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Justice League vs. Teen Titans Review

April 20, 2016 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
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Justice League vs. Teen Titans Review  

If there’s one thing that DC and Warner Bros. has consistently been doing well for the last decade or so, it’s their direct-to-DVD animated movies. Aimed at a more mature audience, these films have helped carry on the tradition of fantastic DC cartoons stemming from Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League. Or the old 1940’s Superman shorts if you’re a real animation nerd. While a vast majority have them been very good to great, there is a major downside that comes with them, from my perspective. See, while they originally started throwing out a wide variety of stories with different characters, the studio got a little wary when Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight failed to do the kinds of sales that Batman: Under the Red Hood or Justice League: Doom were pulling in. Which means we’ve been stuck getting mostly Batman and Justice League titles for the last five or so years.

To their credit, DC has used the Justice League titles to spotlight specific members: Flashpoint and Throne of Atlantis are primarily stories about The Flash and Aquaman, but they’ve also got to include Batman and Superman, which sometimes muddles the narrative. A more effective use has been the Batman movies; while Son of Batman and Batman vs. Robin were not necessarily classics, they did help solidify Damian Wayne and Nightwing as characters that can carry a story by themselves without Batman’s shadow looming large over them. And this year’s excellent Bad Blood even managed to introduce the world to Batwoman.

But this…

This is what I’ve been waiting for. I can’t tell you how excited I was when this project finally got greenlit. I love the Teen Titans. But as somebody who didn’t really like the anime-esque cartoon from several years ago (and let’s not even start with Teen Titans: Go!) and thought that Young Justice was good but lacked my favorite teenage superheroes, I really haven’t had that definitive animated Teen Titans experience yet. I was hoping we’d get it when DC was tossing around the idea of adapting The Judas Contract several years ago, but well, refer to my opening paragraph and how DC got skittish about using less established titles to sell movies. I’m sure it’s a shocking revelation.

So, is the definitive Teen Titans animated release I’ve always waited for?

Eh, not quite, but it’s really, really close. This version of the Teen Titans feels like someone took bits and pieces from various eras of comics and a couple TV shows, put them in a blender, and spat out something new. There’s elements of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s legendary run, Geoff Johns’ relaunch, the animated TV show, and a few new ideas. The biggest change is that Robin in this version is Damian Wayne instead of Dick Grayson or Tim Drake. Damian carries a lot of baggage with him as the grandson of Ra’s al Ghul, raised to be a world class assassin and carrying an inflated sense of self-worth. He’s… a pain in the ass, really, but he is the main character of this movie and goes through a decent amount of growth.

Damian is added to the Teen Titans when it’s obvious that working alongside his father in the Justice League isn’t a good fit. This version of the team is led by an older Starfire, who is dating Nightwing. I was a fan of this interpretation of the character; Starfire working as a mentor to a new generation of Titans was one of my favorite aspects of Geoff Johns’ run. Koriand’r’s got her usual enthusiasm and empathy, but it’s tempered by being the “senior” member of the team. The main team includes Beast Boy, Raven and Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes). Garfield Logan is the shapeshifting jokester that fans of the TV show will remember, although the PG-13 rating allows some of the sleazier aspects of his personality to be showcased.

While those only familiar with the Teen Titans animated show may only be familiar with Cyborg as part of the team, Cyborg’s been part of the Justice League for a few years and that carried over into DC’s new continuity-laden Justice League and Batman films. But really, you can’t ask for a better replacement than Blue Beetle. He fits seamlessly into the team. But the Titan who gets the most attention here is Raven, whose father Trigon serves as the film’s antagonist and provides a reason for the Titans to battle the Justice League when he starts possessing them. Raven’s personal history and her relationship to Trigon, and the similarities she has with Damian, serve as the heart of the film and I look forward to seeing that dynamic play out in the future.

Of course, this isn’t just a Teen Titans movie, and this is where film stumbles a bit for me. Mostly because it doesn’t quite feel like the Justice League for me when Green Lantern in particular is missing, not to mention Aquaman and Shazam from this version of the League. I mean, could someone not at least give us a throwaway line explaining why they aren’t here? Batman’s involvement is natural with the connection to Robin, and Cyborg is a nice bit of fanservice with his Titans history, but Flash seems almost unnecessary here except to add to Trigon’s army. I mean, I love these guys, and I do think the Justice League needed to be in the movie, but I think they could have been used better. They could have them in less and they would be cool cameos, or they could have them in more and develop the characters a bit, but they just feel conspicuously mishandled in this.

For me, the glaring flaw in this movie is the continued romance between Wonder Woman and Superman. I didn’t like these two together in Throne of Atlantis and I don’t like them together in this, either. There’s an utter lack of chemistry between the two, and it doesn’t help that both characters are about as boring as they’ve ever been. Every time the story focuses on them, I want it to get back to the Titans and their story. Superman at least has a cool story by being Trigon’s primary vessel, allowing us to see his impressive power used for something other than good. Diana feels a little too much like a super-powered Lois Lane than an authentic Wonder Woman, though. But if you can get past that, and I was able to, Justice League vs. Teen Titans is one of the better movies that DC has put out in a while, and worth checking out. And keep watching through the credits; it’s abundantly clear that DC wants to do more Titans stuff, and I certainly hope they are able to make the Teen Titans another cornerstone of these animated movies.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
While it isn't firing on all cylinders, Justice League vs. Teen Titans does an admirable job of presenting a new take on DC's adolescent superheroes. Pulling bits and pieces from various comic book runs as well as the animated show, it feels like both a love letter to the Titans' history, but also stands as it's own unique story. It's by far the best of the recent Justice League movies and is worth buying if you're a fan of the Teen Titans, or want to get into them.