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Legends of Tomorrow, Ep. 1.01: “Pilot, Part 1”

Legends of Tomorrow, Ep. 1.01: “Pilot, Part 1”

Legends Of Tomorrow pilot

 

Legends of Tomorrow Season 1, Episode 1 “Pilot, Part 1”
Written by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg and Phil Klemmer
Directed by Glen Winter
Airs Thursdays at 7pm ET on The CW

Going into Legends of Tomorrow, the CW’s latest foray into adapting DC Comics characters to the small screen, there are really only two important questions. One: does Legends of Tomorrow have something to offer beyond what’s currently on display in Arrow and The Flash? And two, is there any chance at all that Doctor Who fans won’t look at Arthur Darvill’s time-traveling Rip Hunter and see an older, more hard-bitten Rory Williams?

The answer is yes, and yes. Legends of Tomorrow is a rousing and promising debut, albeit one plagued with awkward transitions and the rushed, expository writing that mars so many pilot episodes. Rip Hunter, a time traveler with a mission and a personal vendetta, sets out to recruit eight unlikely heroes to save the future. Having witnessed Vandal Savage, an evil, immortal dictator, lay waste to the planet in 2166, Rip is determined to hunt Vandal down before his power grows, and assembles a team of familiar faces from Arrow and The Flash.

Arthur Darvill as Rip is a slightly seedy, untrustworthy individual, definitively putting to rest any comparisons between the character and his Doctor Who role. On the more traditional “hero” side, we have Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) as The Atom, Professor Martin Stein and Jefferson Jackson (Victor Garber and Franz Drameh) as Firestorm, and Kendra Saunders and Carter Hall (Ciara Renée and Falk Hentschel) as Hawkgirl and Hawkman. On the “villain-slash-reluctant hero” side we have Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell as Captain Cold and Heat Wave, while Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) as the White Canary lies somewhere in the middle.

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It’s a rabble of scientists, reincarnated Egyptian beings of myth, criminals and thieves, an auto mechanic, and a former assassin. Which is to say, particularly with the time-traveling premise, it’s all rather ludicrous – the series stretches disbelief further than either Arrow or The Flash, because it’s more grounded in science fiction than superhero lore. I was hoping for a few moments of dialogue in which the show poked fun at itself – dry humor that acknowledges any ludicrousness can make a hard-to-swallow scene or element instantly more palatable – but there’s none to be found.

The pilot handles the large ensemble fairly deftly however, and several dynamics have already had a chance to shine through, with a fascinating range of possibilities present for more. An immediate rapport between Sara and Captain Cold and Heat Wave is unexpected, but delightful, and to that threesome belongs the strongest sequence in the episode, a raucous bar fight. This particular superhero team never existed in the comics – all the disparate characters appeared in the comics, but were never brought together – which gives the writers lots of room in which to improvise and create. Legends of Tomorrow isn’t bound to any one time or space, and so it has lots of opportunity to have a loopy, freewheeling creative energy as it explores different cultures and time periods with its edgy, powerful characters. It’s an unusually high-concept set-up that may well lead to the show being something of an event experience every episode, with a wholly new “world” on display. It also may end up being more episodic in structure rather than focusing on recurring storylines.

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The danger lies in attempting to include, and manage, so many different characters. The plot is erratic – jumping very swiftly from place to place and character to character.”Pilot” accomplishes a great deal as far as giving backstory to nine different characters, bringing them together as a team, and sending them on their first mission. But it’s apparent even this early on that it may be overextended. The Flash, for example, has a large cast, but each member performs very different roles, from scientist to investigator to inventor to handler, and most provide support to the action rather than directly contributing to it.

Legends of Tomorrow has eight action-oriented (or at least highly capable) superheroes with powers or training. A team of five, at most six, might have been more interesting and effective: perhaps eliminating Firestorm or The Atom (does the team need two scientists?), and Hawkgirl and Hawkman, who are certainly the characters least tethered to reality. Eliminating Hawkgirl and Hawkman would have necessitated also eliminating Vandal Savage, but thus far he’s a villain painted in broad strokes, and not elevated by Caspar Crump’s uninspired performance.

Nonetheless, it’s an inventive tale of adventure, grounded by some very strong characters and impressive special effects. The premise is inherently “fun,” and because of edgier characters like Captain Cold and Heat Wave, Legends of Tomorrow has the chance to combine some of The Flash’s buoyant energy with Arrow’s penchant for gritty, complex characters. That promise is very present in the pilot, and it will be interesting to see if the production team of Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim can build and expand on that – through all of time and space.

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