The following review is for the DC's Legends of Tomorrow pilot. The episode will air at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW on January 21, 2016.
Minimal spoilers follow.
In a year where I found the most enjoyable "comic book movie" to be the two-night, two-part crossover event between The Flash and Arrow, it's probably no surprise that closing out 2015 with a sneak preview of DC's Legends of Tomorrow was a treat.
The series delivers a sharp, enjoyable pilot that's arguably the most attention-grabbing and entertaining from any of the current crop of superhero shows. Like a great comic book team (or event) series, it draws on the familiarity the audience has with the characters and creates a kind of storytelling shorthand that allows it to speak more intimately with the audience than, say, The Flash or Jessica Jones -- excellent pilots that had to establish most of their world in the first hour of television.
The two-part Legends pilot, which will play out over two episodes of the freshman series on The CW, pits Rip Hunter and a hodgepodge of time-traveling "Legends" against Vandal Savage, an immortal Egyptian mystic with world domination in mind.
The series, thus far, is a delight -- and not only because, for me personally, it evokes the feeling of one of my favorite recent superhero comics, the second volume of DC's Booster Gold.
We found out in that series that Time Master Rip Hunter is, in fact, Booster Gold's son and heir to a centuries-long heroic legacy -- something that won't play into Legends of Tomorrow right away, as Booster has been nixed as a potential member of the cast, at least for now.
Instead of his father and aunt, Rip finds himself teamed with castoffs from Arrow and The Flash, including Ray Palmer, Sara Lance, the newly-restored Firestorm, Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Hawkman and Hawkgirl.
The latter two are, unsurprisingly, key to the plot of the first two episodes. Legends of Tomorrow exists in a world where its heroes can only succeed by putting a stop to Vandal Savage -- and there's a theory at play in the series that Savage will only be dead for good if it's one of the Hawks that puts him in the grave.
While the Hawks and Rip Hunter drive a lot of the plot, the biggest character beats come from the antagonistic and often hilarious relationships that form on board Hunter's time ship, The Waverider (also named for a DC superhero).
The best relationship on the show is almost certainly the one Brandon Routh's Ray Palmer has with the Rogues: the three of them confound each other at every turn, making for some good comedy and raising the stakes in the superhero adventure portion of the story. A close second is the one between Professor Martin Stein and Jefferson Jackson, the "other half" of Firestorm. That dynamic will be familiar to fans of the Fury of Firestorm comics, but was largely missing from the generally friendly relationship Stein had with Ronnie Raymond on The Flash.
If there's a weakness to the first Legends of Tomorrow episodes, it's that, like most Marvel movies these days, it just expects audiences to know what came before. There is theoretically enough exposition to fill in new viewers on everything they need to know, but it's likely everyone would want to know more about these characters than you could glean from just these two hours -- or at least from the first act of the first hour, which is where everyone is introduced and decides whether they want to join Rip Hunter's crusade.
The story itself is pretty straightforward, although the nuances of time travel -- including what can and can't be changed, how and by whom -- can sometimes leave you scratching your head. By the end of the story, though, I think audiences will have a pretty good grasp of the operating rules of time travel, the stakes of this particular mission and the motivations for each of the many characters involved.
While I'm a huge fan of The Flash, I've often struggled with how gleefully over-the-top Captain Cold and Heat Wave are. Here, they seem to fit in better; there's more going on, it's a bigger canvas, and their larger-than-life antics and performances fit the series well. Routh, Victor Garber and Arthur Darvill are also standouts.
2016 is the year of the comic book on TV and film. With so many movies and shows on the air, it would be easy for it all to become a kind of white noise...but DC's Legends of Tomorrow promises to give the year a suitably impressive kickoff, and fulfills the promise of being the most ambitious DC adaptation yet.