair. The very distinctive composition given to Vandal Savage is really the only thing that gives the man a menacing and epic feel whenever he's on-screen. The music is always atmospheric, often beautiful and worth listening to. You can listen to the soundtrack of the first season for free on Blake Neely's personal YouTube channel, so if you're interested you can listen to it there.
So, with all said and done, with all the positives and negatives of the season I felt like addressing, well, addressed what is the final verdict? Well, Legends of Tomorrow Season 1 has a lot of fun and interesting ideas and concepts but it's held back by multiple flaws that keeps the season from really coming together. The show has interesting characters, action and atmosphere but suffers from a bad and blend villain, and a tone that just doesn't fit, amongst others. The season overall is fine, but I do advice anyone interested in the show to start with season 2, and if you liked that, only then I would recommend going back and watching this season.