Monday, June 20, 2016

TV Review: Legends of Tomorrow

I think it's fair to say that expectations were running pretty high for Legends of Tomorrow, a full spin-off of both The Flash and Arrow incorporating supporting characters from both, running around time and space. Both their parent shows spent a good amount of time setting it all up to, introducing both it's primary villian, Vandal Savage, and moving it's existing cast members into the right places to picked up in it's opening episodes by suspiciously bearded Rory Pond Rip Hunter and send off on a grand adventure. Sadly, and maybe inevitably, Legends of Tomorrow stutters throughout it's run, sitting in that slight frustrating zone of always being watchable but always falling short of it's true potential. Spoilers under the cut, naturally. 

So lets start with what works. The format is a sound one; a mixed crew of heros and villians on a timeship that can wind up across history and play dress-up away from the main continuity of the Arrowverse, giving us an opportunity to see characters that won't fit otherwise. Also a pretty solid cast on the main, with actors already comfortable in the characters and with a degree of established rapport. Ray, Sara and Leonard Snart especially end up being worth the price of admission on their own, and the events of the series re-build Mick Rory into something much more interesting than his earlier appearance, something I suspect the actor is grateful for. So you have a (mostly) strong cast getting to dress up in fun costumes and play around with genre you should be there, right? 

Well, no. Because it's the main story that lets it down.  The MacGuffin for all of this is Vandal Savage, now tied into the non-Thanagarian Hawk-mythology and destined to take over the world in the 22nd century. It's a little ill-defined how it's OK to stop him, or kill him, or whatever, although a late reveal tries unconvincingly to make sense of it all. It woudn't be as bad, I suspect, if Savage worked as a character, but he really doesn't. At times I quite liked the performance, all hissy and twitchy, but the  real problem is that it doesn't change - Savage in the 1950s is pretty much Savage in the 2100s or whenever, and with no sense that he's other than single-dimensional. When the 1950s Ra's al'Ghul turns up with a noticably younger, more powerful iteration of the thinner, successor-focused version from Arrow, or a Snart from three years ago instantly reminds you of his character growth, it shows Savages performance up as pretty thin. 

The other big addition to the Arrowverse is of course the Hawkgirl and Hawkman characters. Killing off Carter early and focusing on Kendra was a smart move, both in terms of representation on the show and the fact that they had very little chemstry for a pair of immortal and doomed lovers. Legends of Tommorrow never manages to sell that, not her fling with Ray, so Carters reappearance later probably looked a lot better on paper than it did on the screen. Also they seemed to have both the mystic origin, but also some Thanagarian links, so I'm not sure how the hell that was supposed to work. 

So what you're left with is a good idea, and a good cast, but a big hole in the middle where its main arc plot should be. Some late plot reveals start to salvage this, as well as giving the plot enough propulsion to gloss over some it's plot-holes, but it also smacks of re-engineering the show in preparation for the next series. And that gives me a lot of hope, actually. By the end of Legends of Tomorrow they've got rid of the weaker elements and left the crew smaller and more flexible. It's got a punchy and interesting cliffhanger. It ends a show looking forward, and I'm cautiously optimistic for it's return.