There are legendary spoilers to follow in this review, so be warned, because there's no time ship available to take you back to before you read it.
DC's Legends Of Tomorrow is sort of like The Avengers, or would be if The Avengers had been an independent film. Unfortunately, you're just not going to get that kind of scope in a television production, though kudos to DC's Legends Of Tomorrow for giving it a go. And to a large degree, for achieving much more than expected.
Spun off from Arrow and The Flash, the series gathers heroes and villains from both and brings them together under the guidance of Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill), a Time Master on a mission to thwart the global dominance of immortal Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) in the future. Gathered for this team are Ray Palmer/The Atom (Brandon Routh), Sarah Lance/White Canary (Caity Lotz), Mick Rory/Heatwave (Dominic Purcell), Leonard Snart/Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), Firestorm's Dr. Martin Stein and Jay Jackson (respectively Victor Garber and Franz Drameh), Chay-Ara/Kendra Saunders/Hawkgirl (Ciara Renee), and Khufu/CarterHall/Hawkman (Falk Hentchel).
Things kick off in London circa 2166, and the so-called "Second Blitz" as Vandal Savage's troops are laying the city to waste in what conveys an impressive bit of production value. A V.O. Hunter informs us that Savage has conquered the entire planet, and we certainly get a sense of the character's ruthlessness when he praises and then murders a child for standing up to him.
Location shift to the "Time Masters Council," which stylistically feels like the trial sequences from both Superman: The Movie (Zod, Ursa and Non standing before the Kryptonian council) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Kirk and McCoy on trial before the Klingons). There Hunter pleads his case to travel back in time to stop Savage, a notion the rest of the council rejects out of fear that interfering with the timeline could lead to an even worst despot. The word is no, he is therefore going anyway!
Next up, Hunter is in his time-traveling ship the Waverider, which is controlled by the vessel's A.I., the female-sounding Gideon (voiced by Amy Pemberton). He states their destination as Star City in 2016, and asks her to draw the files on the eight people he hopes will be joining them. They head through what appears to be a Doctor Who-inspired time vortex and, once in our present, comes upon each of our heroes in action and renders them unconscious with a hand weapon.
The group awakens on a rooftop, where they’re quickly told they've been gathered to hopefully stop Savage from taking the world. There is a lot of indifference or downright rejection of the idea - where would your Heroes' Journey be without a rejection of the quest? - until Hunter provides an (impressive) overlay of the city in the future, where nothing but destruction lies before them. He departs telling them that they're not only destined to be heroes, but legends, and he hands Stein an address for them to meet him in 36 hours if they're in.
Everyone is hesitant, but ultimately convince themselves or each other that it's the right thing to do. Jackson is the one holdout and is (a bit disturbingly, it must be said) drugged by Stein to be forcibly brought aboard the Waverider (fans of the old A-Team will remember that a similar means of "convincing" was often done on Mr. T's B.A.). Needless to say, he eventually comes around. These sequences also provide a pair of separate Arrow cameos in the form of Katie Cassidy and Stephen Amell. She is there to encourage her sister, Sarah, to “step into the light,” and even provides her with a White Canary outfit created by her friend Cisco (though why that Flash character is designing random outfits for women is never quite explained). He is there initially to discourage Ray, until, in perhaps one of the most touching moments of the episode, Brandon Routh’s Palmer explains that for a time the world thought he was dead (previously on Arrow)… and didn’t seem to care, so this would represent a chance to matter.
With the gang all there and accounted for, the mission begins with everyone traveling back to 1975 to St. Roch University in New Orleans to meet Professor Aldus Boardman, the only person deemed an expert on Savage, whose movement in history has been virtually impossible to track.
Hunter brings Palmer, Hawkman, Hawkgirl and Stein with him to meet with Aldus, while White Canary, Captain Cold, Heatwave and Jackson are left behind. Of the latter group, all but Jackson decide to head out to get "get wild in the '70s."
Hunter's team meets with Boardman (Peter Francis James) — who history shows dies the following day — and he seems surprisingly eager to provide some details on Savage and his connection with Hawkman and Hawkgirl (chronicled in this season's Arrow/The Flash crossover, part of which is that they have been constantly reincarnated since Egyptian times and that they’ve been repeatedly hunted down and killed by Savage, who goes all Highlander on them by absorbing their life force, thus being able to retain his immortality). We also learn that in in their last past life, they actually gave birth to Boardman, providing him with a variety of informative details before they were, again, killed by Savage. Some effective poignancy is mined from these sequences, much of it tragically stemming from the fact that here is an elderly man standing before his parents, who have absolutely no memory of him.
Boardman provides some necessary facts, among them that throughout the ages Savage has positioned himself near seats of power to help manipulate world events, among them World War I.
The action cuts to a bar in one of the most engaging moments of the episode when, to the jukebox playing the Captain & Tenille's "Love Will Keep Us Together," Sarah, Rory and Snart get involved in a massive bar fight where the three of them get to cut loose a bit. No world saving going on here, just a little fun.
Back at the ship, a temporal bounty hunter from the future, Chronos, begins firing on the vessel with advanced weaponry. Alone with Gideon, Jackson doesn't know what to do until the others (with Boardman in tow) - thanks to a feeling that Stein had that his other half was in trouble - arrive and take the warrior on in battle. No easy target to take down, Chronos stands his ground as the group battles him in a relatively quick struggle. The Waverider manages to take off, but with one casualty: Boardman, who ultimately dies as a result of his wounds.
After Hunter has put the ship in a sort of "time limbo" to avoid tracking, he's forced by the others to tell them the truth about Chronos. It turns out that Hunter stole the Waverider and went about the mission on his own, choosing this particular team because they have no real impact on the unfolding of history. Should die while on this mission, there would be no major consequences to the timeline. It's a pretty strong revelation for the ensemble of characters as they have to come to grips with the fact that - as Palmer voiced earlier - their lives come to mean little more than nothing in the end. Then Hunter reveals that he broke Time Masters protocol about getting married and having a child, and that Savage murdered both his wife and their son (the boy seen killed at the episode's outset).
Hunter is willing to bring them all back to their own era, but when given a bit of time to ponder the situation, all of them agree to go on with the mission. White Canary points out that if this task is designed to alter humanity's future, what's to say that they can't change their own?
Before the episode ends, the tag cuts to Norway where Vandal Savage speaks to some of his troops, revealing the fact he is in possession of a nuclear weapon, his goal to make the world a better place.... "one war at a time."
The cast of DC's Legends Of Tomorrow for the most part works quite well, both in terms of rapport and antagonism. Routh once again causes one to regret the fact he never had the opportunity to continue in the role of the Man of Steel following Superman Returns (there’s an earnestness he brings to Palmer that is still so Supes); Lotz is a badass with a twisted sense of humor as Sarah; Purcell as Heatwave and Miller as Captain Cold are characters who have been at times annoying on The Flash (Miller’s line-readings oftentimes bewildering), but seem to work in this setting where they’re given the opportunity to express different shades of themselves that they previously haven’t been able to; Garber is, well, Garber, bringing equal amounts of authority and pomposity, and a bit of pathos as he reveals himself to be a man hoping for a last adventure in life; while Drameh runs the risk of coming across as a whiny teen, until you recognize that the kid is indeed a teen who has been thrust into a role with no less than the fate of the world on his shoulders. If that’s not worth some whining, what is? Ultimately he and Garber develop an effective rapport between each other. Renee and Hentchel, on the other hand, create a bit of a dilemma in that she is someone you completely get behind as she attempts to grapple with growing revelations about her past, but the problem is that he comes across as unlikable as he constantly forces himself and their destiny on her.
It's too soon to assess Darvill as Hunter: so much of his performance consists of equal doses of an inflated bravado to win these people over, and frustration when this mix-match of characters decide to do things their own way. Is he likeable? Hard to say. His motivations - wanting to stop Savage before he kills his wife and son and enslaves the world - are certainly there, so it will be interesting to see how he evolves. On the other hand, we're already getting a sense of change in Crump, his portrayal of Savage taking a seemingly more subtle approach than he had in the Arrow/The Flash crossover.
Production values are strong, and with proper costumes, production design and appropriate to the era music, the '70s are nicely captured in small doses.
These guys aren't legends yet, but if they play their cards right they just might get there one day.