Thursday, January 21, 2016

REVIEW: 'Legends of Tomorrow' - Rip Hunter Assembles a Team to Hunt Down Vandal Savage in 'Pilot, Part 1'

The CW's Legends of Tomorrow - Episode 1.01 "Pilot, Part 1"

In 2166, the immortal villain Vandal Savage is on the verge of his final victory. Time Master Rip Hunter takes matters into his own hands and travels to the past to assemble a carefully selected team of heroes and rogues to stop him. Together, this unlikely group will attempt to stop one of the most formidable villains of all time, while they must learn how to not only be a team, but heroes as well.

The current seasons of Arrow and The Flash have struggled a little bit because of all the work they needed to do in order to set up the premise for the new spinoff Legends of Tomorrow. It stopped both of those shows from having consistent momentum for their own season-long stories. Those episodes chose to serve characters who don't always have a consistent or meaningful purpose on those shows. The team that Rip Hunter selects for this time-traveling quest is a superhero mashup of various different elements that have worked on the other two shows. But this show also carries the same problems with the characters. Some just stand out more than others. Caity Lotz, Wentworth Miller and Victor Garber continue to do excellent work as Sara Lance, Leonard Snart and Professor Martin Stein. They had purpose on Arrow and The Flash as well - but largely in episodic doses. Here, they are being asked to be a part of an ensemble that also features some characters who have struggled to be interesting and compelling in the past. That largely results in a first episode that is unsure of itself and the tone it is trying to accomplish.

This opening hour is all about assembling the team and making sure that everyone is committed to the mission. It is very plot focused and doesn't have enough time for some truly interesting character building. Rip Hunter has gone rogue in this mission to stop Vandal Savage before he can completely destroy the world in 2166. That seems pretty obvious from the beginning. The show treats it as a big mystery though. The world is in chaos in the future. Vandal has emerged victorious in his lifelong quest to conquer the world. The first action he does on the show is kill a mother and her child. By having him mention that the child's father is a coward, it seems pretty apparent that that father is Rip and he is personally motivated to killing Savage. That is even more the case when the hour deliberately keeps the Time Masters' response to his request to assemble a team a secret. He pleads for their help and then it cuts to him running to the Waverider and Gideon. Of course, this is an unsanctioned mission. That does lead to a couple of interesting complications later on in the hour. It's just very manipulative of the audience in the beginning.

Rip is able to lure these eight heroes and rogues to this mission because he tells them that they are all legends in the future. But after that first meeting, all eight characters have to go off to their own individual lives to get their own specific call to action with this mission. It builds up how everyone views this quest differently. Kendra and Carter see it as the next battle in their war against Savage. Ray Palmer sees it as a way to bring purpose and heroics into his life. Sara sees it as a way to redefine herself as a hero. Stein sees it as a way to experience wonderful technology and historic events while Jax sees it as a suicide mission. And lastly, Snart and Rory see it as an opportunity to steal some of the most prized items throughout all of history. It's a very exposition-filled portion of the episode. The hour is halfway done before the team heads out for their first venture through time.

Things do pick up a little bit following the introductory beginning. Rip is so focused on defeating Savage over the horrors that have happened in the future. And yet, Savage is a really lame and lackluster presence throughout this episode. He was fine as a one-off bad guy for the most recent Flash-Arrow crossover event. But it's hard to imagine him being a captivating villain for an entire season of episodes. Casper Crump is doing an admirable job with the role. It just doesn't feel like he has the presence to make him a magnetic and compelling main antagonist to the team. With that lacking, it's a little difficult to accept this team coming together to defeat him. It's the story taking priority over the characters. That's a major problem throughout this episode. It sets out to do these big revelations about the timeline. Kendra had a son in one of her past lives. And now, that son is the world's only expert on Vandal Savage - in 1975. Savage rules the world in 2166. A future that none of these legends will live to see except through this time travel. Moreover, Rip lied about the team being legends in the future. They were simply the heroes and rogues who would disrupt the timeline the least.

That means the hour also has to end on everyone on the team once again committing to the mission. They are willing to wage war against Savage simply because of Rip's accounting of the horrors in the future. Some of them have experience with Savage as well. Kendra and Carter lose their son after bringing him on board the ship. That showcases how much the timeline doesn't want to be changed. That's a compelling wrinkle for the narrative that should complicate the main mission. Aldus was destined to die and he did even though Kendra wanted to save him by bringing him along for the ride. But Rip being honest with the rest of the team means they have to find a new reason to continue with this mission. It's largely about all of them accepting that they can change their fates as well. They don't want to be remembered as the after thoughts that they are in Rip's future. They want the opportunity to change their lives. This mission still provides that for them.

The most interesting aspects of this hour are when the team actually comes together to work as a team. It's very amusing when Sara, Snart and Rory go out to a bar since Rip has no use for them on their current mission to find Aldus. This scene allows the three of them to bond in a way that builds character while having almost no bearing on the overall plot. It's just fun to watch as they start a bar fight while the juke box plays Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together." It's also thrilling to watch when the team unites and use their powers and skills to defend the ship from a bounty hunter named Cronos - who has been hired to bring Rip into the rest of the Time Masters. It's fun watching these characters in battle. They may not be an effective team yet. But it's exciting to watch as they all add something new and different to this battle. These types of scenes can get tiring after awhile if the character work doesn't get significantly better. But in this first episode, it's still fresh enough to work.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot, Part 1" was written by Marc Guggenheim, Phil Klemmer, Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and directed by Glen Winter.
  • The audience learns that Rip enjoys to work alone as a Time Master because Gideon actually says those words out loud during his big introduction. Yeah, that was awful.
  • Stein drugging Jax in order to get him to do this mission and Jax's later reversal after seeing the team fight together was a very forced plot point. It had to show that not everyone was eager to accept the danger of this mission.
  • Hawkman and Hawkgirl's story is very much connected to Vandal Savage. And yet, it feels like the show is hitting the exact same plot beats that the Flash-Arrow crossover did. This time though, Falk Hentschel is much more wooden. Some individuality would really help these characters moving forward.
  • Ray is desperate to connect with Stein due to their shared scientific interests. But Stein is having none of it. That's somewhat amusing but doesn't have much of a point.
  • Arrow's Oliver and Laurel pop up in order to help Ray and Sara decide to join this mission. Oliver wants his friend to be more cautious even though Ray has already made up his mind. Meanwhile, Laurel actually convinces Sara she should go and be the White Canary. Nice Cisco shout out too. I like that Laurel and Cisco have a friendship. It just needs to be seen onscreen more.