Ever since the Marvel Cinematic Universe took off in earnest, there’s been an increasing emphasis on bigger-equals-better superhero tales. Sometimes this pays off (see the first “Avengers” film). Sometimes it doesn’t (see the second “Avengers” film).
At this early stage in the game, “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” could go either way. While DC is clearly reaching for a similarly epic scope as Marvel did with “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the main plot remains more grounded, and thus, more comprehensible. Yes, time-traveler Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) has recruited eight — count ’em, eight — heroes (or, in some cases, straight-up villains) to help him out. But because they’re all focused on the same mission of stopping supervillain Vandal Savage from causing the apocalypse, there’s a singularity to the narrative that makes it easy to follow, even as it becomes clear that Hunter’s motives are more about personal revenge (Savage murdered his family) than complete altruism as they chase Savage across time.
No, “Legends of Tomorrow’s” flaws lie not in plotting, but pacing. There’s just too much, too soon. On one hand, I get it. This is a brand-new superhero TV series in a market that’s quickly becoming filled with them. It makes sense that creators Greg Berlanti, Andrew, Kreisberg, Marc Guggenheim and Phil Klemmer would want to start things off with a bang. And to their credit — with the help of director Glen Winter — they handle the show’s many action sequences with a blunt clarity that’s refreshing when compared to the visual overindulgence of someone like Zack Snyder.
When the reincarnate-able Hawkman and Hawkgirl (Falk Hentschel and Ciara Renee, respectively) have a domestic squabble, for instance, the camera merely lingers at a profile angle, knowing that the gold is not in quick zooms or pinball cinematography, but the characters’ impressively rendered wingspans (for a basic-cable series, the CGI is outstanding across the board). They leap in the air, poised to crash into each other, and that’s all we need to see. Later on, a ’70s bar fight between White Canary (Caity Lotz), Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell), Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), and some bikers packs a similar no-frills punch. So does a half sci-fi/half Western gunfight with the bounty hunter Kronos, an armored mercenary who’s been sent by the Time Masters to kill Hunter for going off the grid in search of vengeance.
The problem is, all of this happens before we really get to know any of them, especially for viewers who haven’t seen the main cast’s prior appearances on “Arrow” or “The Flash.” Even the obligatory recruiting montage skates by before the opening credits have run their course, meaning we don’t get a true sense of what any of these characters — as well as their other teammates Firestorm (a symbiotic partnership between Victor Garber and Franz Drameh) and Atom (Brandon Routh) — are like beyond their stock traits. Heat Wave is the brute who loves to fight, Drameh’s “Jax” Jackson is the whiny 20-something, Garber’s Professor Martin Stein is the distinguished mentor, and so on. Even Stephen Amell’s brief cameo as Green Arrow is far more one-note than he’s exhibited on his own CW series.
Granted, comic books (and the shows based on them) rely on archetypes perhaps more than any other medium, but when Hawkgirl’s son gets severely wounded in the firefight with Kronos, we’re supposed to care, and I just don’t. That’s because their entire relationship up to that point consists of exposition, which doesn’t give the scene the emotional weight it needs to pull off Hawkgirl calling a much older man “son” (that’s time travel for you) without it being laughable. The show’s corny humor could also use some tweaking — do we really need two “Star Wars” jokes (one for Darth Vader, one for Boba Fett) about Kronos’ armor?
At the same time, I recognize that this is only the first half of the pilot, and there’s a lot to get out of the way. In addition to the bold production values, “Legends of Tomorrow” does sport a terrific cast who knows how to deliver clunky genre dialogue without it sounding like fanboy jargon. Routh in particular has a great deal of fun with Atom, shedding his stoic Superman skin from all those years ago to portray a hero who’s lighter on his feet; a bit more whimsical; a bit more self-deprecating. Now that the ragtag Legends — revealed to be anything but in the episode’s final moments (at least for the time being) — are all on the same page about their quest, hopefully they’ll have some action-less downtime on the Waverider, allowing them to get to know each other and, most importantly, us as an audience in the coming weeks.