Review: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow 1×1 (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)

Comic strip fun that doesn't try to be anything but

In the US: Thursdays, 8/7c, The CW
In the UK: Thursdays, 8pm, Sky 1. Starts March 3 (TBC)

Well, here it is. Finally. After months of cameos and dicking around with the storylines of both Arrow and The Flash, we finally have DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. 

For years now, these two shows has been building up a guest roster of superheroes and villains. That’s inevitable in TV programmes adapted from comic books that mass up a couple of dozen episodes a season, particularly since fans always want to see how their favourites shape up on screen. This process was initially organic. On Arrow, we had a whole season of former ninja assassin turned good, Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) aka ‘The Black Canary’, before her eventual and much lamented death at the start of season three. We similarly got a whole season with Superman Returns‘ Brandon Routh getting a second shot at superherodom as Ray Palmer aka The Atom, a man who wants to be a superhero so builds himself a shrinking, armoured exo-suit.

Meanwhile, over on The Flash, we got first Wentworth Miller as Flash nemesis Captain Cold (he has a gun that makes things cold) before, in a nifty bit of casting, his Prison Break brother Dominic Purcell turned up to play Captain Cold’s partner in crime Heat Wave (he has a gun that makes things hot). And on the superhero front, we got Victor Garber (Alias, Legally Blonde, Justice, Eli Stone, Charlie’s Angels, Deception) as one half of the nuclear-powered Firestorm, with Robbie Amell (The Tomorrow People) as his other half.

All of that worked pretty well. Then towards the end of the third season of Arrow and the first season of The Flash, suddenly someone had the cracking idea of assembling these popular supporting characters and a whole bunch of others into a spin-off TV show in which they’d fight a super-super-nemesis. And both Arrow and The Flash would be used to introduce – in just a few quick months – those extra characters and set the existing ones up to leave their current shows in favour of the new show.

That would naturally take some work and more than a bit of plot gymnastics. So on Arrow, we’ve seen the very dead and buried Black Canary dunked in Ra’s Al Ghul’s Lazarus Pit and brought back to life, then try to redeem herself (again) as White Canary. The Atom finds he’s only small fry so decides to go off to do something more worthwhile with his life than be, erm, a charming scientific genius philanthropist billionaire restoring a city to its former greatness.

Over on The Flash, Captain Cold and Heat Wave have been getting a bit fluffier and better motivated – sufficent to wanting, or at least not being averse, to saving the world. And with Robbie Amell not wanting to go long-term for another fantasy series, he gets sucked into a wormhole and replaced by BBC1/BBC3’s Franz Drameh.

That’s not been quite enough for a proper superhero team-up, so we’ve also had an Arrow/The Flash crossover to introduce Hawkgirl (Ciara Renée) and Hawkman (Germany’s own Falk Hentschel), a pair of repeatedly reincarnating lovers from Ancient Egypt who are repeatedly murdered throughout time by Vandal Savage, one of the DC Comic Universe’s Big Bads, who sucks them of their life energy so he can be immortal. 

Why do they all get together? Well, in the future, that Vandal Savage, who’s been organising wars throughout the centuries to distract attention away from himself as he slowly amasses power, finally gets what he wants and brutally takes over the world. A ‘Time Master’ from the East End of London, Rip Hunter, implores his fellow Time Masters to interfere and stop Savage’s reign of terror from ever happening. They refuse, because they don’t want to intervene in the timelines, so Hunter steals a time ship (amusingly, Arthur Darvil who played Rory on Doctor Who plays Hunter. How has there not been a copyright suit against this?) and goes back in time to the early 21st century to assemble our heroes (and villains) into a team who can take on Savage throughout the ages.

The big questions are:

  1. Will they succeed?
  2. What isn’t Hunter telling the alleged ‘legends of tomorrow’?
  3. Has all this effort actually been worth it?

When heroes alone are not enough… the world needs legends.

Having seen the future, one he will desperately try to prevent from happening, time-traveling rogue Rip Hunter is tasked with assembling a disparate group of both heroes and villains to confront an unstoppable threat—one in which not only is the planet at stake, but all of time itself.

Can this ragtag team defeat an immortal threat unlike anything they have ever known? DC’s Legends of Tomorrow stars Victor Garber (The Flash, Alias); Brandon Routh (Arrow, Superman Returns); Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who); Caity Lotz (Arrow); Ciarra Renee (Pippin); Franz Drameh (Edge of Tomorrow); with Dominic Purcell (The Flash, Prison Break); and Wentworth Miller (The Flash, Prison Break).

Based on the characters from DC Comics, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash, upcoming Pan), Marc Guggenheim (Arrow, Eli Stone, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters), Andrew Kreisberg (Arrow, The Flash, Eli Stone, Warehouse 13) and Sarah Schechter (Arrow, The Flash, Pan).

Is it any good?
It’s okay. It’s kind of fun. But it’s even more comic book (not in a good way) than its predecessors, and it’s such an ensemble show, there’s nothing that sticks out as remarkably good or to justify all the work put into it.

The show does a decent enough job of introducing all the characters for those who have never seen the previous shows, demonstrating who everyone is as Hunter goes recruiting, Magnificent Seven-style, around the world. There are cameos from various Arrow cast members so that no one gets separation anxiety. Then we head off to the 70s for new plot fun and a sci-fi battle.

And it all fits very comfortably into the Arrow and The Flash style universe. Too comfortably. It doesn’t feel like a show working to earn its audience’s attention. Fights are without threat and frequently slow and badly choreographed, actions generally don’t have repercussions, everything pretty much happens as you’d expect it to, without a surprise, no one seems to have put much effort into recreating the 70s, and no one gets to do anything that would put them above the other characters in the audience’s attention. The characters may get introduced to us again, but there’s a general feeling that that’s all anyone needs to make us care about them.

Casting/direction of the new arrivals also doesn’t help. While Lotz and Routh ably demonstrate why they got whole seasons of storylines focused on them back on Arrow, Purcell and Miller are clearly here just to have a bit of fun, competing to out-ham each other as they deliver one arch line of dialogue after another. Hawkgirl, Hawkman and Savage, as well as looking about as Ancient Egyptian as I do, struggle to convince us they’re human beings, let alone superbeings, while Victor Garber seems to be by turns amused, mystified and grateful for being asked to play a superhero at his age.

The show’s ambition doesn’t help either. It wants to create scenes from throughout time, from a futuristic ‘Second Blitz’ in London involving spaceships through a snowy Nepal through fights with robot bounty hunters. Trips into the Wild West to meet DC’s Jonah Hex and to even further afield destinations are planned. But this is a show made for The CW and filmed in Canada. It has lofty ambitions but it largely fails to achieve them – there’s a reason Arrow and The Flash are usually filmed at night and indoors: it’s so you can’t spot the budget deficiency.

But for all those problems that stop the show from really soaring, the show’s first episode does whip along nicely. This isn’t a show that’s intending to be a genre-defining moment like Batman Begins or The Avengers. It’s a show that loudly and clearly says ‘We’re based on comic strips and comic strips are fun and you don’t have to take us seriously! Just watch us play fight and fly around and tell jokes to each other!’

Providing you go into DC’s Legends of Tomorrow with low expectations and a desire to see nothing but a bit of comic strip fun, you’ll have a pretty enjoyable hour’s viewing ahead of you. Ask for more and you won’t get it.

But to answer that last answer, no, I’m not convinced it was all worth it, but at least the departure of all those characters leaves Arrow and The Flash the chance to create something new to fill their places.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.