Legends of Tomorrow is Avengers meets Doctor Who, for better and for worse

Editor’s Note: The latest DC spinoff series Legends of Tomorrow premieres Thursday, Jan. 21, on The CW. Here’s our spoiler-free take on the latest Flash and Arrow super-series-sibling.

Watching Ray Palmer and Heat Wave fly away in a time machine with Rip Hunter, it’s hard to believe this DC saga technically started back in 2012 with Oliver Queen putting on a hood with the simple goal of cleaning up the streets of Star City.

It also begs the question — has The CW’s DC universe grown too far, too fast? Kind of, yeah, but also no.

The latest DC series Legends of Tomorrow, which takes equal parts from The Flash and Arrow to make up its core cast (along with Doctor Who alum Arthur Darvill as time master Rip Hunter), sets up a third hour of superhero action for fans who are already invested in the adventures of the Green Arrow and Flash. But, though it’s been billed as a “crossover event” every week, this event series is actually a whole lot more than that.

It’s, well, just a whole lot of things. It’s one part Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s one part Back to the Future, it’s one part Doctor Who, and it’s one part Guardians of the Galaxy, all with sprinkles of The Flash and Arrow dabbled in for flavor. Though I do tend to like all the parts that comprise the whole, the two-episode opener for Legends of Tomorrow has a hard time escaping the sum of those myriad parts. If putting all that into a blender and putting it on TV sounds a bit haphazard (but still fairly awesome), that’s because it is. Legends is all over the map tonally, and some of the plot points are positively bone-headed contrivances played for a laugh/plot MacGuffin.

They literally have a time machine here. With some proper planning, it should conceivably be fairly easy to take out a bad guy before he destroys the world — even someone as dangerous as Vandal Savage. Sure, that’d kind of make the series a moot point, but it’s still an elephant in the room worth explaining away (and though they kind of try, it doesn't exactly cover it). Just sayin’.

Parts of the show feel like the producers conceived a big, time-traveling superhero concept, then tried to fit that round peg into the square hole that is the framework of the Arrow-verse. It largely works as its own thing and its own tone, but the seams start to show when you consider its place in the larger universe. Many of the familiar characters do things that are wildly out of character (looking at you, Dr. Stein), and they bum-rush the setup and background so much (which, sure, you want to get to the action) that your head is still spinning as they bid adieu to the present day.


But, here’s the kicker: Warts and all, Legends of Tomorrow is insanely fun. Stupidly fun, really, is about the best way to describe it. You get massive action scenes complete with the spinning, Avengers-esque camera (which actually look decent on the TV budget here), plus the sillier side of time travel shenanigans that would feel right at home if Marty McFly were also on the team (with his, umm, life vest-wearing powers?), and some timey-wimey stakes and sleight of hand that would even make The Doctor blush. And the actors in these roles are great, and every single one of them seems to have a great line or look in the two-part opener. Darvill as Rip Hunter is, well, perfect.

Admittedly, not all of the humor works, but when it does it works well, and this is arguably a way more comic book-y project than even The Flash, in that sense. A lot of the jokes are built around that motley crew, Guardians of the Galaxy vibe, and it really is a lot of fun seeing this random assortment of heroes and villains trying to work together toward a common goal. If nothing else, they really are trying to have as much fun as possible with this set-up and cast. Plus, the effects are top-notch, which goes a long way in selling something this ambitious.

There’s no denying the show is a rollicking good time, but still, in the wider context of Arrow and The Flash, it just doesn’t really fit. Think about it — you’re introducing a space ship-based time travel series into a world that’s most consistently far-fetched element is a guy who can run really fast. Yes, they’ve introduced the concept of Earth-2 and metahumans (and even time travel, on rare occasions), but Legends still comes across as something too far, and too fast (no pun intended). 

In many ways, it feels like a fever dream concocted with cool ideas and a ton of sci-fi flair. It has pieces of a lot of things you like, but all those things don’t necessarily land in the world as its been established. But, a lot of that is almost certainly what Marc Guggenheim & Co. were working toward in the first place. They’ve managed to create a wild, swashbuckling comic book series (with no real A-listers to speak of) on primetime TV. There’s no denying the fact: That’s an awesome accomplishment.

As for the bits that don't work?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Will fans enjoy Legends? Sure, it’s a blast. Seriously, set your DVR. Now. But, it’s also a potential step toward diluting the consistent universe that all this success is built upon in the first place, and that can be a slippery slope if left unchecked.

Put simply: Legends of Tomorrow is peak-crossover at its greatest and most ridiculous, for better and for worse. Enjoy the ride.

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