Thursday, 24 January 2019

Superhero Shows Roundup: Legends of Tomorrow season three and four (part one)

Legends of Tomorrow has gradually gone from being the corny extra series alongside Flash and Arrow to being one of my favourite TV series of recent years. The rolling team members, unashamedly silly adventures, and continually shifting settings keep the series constantly fresh and entertaining. Add to that genuinely likeable characters (both the heroes and villains), witty dialogue and an absolute bevy of geektastic in-jokes and you have a series that is simply tremendous fun. Really, there are more Back to the Future jokes in this series than can reasonably be expected to fit.

To be honest, although I'm still hugely enjoying Doctor Who, Legends is the series that is making the most of its temporal potential. The Waverider leaps up and down the timeline, screwing with history, fixing it, screwing it up again, tackling anachronisms, arch-villains and temporal paradoxes. Season two ended with the ludicrously named Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who link number one) leaving the Legends to protect history against the Legion of Doom, only to see them rapidly create a paradox so immense that it shattered history. Rip then stopped being a pseudo-Doctor figure and set up his own Men in Black (well, blue) to replace the destroyed Time Masters. The Time Bureau provided a new background to the series; not allies or villains, as such, but a starch-shirted group to act as rivals to the Legends.

Season three starts with the Legends trying to return to what passes for normal life, while the Bureau tracks down anachronisms - historical figures (and occasional prehistoric monsters) that slip through space-time to places they shouldn't belong. Helen of Troy. Elvis Presley. P.T. Barnum (played by Billy Zane!). The first episode sees the Legends under Captain Lance (Caity Lotz) steal the Waverider back from the Bureau, reunited with Steel, the Atom, the twin hero Firestorm and everyone's favourite Mick "Heatwave" Rory to go and capture Julius Caesar, who has arrived in Aruba, 2017. Legends simply has tremendous fun with the time travel concept. Most of the characters get a focus episode, an we get to see the childhoods and parents of characters like Ray and Rory. In spite of the silliness and comedic nature of the series, the stakes are high in these adventures and there are serious emotional stakes for the characters too. It's solid adventure drama.

Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), the first version of the superhero Vixen, is absent in the first episode, having returned to Africa in 1942 to fulfil her destiny. Her return to the Legends causes all kinds of temporal problems, not least of which is the appearance of her villainous granddaughter Kuasa, the Water Witch (Tracy Ifeachor, Doctor Who link number two - dreadful actress but never mind). Another element that I love about Legends is its connections to the wider DC universe. Not only does it take part in the annual Arrowverse crossover event - the expansive Crisis on Earth-X four-parter - it cherry-picks the best characters from across the DC televisual universe. Even Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) works far better when he temporarily joins the team, far better than he does in the shadow of the Flash.

After starting as a fairly straight crime-and-vigilante series, Arrow spun-off into The Flash and introduced metahumans into the mix. Then it began to introduce magic, which opened up all sorts of avenues for stories, not least of which was the incorporation of John Constantine (Matt Ryan) into the Arrowverse. After a guest spot in season five of Arrow, Constantine's own series was retconned into being part of the same universe. After drawing on Arrow and The Flash for its villains in season two, Legends brought back Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) again to be a major villain in season three. Darhk is a villain who simply refuses to stay dead, with time travel giving the show an excuse to bring him back again and again, and to be fair, McDonough's performance is such archvillainous fun it's hard to blame the showrunners.

In a fun twist, the temporal paradoxes plaguing history had the side effect of weakening the walls between dimensions, allowing the demon Mallus to encroach on our world. Mallus - perfectly voiced by John Noble, who makes a late-season cameo as himself in one of the most knowing and funny moments in the series - joins forces with Darhk and his daughter Nora (Courtney Ford) to break free into reality. This brings Constantine into the mix as a recurring character, joining the Legends team as a regular for season four. That's not the extent of the DC pick-and-mix, though. We go an a trip to the future of the 21st century, when both metahumans and religion are illegal - for religion, read Islam. Anti-Trump sentiment runs high on this show, and that's no bad thing (hell, Barack Obama even makes an appearance). Here the Legends recruit Zari Tomaz (Tala Ashe, and be still my beating heart), who is the Arrowverse equivalent of the superhero Isis. This suggests that it's only a matter of time before Black Adam and Captain Marvel/Shazam are introduced as well. Zari is on the best characters to be introduced in season three, a brassy, confident but vulnerable woman with real depth and an absolute favourite of mine.

The on-off, join-leave-rejoin nature of the regular cast really helps keep this series fresh. The loss of Martin Stein (the great Victor Garber) was heartbreaking, leading to another rejig of the series as his Heatwave partner Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh) eventually leaves in turn. On the other hand, the Time Bureau includes the wonderfully nebbish Gary (Adam Tsekhman) and the bad-ass-as-hell Agent Ava Sharpe (Jes Macallan), who goes from being cold-hearted but hard-as-nails to becoming one of the most likeable and entertaining characters as her own mysterious origins are revealed. (Don't want to spoil everything here, but it's sci-fi gold.) Ava and Sara, after a serious rivalry at the beginning, end up in one of the sweetest relationships in the series (much more believable than Amay and Nate).

That's another thing I love about this series. It's unrelentlessly, unashamedly bi. With bi-erasure still so common on TV, to have three characters who are openly bisexual (Sara, Gary and Constantine) enjoying both casual and committed relationships is tremendously heartening. Alongside the endless geeky references, there are plenty of naughty jokes, and let's be fair, this is a damned sexy series as well. And, as if incredibly beautiful people, time travel, monsters and geeky jokes weren't enough, the episode title are among the most pun-tastic in history. Searching for Helen of Troy? It's a "Helen Hunt." Searching for a magical orb that controls life and death? You're "Necromancing the Stone." Nora facing two different version of her father? It's "No Country for Old Dads." This show could have been made for me.

Eventually, Mallus is defeated upon his manifestation in the physical world - using a giant cuddly toy named Beebo (a reference to so many things, including Rick and Morty, and the one time Legends has failed to make the obvious Ghostbusters reference - after all, "It just popped in there.") Unfortunately for the universe, Mallus's interdimensional prison also held any number of magical beings, imprisoned for the threat they pose to humankind (real or imagined). Season four launched with the show completely embracing the magical side of the Arrowverse, with missions no longer revolving around sorting anachronisms but capturing magical beasts. With the Time Bureau now fully allied to the Legends, no doubt aided by Ava's relationship with Sara, time travel is now monster hunting as well, and the Bureau are charged with holding magical creatures like a high-tech Newt Scamander. Nate "Steel" Heywood even joins the Bureau, and in one of those fabulous coincidences so common in genre TV, his father - played by none other than Tom "Biff" Wilson - is in charge of their budgeting with Homeland Security. With Back to the Future references now dialled up to eleven, and a different magical creature each week, the series is only getting more fun. Of course, Nate left the Legends partly because Amaya left him to return to 1942 again, but Maisie Richardson-Sellers is back on the series as the shapeshifter Charlie. Inititally played in her primary form by Anjli Mohindra (Doctor Who link number three), Charlie is a Cockney punk faerie and allows MRS to stop pretending to have an illogical American accent.

Oh, and Constantine's on the run from Neron, a demon so powerful and legendary in DC canon that he makes Mallus look like the Tooth Fairy. With season four returning for its second half in April, I'm determined to add regular Legends reviews to the blog. It's just endlessly entertaining.

No comments:

Post a Comment