Legends of Tomorrow: Season 1 - Review

Ever since Arrow first hit our screens in 2012, the CW superhero universe has come on leaps and bounds. There has been a lot of great characters added to their pantheon and it was only a matter of time before we got a series featuring an ensemble of characters joining forces to form a team. While Legends of Tomorrow might not have been the most straight forward Justice League series that many fans have craved, it still has that same source of appeal.

Just as The Flash did before its first season, Legends really benefited from having been set up in its sister series' before the new series debuted. Unfortunately, those other seasons were what suffered from lack of time and attention as a lot of time was devoted to the Legends who paved their way for their own ongoing adventures. But the build up meant that the Legends could be made up of heroes that viewers were already familiar with. The series brought together The Atom, (Brandon Routh), both halves of Firestorm, (Franz Drameh and Victor Garber), White Canary, (Caity Lotz), Captain Cold, (Wentworth Miller), Heatwave, (Dominic Purcell), Hawkgirl, (Ciara Renee) and Hawkman, (Falk Hentschel). The gang is joined by time-travelling fugitive, Rip Hunter, (Arthur Darvill).

But nothing could save the opening two-part story from the ups and downs it had, no matter how much of a build up the series had enjoyed months before. It had a far too uneven pace and a surprising reliance on heavy exposition early on. All right, it would have been foolish for the producers to assume that the viewers who weren't comic book fans had done their homework, but it would have been nice for the exposition to be played out over the two opening episodes rather than crammed in right at the beginning. And as we see the premier play out, things do set up a very worthy status-quo for the team. Rip Hunter and his team task themselves with the job of hunting down the immortal villain, Vandal Savage, (Casper Crump), who would destroy the world in 2166.

This crusade does have some nice personal involvement for all the team. Savage murders Rip's wife and child and for Hawkgirl and Hawkman, they have been stuck in a 4,000 years circle of death and resurrection. And for the other members they are looking for a way to be remembered as heroes. And that last note plays in well with the revelation at the end of the premier episode, when Rip reveals that he had lied, they wouldn't be remembered as legends in his future, they weren't remembered at all. It gives the show a nice underdog flavour that served it well and helped it to set the team apart from others like the Justice League and Justice Society.

Ignoring the exposition heavy moments, the pilot did a brilliant job of setting the ball rolling and showcasing the potential of all the characters and the series as a whole. It also established a very cinematic look and feel which endured for the sixteen episodes of the first season. And the death of Hawkman in the second episode helped to tell us that there are high stakes and that the creators weren't going to be overly protective of their characters. But the show lost a lot of its momentum after that. Particularly during the first half of the season, it felt as though they were just wandering aimlessly through the time-stream without making anything in the way of progress in their hunt for Savage. There were a few fun episodes in this half of the season like Star City 2046 and The Magnificent Eight, but they felt like they were just there for the characters to have a little bit too much fun with the unique situation and premise, than furthering the overall plot.

What certainly didn't help was that Vandal Savage was an underwhelming villain. On paper, there isn't a better villain to base a time travelling plot on. But in practice, Crump's performance didn't capture the menace that his character needed. His heavy Danish accent didn't help to show he was a power mad tyrant originally from ancient Egypt. And his character didn't stand up to Zoom or Damien Darhk who were terrorising The Flash and Arrow at that point. Savage did improve overtime, especially in the last few episodes, but generally speaking, Crump's performance only stood out during the villain's more extreme moments of villainy.

During the moments when the plot began to drag itself through the mud, it the was focus on the characters which saved it. And the writers did make the most of the heroes' conflicting personalities. I think the time he spend playing Rory Williams on Doctor Who served Arthur Darvill well. Rip was a mixture of a space cowboy, exasperated den mother and a self interested schemer. This season wasn't afraid to take Rip to some dark places but gave the character a cohesive, satisfying story arc as he learned to place the needs of his team over his own selfish desires.

Another pair of characters the show worked wonders for was Captain Cold and Heatwave. These two were already interesting on The Flash but were criminally underused. Luckily in this series, the pair went under drastic transformations as they changed from murderous criminals to selfless heroes. But there were plenty of bumps for them along the way with Heatwave's fall from grace during the middle of the season serving as a really interesting dramatic development. And all the time the producers spent on their characters really paid off in the final two episodes, with Captain Cold heroically sacrificing himself to save the team and Mick having to learn to cope with life without his friend. And the time travel format allowed for us to have a really nice goodbye to Cold in the finale.

The biggest strength of the season comes from the fact that you could pick any pair of heroes and find an interesting dynamic between them both. White Canary bonded with Cold and Heatwave while coming into her own as co-captain of the Waverider. Ray bonded with Heatwave during their time in a Russian prison. Professor Stein and The Atom are constantly trying to out-science each other. And there was the strained relationship between the two halves of Firestorm, which paid off handsomely at the end of the season. What the show lacked in compelling conflicts it more than made up for in its characterisation.

But then there was the Hawks. Along with Savage, they were easily the weakest link in the series, Carter was more of a victim of the series by sitting most of it out, but Kendra rarely seemed to shine despite the amount of time she spent in the limelight. And Renee's performance often failed to match up with those of her co-stars. What would have helped was if the producers had given her a more proactive and aggressive character, in line with her comic-book counterpart. And less references to her time spent as a barista in Central City would have been nice too. And that became a less charming joke, the longer the season went on.

Another problem that plagued this season was the silly little love triangle between Kendra, Ray and Carter. Romanic drama has always been a hallmark of any CW show and when it is done right, it can be a nice counterpart to the dark and brooding world that many of our superheroes live in. But this particular series never felt like it needed a romantic subplot. And Kendra and Ray never felt like they were a good couple and any romantic tension they may have had shattered when Carter came back on the scene. It was certainly telling that the romantic subplot between Sara and Cold was more interesting than that of Ray and Carter and that of Carter and Kendra.

However, despite its problems with pacing and forced love triangles, the season really started to progress after the events of the episode, Leviathan. Like many a new show, it seemed like Legends just needed a little while to really find its footing, its voice and build up some momentum. It was also a shame that Legends had a shorter season than usual as it started to live up to its potential when the season was coming to an end. But the final four episodes did a fantastic job of accelerating the conflict between the team and Vandal Savage, building the drama between both within the team and without and making the most of the relationships that had developed over the course of the show.

And the final episode of the season deserves some credit by setting the stage for the second season, now in its mid-season break. It jettisons off the weaker parts of the season, the Hawks and Vandal Savage. It also build up a unknown new status quo be eliminating the Time Masters and Rip's ability to look up and down the time-stream. But it also build on some excitement right at the end with the arrival of the Waverider from the future piloted by Rex Tyler, a member of the Justice Society of America. And where The Flash and Arrow ended their second season and fourth season's on low notes, Legends went out with a bang.

So it is interesting to see where Legends ended given how shaky it had been at the start. It seemed to take almost half the season for it to build up and the show's plodding pace caused it fall behind the other shows being made by the CW. But when the show finally found its feet, it ended on a stronger note than the other superhero shows being put out by the CW. And even in those episodes which don't feature a lot going on, we get some really nice character developments which were the real joy of this season...