Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Painfully Simple Idea Is Dragged Out Far Too Long For Legends Of Tomorrow Season 1!

The Good: Special effects, Moments of character, One or two performances
The Bad: Ridiculous overall plot, Poor character development, Some mediocre performances
The Basics: After a remarkably promising pilot episode, Legends Of Tomorrow spends its first season listlessly circling its central plot.

I am a big fan of serialized television, so it is always disappointing to me when I find myself religiously watching a serialized show that is poorly constructed. Sadly, for as excited as I was about the latest spin-off in the DC Television Universe, Legends Of Tomorrow, the first season of the show is an unfortunate mess. The basic premise of Legends Of Tomorrow is that heroes in the same universe as Arrow and The Flash are tasked with traveling through time to thwart an immortal villain. The idea is a neat one and the pilot episode introduced a plot with a lot of promise.

Unfortunately, that promise is not truly realized in the first season.

The fundamental problem with the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow is that the first season is overly complicated and establishes a concept that is unnaturally convoluted. In fact, after a solid set up on The Flash with "Legends Of Today" (reviewed here!) and its second part on Arrow, the central conflict of Legends Of Tomorrow is hobbled by a "simple problem, simple solution" issue. While the first episode of Legends Of Tomorrow tries to scientifically explain the immortality of villain Vandal Savage and the reincarnation of Kendra Saunders and Carter Hall, it acknowledges that the team Rip Hunter has assembled has - more or less - already defeated Vandal Savage once.

Following their victory over Vandal Savage, most of the heroes who thwarted Savage have gone their separate ways. Ray Palmer, Firestorm (Dr. Martin Stein and Jefferson Jackson), Sara Lance, Hawkman and Hawkwoman (Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders), Leonard Snart and Mick Rory, are abducted by the time traveler Rip Hunter, who shows them a terrible vision of the future. In the future, Vandal Savage has come to power and enslaved the entire world, in the process killing Rip Hunter's wife and child. Hunter asks the people he has found to come with him through time and space to locate and defeat Vandal Savage before he can rise to power. Despite the initial setback of realizing that the team Hunter has assembled is based on their lack of impact to the timeline, the eight comrades join Hunter on his timeship, the Waverider.

The Waverider is repeatedly attacked by the temporal bounty hunter Chronos and its crew is wounded by Vandal Savage. The ship is damaged and hijacked in the future and a mission to the past results in three of the crew being stranded in the 1950s! When Hunter's mission nears success, he draws the ire of the Time Masters that he formerly served and, in addition to trying to stop Savage, has to rescue younger versions of his heroes and save them from a bounty hunter even more fierce than Chronos!

The moment Rip Hunter returns to the past to assemble his team, the first season has a simple quest: find out how to effectively kill Vandal Savage and then find Vandal Savage to execute him. By the end of the first episode, the Legends are in possession of an artifact (a dagger) that would enable the team to kill Vandal Savage. But the problem is, the rest of the season is utterly ridiculous: simple problem, simple solution. Six of the eight Legends killed Vandal Savage on Arrow: to solve their problem, all they need to do is wait for their team (and The Flash and Arrow) leave the site of their victory over Vandal Savage and witness him reconstituting and destroy him when he is vulnerable. Their presence would have kept Malcom Merlyn from stealing Savage's remains and however Savage would have resurrected, he would be easily killed (or his remains captured by Palmer and destroyed). Minimal temporal impact, easy victory that saves Rip Hunter's family and a mission that does not significantly endanger the team; anything beyond that is ridiculously complicated.

Sadly, no one within Legends Of Tomorrow comes to this ridiculously simple solution to ridding the universe of Vandal Savage. In fact, after the first episode, none of the heroes Rip Hunter brought together substantively recall their victory over Savage. That makes the Legends unforgivably dim.

The essential characters in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow are:

Rip Hunter - A former Time Master and captain of the Waverider, he grieves the loss of his wife and child at the hands of Vandal Savage. He assembles a team to try to kill Vandal Savage before Savage can rise to power and kill his family. His attempts to change the timeline uncover a massive temporal conspiracy and put his entire crew in jeopardy repeatedly,

Dr. Martin Stein - A genius who helped create the Firestorm Matrix and is the brains behind Firestorm, he is enchanted by the idea of traveling through time. Unfortunately for him, several of the missions put his past and his marriage in jeopardy. He is also put at risk when Jax is mutated and he is captured by Savage's forces, separating him from his other half,

Ray Palmer - Another genius, he is the inventor of a miniaturization suit and helps fight with the team as the superhero the Atom. When he and Kendra are stranded in the 1950s, they begin to truly fall in love and he is emotionally devastated by the way Kendra continues to pine for Carter,

Kendra Saunders - The latest reincarnation of Hawkgirl (Hawkwoman), she is just beginning to get used to the idea that she and Carter Hall reincarnate in various eras after Savage kills them. When Carter is lost early in the mission, she mournes and, despite advice from a different version of herself on a mission to the past, she finds herself falling in love with Dr. Palmer. She might be the only individual who can kill Vandal Savage,

Carter Hall - The current reincarnation of Hawkman, he trains Kendra until Vandal Savage apparently kills him,

Jefferson Jackson - The young man who is now the other half of Firestorm, it is his body that Dr. Stein essentially pilots. In the 1950s, he is transformed into a terrible creature. He acts as the mechanic on the Waverider,

Sara Lance - Taking up the mantle of White Canary, she begins the mission still unsettled by her recent resurrection. She is an expert in martial arts and a trained assassin. She flirts with Snart, but seems most interested in a young woman the crew meets in the 1950s. Hunter enlisted her for his team because of her willingness and ability to kill people, though she worries that might make her a monster,

Leonard Snart - The master thief who was recently broken out of Iron Heights in Central City, Hunter enlists Captain Cold because of his ability to steal anything. He is determined to kill Savage and he tries to profit off the adventures of the Waverider. He works to keep Rory in line and feels guilty when he has to choose between his lifelong partner and the success of the mission.

Mick Rory - Heat Wave, he is Snart's partner in crime. While it initially appears that Hunter brought Rory aboard because of his willingness to do violence, when he continues to endanger the crew, the truth comes out. When the truth is exposed, Rory and Snart must choose how they can best survive the mission,

Chronos - The time traveling bounty hunter, he appears moments after Rip Hunter first does and begins hunting the crew and the Waverider. He damages the Waverider and hunts the crew through time. To stop him, the crew of the Waverider has to capture him and in doing so, they learn about other temporal bounty hunters who are charged with stopping Hunter and the crew,

and Vandal Savage - A megalomaniacal dictator from ancient Egypt, he was made immortal by a comet that crashed. Tied to Carter and Kendra, he becomes more powerful each time he kills the pair. Once in love with Kendra, he has killed each of them over two hundred times and now he quietly amasses power and weapons over the course of history until he takes over the world in the future. The influence of the Legends leads him to experiment and develop technologies that threaten the future.

In the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow, the characters only minimally develop. The season is so plot-heavy that the characters are only paid lip service to genuine development. Dr. Stein was very well-established in The Flash and he is given a rather forced conflict with Ray Palmer. Sara Lance starts to develop before she is completely reverts to her assassin nature and while that could be compelling, her arc is almost exactly mirrored by the Mick Rory arc . . . down to how simply her conditioning is broken. Kendra Saunders goes from being strong and independent on The Flash and Arrow to completely buying what Carter is selling . . . to the point that she ruins the most genuine relationship of the season.

The show's unique character, Rip Hunter, is surprisingly cool, though he is single-minded in his determination to stop Vandal Savage. Savage is presented, sadly, as a remarkably monolithic adversary and it is only late in the season that he gets a twist that forces his character in a slightly different direction.

While the characters in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow might be occasionally unexciting or simplistic, a few of the performances are truly impressive. Victor Garber and Wentworth Miller give predictably amazing performances; their acting is well-established as wonderful and in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow they easily play within their established ranges. The big surprises on the performance front in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow come from Arthur Darvill and Brandon Routh. Routh is anything but bland as he plays Ray Palmer as excited at the potential of being heroic and when he plays hurt by losing Kendra as his love.

Similarly, Arthur Darvill gained popularity on Doctor Who and on that show, he played something of a milquetoast. As Rip Hunter, in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow, Darvill is able to show a far greater range than he did on Doctor Who. Darvill makes Hunter into a legitimate hero and he steals almost every scene he is in!

Most of the special effects in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow are impressive and while some of the battles get repetitive, they look amazing!

Unfortunately, the issues with the first season overwhelm the positive aspects of the season. The concept of the show is so simple that the sixteen episode season meanders so far away from the point that it becomes difficult to rewatch with any enthusiasm.

For a better understanding of exactly what is in this season, please visit my reviews of each of the episodes at:
"Pilot, Part I"
"Pilot, Part II"
"Blood Ties"
"White Knights"
"Star City 2046"
"Night Of The Hawk"
"Left Behind"
"The Magnificent Eight"
"Last Refuge"
"River Of Time"

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Doctor Who - Season 9


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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