Saturday, 23 January 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E01 - 'Pilot, Part 1'






Seeking to further expand on that unique take on DC's comic-book universe already so well developed by Arrow and The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow is a series that is definitely intent on hitting the ground running - a series that wastes no time in setting up its premise, and in drawing its cast (and the audience) directly into the action. That makes sense, of course - Legends of Tomorrow is, after all, a show that has already benefited from an impressive amount of build-up. It draws its cast, almost exclusively, from those who have already been featured in its parent shows - and, it builds on a conflict that has already served as the focus of the most recent Arrow/The Flash cross-over episodes.

It is also a series which, quite clearly, fully intends to one-up the shows which came before it with regard to its willingness to fully embrace its comic-book roots - as shown both by the wildly varied cast of characters it has gathered, and its much more overt embracing of the tropes of time-travel.

The basic premise on which Legends of Tomorrow rests is a fairly classic sort of 'time-travel' story. In the distant future, Vandal Savage (the immortal mad-man, played by Casper Crump, who has already been feature in the most recent Arrow/The Flash cross-over episodes) has finally succeeded in his centuries long quest to rule the world - bringing about death and destruction on a massive scale, as he works to root out anyone who might oppose him.

It's exactly the sort of grim future that you can imagine an intrepid time-traveller wanting to see changed - and, fortunately, one just so happens to exist in the form of Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill). Rip is a member of a group of 'Time Masters' who are responsible for protecting the time-line. Their role is, presumably, to police other time-travellers, and to ensure that no changes are made to historical events - so, naturally enough, they seem to consider the actions of an immortal tyrant to be outside of their jurisdiction. Rip Hunter disagrees, though - desperately trying to argue that the death and destruction caused by Vandal Savage is exactly the sort of thing that they should be willing to prevent. He begs for permission to travel into the past in an attempt to stop Savage's rise to power - and (in a twist that should surprise absolutely no one) is denied the official sanction he needs, only to decide to go ahead with his plans anyway.

Rip Hunter's plan is, of course, to gather together a group of 'legends' who can help him on his mission as he sets out in search of particular points in history when Vandal Savage might be most vulnerable. Given that Savage has been around for 4000 years, that's quite a bit of ground that needs to be covered. And, of course, there's also the issue of exactly how difficult it is to track the movements of a single man over the centuries - especially one, such as Savage, he seems to prefer moving about behind-the-scenes. So, before Rip Hunter, and his new team, have any hope of tracking down their foe, they have to take a trip to the 1970s, on the day that the world's only expert on Vandal Savage is destined to die, in the hope of getting the information they need without doing any damage to the time-line.

It's a great set-up for the series, sure - though, I do have to admit that there were some minor issues, for me, which I hope will be addressed, at some point. For one thing, early in the episode, Rip is told of the previous encounter with Vandal Savage - the one where, with the help of the Green Arrow and the Flash, it had seemed as though Savage had been defeated. Sure, Rip obviously didn't know about that little detail when he set out on his mission - but, it seems strange to me that, upon hearing of a point in time in which Savage was obviously vulnerable, he didn't change his plans to return to that moment in order to try to finish the job. Hopefully, that's something that will be addressed, directly, in the future - because, right now, it stands out as an awkward oversight.

Also, at one point in the episode, Rip and his new team are shown a series of photos which show Vandal Savage lurking in the back-ground during a variety of important historical events - each of which should provide a very clear clue as to exactly where he was at particular moments in time. And, yet, these photos are seemingly dismissed in favour of a journal of compiled information. I feel like I'm nit-picking, here - but, these moments were simply too conspicuous to be ignored.

Of course, it is the team that Rip Hunter has put together, as much as the basic premise of the series, that should appeal to comic-book fans. And, it is a fantastically varied bunch - drawing from the supporting cast of both Arrow and The Flash, and building on, in some cases, multiple episodes of existing character development.

Returning to his role as the ATOM, Brandon Routh continues to play Ray Palmer with the same goofy charm that made him so likable on Arrow - and, it makes sense that he might be the most eager to take on Rip Hunter's mission, given his clear desperation to make some sort of lasting positive impact on the world. Professor Martin Stein and Jefferson Jackson (Victor Garber and Franz Drameh, respectively), the two halves of Firestorm, continue with the entertaining rapport they have established previous - it feels as though having the two halves of this single entity often bicker and disagree is an important part of the whole concept, so I'm glad to see that they haven't grown passed it. It did, admittedly, strike me as a bit strange that it would be Jefferson, of the two, who was most reluctant to take part (especially given his willingness to take on the role of Firestorm, previously) - but, I suppose that can be put down to the scope of the challenge.

Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) returns as the White Canary (since the title 'Black Canary' has been officially co-opted by her sister. As a side-note - I know that it comes from the comics, but I still think that 'Canary' is a terrible name for a super-hero). Still struggling with her own Lazarus Pit induced blood lust (a plot-line which should be familiar to anyone watching Arrow), Sara is also driven by a strong desire to do something good. Sara Lance is a character that I have always struggled with, in the past. Try as I might, I've just never been entirely convinced by her performance - especially in those moments when she had tried to act 'tough' and 'dangerous'. Also, she has been given some truly terrible dialogue in the past, which hasn't helped. But, she's part of the crew - so, hopefully, she can finally start to grow on me.

Leonard Snart and Mick Rory, better known as Captain Cold and Heatwave, are surprising additions to the crew, of course - being career criminals, rather than aspiring heroes. But, it's obvious that Rip feels the need to have people of suitably flexible morality on his team - so, rather than criticising their inclusion, I'm really more interested in seeing how it all plays out. Besides, I've always enjoyed the consciously 'over-the-top' performances given by Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell.

Obviously, given what has already been established about this version of Vandal Savage, it is Hawkman and Hawkgirl who receive the most attention in this first episode. First of all, with the necessary (though, admittedly, rather dull) reiteration of the nature of their connection to Savage - but, also, with the surprisingly revelation that the expert they have travelled back in time to visit, Dr Aldus Boardman (Peter Francis James), is actually the son of their previous incarnations. It adds an interesting, and very personal, element to both characters which can only serve to strengthen their role on the new series (something which might seem especially important, when you remember that they are the newest entries to this shared universe, with the least amount of screen-time). Also, it doesn't hurt, at all, that Ciara Renee and Falk Hentschel finally seem to have been able to develop some of the necessary chemistry that they lacked in their previous appearance.

It is already clear that this wildly varied cast of characters is going to be the greatest strength of Legends of Tomorrow, going forward. Already, there have been some great moments as some members of the group have bonded in surprising ways, while others seem more antagonistic. Having Ray Palmer and Martin Stein share moments of giddy enthusiasm as they the time travelling ship they find themselves in is expected, of course - but, combining that with Professor Stein's complete ambivalence toward the former student that he can't remember was a great touch. Also, having Sara Lance head off to the nearest bar with Captain Cold and Heat Wave, only to almost immediately drag the two into a bar brawl, probably did more to endear the character to me than any of her previous appearances. Also, while it struck me as strange to have Professor Stein be willing to drug Jefferson in order to bring his young partner along, it did seem to fit with the older professor's clear desperation to not be left behind on what he obviously sees as the greatest adventure he might ever get to have. Honestly, if the series can continue to find time to inject moments like this between its varied cast, then it should remain well worth watching, even if they plot to track down Savage ever starts to meander.

Unfortunately, this first episode of Legends of Tomorrow did feel a bit messy, at times. Even with all of the set-up that had already been done on both Arrow and The Flash, in terms of introducing the wildly varied cast of characters, there was still quite a bit of ground that needed to be covered, here. We may have already met all of the important characters (with the obvious exception of Rip Hunter), but they are still all in very different places, as the episode begins. With that in mind, I actually found myself feeling a little disappointed that Rip Hunter's efforts to bring them all together was glossed over in a quick montage, rather than serving as the basis for much of the first episode. As the episode opened, it had started to become apparent, very quickly, that the creator's truly did intend to pull us straight into the action as quickly as possible - something which seemed to be further confirmed by the idea that Rip had already identified the group he intended to recruit before the episode had even begun.

As much fun as this episode was (and, it was a lot of fun), this clear obsession with kicking off the central plot-line as soon as possible did, ultimately, hurt the pacing of the episode. Even as someone who had watched all of the build-up in Arrow and The Flash, it all came across as very rushed. I would hate to imagine how confusing it must have seemed to any new-comers. I can only hope that, now that we have been so abruptly thrust right into the action, things can be allowed to settle down a bit in the future.

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