“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” like its quirky ensemble of characters, shows great promise in living up to its grandiose title. Kicking off with a neatly simple yet potentially epic setup, filled with action playing out on a nearly cinematic scale, the show’s overwhelming sense of fun trumps its occasional weak spots and positions it to eventually, one day, feel downright legendary.
For comic book fans, “Legends of Tomorrow” is, in every good sense, the television equivalent of that industry staple, the Crossover Event. With its mix and match of heroes and villains who have, by and large, made appearances on The CW‘s two preceding DC Comics-inspired series, “Arrow” and “The Flash,” the opening two hours play largely like a TV adaptation of the milestone maxi-series “Crisis On Infinite Earths,” in which a number of good guys and bad guys who otherwise had little relation to one another were united in hopes of serving the cosmic good.
And that’s the gist, here. In order to avert an epoch-defining disaster initiated by immortal troublemaker Vandal Savage (Casper Crump), previously encountered in the most recent Arrow/Flash crossover, a Time Master named Rip Hunter (“Dr. Who’s” delightfully watchable Arthur Darvill) rebels against his brethren to recruit a team of mismatched crusaders for a temporal mission to put Savage down before he irrevocably poisons humanity’s greater destiny. It’s as simple, clean and comic book-y a premise as they come.
Among the impromptu supergroup — all of whom, Hunter assures, are fated to become future legends — are a collection of characters viewers have most likely encountered before on the precursor series. The Atom (Brandon Routh), the size-changing billionaire genius who seeming has it all but still craves heroic validation; the White Canary (Caity Lotz), a once-dead, now-resurrected martial artist vigilante with a taste for violence; Firestorm (Victor Garber and Franz Drameh), the atomic-powered hero formed by the fusing of two very different personalities; Hawkgirl (Ciara Renee) and Hawkman (Falk Hentschel), the winged and repeatedly reincarnated eternal lovers who struggle with both their long personal history and their violent history with Savage; and the morally challenged Central City crime duo Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) and Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell).
Most of these characters — and the actors who play them — have proven their appeal on “Arrow” and “Flash,” and nothing is lost in the transition to the ensemble series. Viewers who haven’t watched the other shows may find themselves a bit lost, but for the carryover audience this show is designed for, it dives in swiftly, neatly and effectively, and the mixing and matching of the familiar character strikes plenty of fresh and new sparks. The series essentially evokes a small-screen “Avengers” kind of vibe, with production values that by and large add greatly to the effect.
It’s actually difficult to pick a standout among the ensemble cast, which quickly gels into a coherent crew. Darvill is a joy from the moment he’s introduced, and Routh brings a terrifically heroic sense of good-natured gravitas to the proceedings. Garber is always at the top of his game no matter how out-there the situation, with a performance here made even more amusing by his character’s sharp contrast with Drameh’s.
Written with a lighter touch than might be expected, Lotz brings a new and very watchable wryness to her role that works well. Purcell provides a menacing brand of comic relief, and the cold-as-ice Miller continues his streak as a consummate scene-stealer. In contrast, Hawk-couple actors Renee and Hentschel, two of the more recent additions to The CW’s super-roster, appear to still be finding their ways into their admittedly challenging characters. Thankfully, their scenes together suggest they too will quickly settle into a groove that will make them into worthy fan favorites rather than merely ready-made spinoff characters.
For reasons often great — and sometimes not so great — “Legends” is perhaps the most comic book-y of The CW’s three superhero series. It’s neither as dark and angst-y as “Arrow,” nor as cheerful and flat-out fun as “The Flash,” though both strands of DNA are noticeable. It occasionally suffers from some of the inelegant dialogue and storytelling clunkiness that can pop up on both series, but it admirably dives right into the same kind of out-there adventurousness that characterizes much its super-team source material. It does so, perhaps, with even more wholeheartedness than either of its precursors, delivering plot twists aplenty to keep things interesting along the way.
As the pilot’s first foray into time-travel reveals, this is more of a romp than a saga. Not, however, without its share of poignancy, as it should be. The 2-hour opening chapter sends the team into the 1970s, with all of the comedic possibilities that entails, including a “Back to the Future”-esque storyline for Garber’s Stein and a dynastic visitation of the Hawks’ Egyptian origins
Once the show’s cast and writers become even more comfortable with the mixing and matching of their characters’ disparate personalities, “Legends of Tomorrow” seems poised, like its semi-motley collection of heroes, to eventually find its own distinct sort of greatness. The pieces are on the board from the opening of the series — now, its up to the players to figure out their winning moves.