The next film in the new DC animated Universe, although really calling it new at this point is rather rich, considering we are now 3 years into it and once again it is directed by Sam Liu, though this time the writing credits go to Bryan Q Miller and Alan Burnett who of course wrote the Batman animated series which is still considered one of the best series ever made. This has been one highly anticipated movie, probably more so than the actual Justice League movie that Warner Bros is producing right now. This is the first animated production for Teen Titans in a long time that isn’t Teen Titans so the less said about that dumb heap of a show, the better. Like many young people of the mid 2000’s I loved the Teen Titan’s animated series, it really was fantastic and I am a huge fan of them in comic form too though I haven’t actually read any of their recent series (the main reason being that I hated the awful crossover event The Culling and wanted nothing more to do with the book afterwards, see Linkara’s review of the event the first part of which I left a link to at the bottom), though I will be reading it when the new series starts in the Autumn. If you want my thoughts on that I’ll probably mention it on my twitter page. Fans, loved the idea of it but then I thought of an interesting point, why is Justice League here? I think there is enough of a fandom for the Teen Titans considering their long history and various incarnations and on just the TV show alone, I think you could have sold a DVD with just the Teen Titan especially considering the last 2 Justice League animated movies were not received with much flair. Though at the time of this film coming out in the UK we are at a bit of a crossroads with DC, on the one hand, DC’s re-birth hasn’t proven to be amazingly successful but it is giving a lot of optimism to comic fans, at the same time DC’s cinematic Universe is in real turmoil. Whatever your opinion of Batman v Superman was, it has been an unmitigated failure having not done well with the critics, rather unfairly in my opinion, and its success at the Box Office has proven to be a failure as well, considering it had a massive drop on the 2nd weekend. Even more so than Joel Schumakker’s Batman and Robin, not to mention that Suicide Squad has had to go in for re-shoots, though reports from test screenings suggested that it has benefited the movie, though I wouldn’t take too much from that because they said the same for Batman v Superman and let’s face it, there were a lot of issues with that movie and the director of the Flash movie has walked off making him the 2nd director to walk off a DC movie and the Aquaman director looks set to leave as well. DC needs a push, big time and their animated movies have often been the thing to push them over the edge. But, is this movie going to do the same, will this movie really be the edge that they need or are we all going to have to wait for the upcoming Killing Joke film which fans are a lot more excited about and it has been built up big time, especially considering it will be the first of the DC animated films to get an R rating. So, with all that being said, is this a DC animated film to be held alongside the classics and a good revival of the Teen Titans or is this another Justice League failure that you should just skip and go straight to the Killing Joke? By the way, spoiler warning for the post credit scene of Justice League Throne of Atlantis that I alluded to in my review of that movie!
The plot of Justice League vs Teen Titans starts about a year after the events of Justice League Throne of Atlantis. After a botched mission of the Justice League caused by insubordination from Damian Wayne aka Robin (played by Stuart Allan), Batman (played by Jason O’Mara) sends Damian off for extra training with the Titans in the hopes of him learning to work with a team and gaining some social skills, the team consisting of Jamie Reyes aka Blue Beetle (played by Jake T. Austin), Garfield Logan aka Beast Boy (played by Brando Soo Hoo), Raven (played by Taissa Farmiga) and the leader, Koriand’r aka Starfire (played by Kari Wahlgren). But there are bigger things on the horizon. The Justice League are investigating a demon called Trigon (played by Jon Bernthal) who is attempting to get into our world after being sealed away and his followers have possessed Superman to help them do it, but he also wants to use Raven in order to do it. Can the Titans and the League get past their differences and work together to stop Trigon from an unholy invasion?
Let’s start off by saying this title is a real misnomer there are very little actual clashes between the Justice League and the Teen Titans and they are all over very quickly and are very one sided, in fact in one case, to an absurd degree and one of the fights ends in a way that I didn’t really buy into and I am suspecting that the blockbuster buster will have a go at it when he gets round to doing his honest review of the DC animated films of the year. Nevertheless, don’t think of this as being a sequel to Justice League Throne of Atlantis, for one thing, not all of the Justice League is here, for some inexplicable reason, Green Lantern, Shazam and Aquaman, who are all established members of the team by the end of Throne of Atlantis, are nowhere to be seen oh and the only link really is Lex Luther forming a legion of doom at the beginning of the film, so basically, that entire post credit scene at the end of Throne of Atlantis amounted to that, a 5 minute fight scene, joy oh joy, oh and the post credit scene doesn’t really link to much since Orm, the villain of Throne of Atlantis is nowhere to be seen, so, yes, that entire post credit scene was pointless!! I will be honest, the stuff to do with the Justice League is entirely tacked on and they don’t feel like they contribute anything really to the plot, except to be an antagonistical force for the Titans and even then that’s only brief which feels very weird considering this film is called Justice League vs Teen Titans and unlike Batman V Superman and Captain America Civil War, there is no real build up to these fights so they just feel rather tacked on, which is a shame because this often is a debate amongst DC fans very similar to how Marvel fans debate who would win in a fight between The Avengers and X Men, and there is a comic about that, but it sucks so let’s not go into it.
I’m probably, at the minute, making it sound like I didn’t like this film, no, I actually did like this film overall and there is one reason for that, The Titans, this is the best thing to have involved the Titans in a really long time. The group has an excellent dynamic even if I do think that Beast Boy and Blue Beetle kind of fulfil the same role though Beast Boy is slightly more easy going and the powers make up some interesting fight scenes and some interesting team work, the only member of the team to not have powers, being Robin. We finally get a decent representation of Starfire, since DC comics have done everything to destroy her in the last 5 years, having her be the maternal member of the group and the leader and by the way, how long has it been since we had a female leader of a Superhero team that doesn’t entirely consist of women, how refreshing is that. Damian may have gone backwards a bit in his development, but he does get a decent character arc which is capped off by an excellent fight scene at the end of the film which I dare not spoil, but really my favorite character in the film and the one who gets the most development is Raven whose connection to Trigon is really well done. We do get a bit of exposition from the people who haven’t read the Trigon arc or seen the adaptation of Trigon’s arc in the Teen Titans animated series, which by the way was better than this film, but that had an entire season to build up to it so I don’t suppose that’s a very fair comparison. In this film she is depicted as being a runaway teenager and the product of an abusive household, which adds to the realistic dynamic of the team. Speaking of the animated series, anyone who is familiar with that series will get most of the team, in fact most casual DC fans and casual fans of comics will get most of the members, since all 5 of the Team Titans in that series are represented here, though it’s a different division of Robin and Cyborg isn’t on the team for the entire film, which I know will be disappointing, but hell, the writers of this one actually remember that Cyborg was a member of Teen Titans for most of DC’s history and is not just a young member of the Justice League. So yes the stuff with the Titans is great, I loved the dynamic, I loved the bonding exercise they went through which basically involved them all going to the carnival, which, again feels very similar to the comics and the animated series and I loved the individual character arcs for them.
The film does struggle to play the balancing act and doesn’t do as good a job as Captain America Civil War, but the balancing act is only really marred by the fact that we have to get the Justice League in here and that is the biggest weakness of the film. The Justice League, there is no real reason for them to be here at all. You could have made this an entire Teen Titans movie and it would have been better for it. I have already mentioned that the Teen Titans have popularity, the comic has been around for decades and the animated series was very popular, why is it so difficult for DC to acknowledge that history. In fact, DC, next year, make an animated sequel to this with just The Titans. I think fans of the original Trigon arc story will be divided on this one since it was a very long story line that had to be condensed down into a 1hr 20min movie, and not even that because 5 minutes of this feel were credits, but you know what, I think they did a pretty decent job.
The pacing in this film is once again great. The DC animated films manage to take a short running time and make it seem a lot longer than it really is and this film is no exception. There is no real build up, however, to the clashes with the Justice League and the final battles of the film like they don’t have much build up either, we kind of go straight to them. I am also glad that this film managed to have a sense of humour, for goodness sake, that really has been missing from the DC animated films in recent memory, and it’s not tacked on humor trying to compete with Marvel right now, it’s actually well done. I can praise this film a lot, but I can’t ignore the fact that this film does have a few issues and it doesn’t quite hit it out of the ball park. I think I liked it more than Batman Bad Blood which I reviewed earlier this year, mainly because, unlike that film, it didn’t have a ton of potential that felt wasted, but I would be lying if I said I thought the film was wholly successful.
I think DC have created something that they can take and run with, but it will just be the question of if they will actually do it. This film really did manage to get me to care about the characters. I loved the climax and I was really pleased that there wasn’t a Starfire in this one that was overly sexualized, ok they tried to get a bit in there, but trust me, after seeing the first issue of Red hood and the Outlaws, anything at this stage is a step up. As for the actors, well, I am not going to go into too much detail with the Justice League, especially considering they barely do much in the film and I am really a fan of them, the only one I will say is Shemar Moore who is playing Cyborg once again is at his best in this film and does a much better job than he did in Justice League War and Throne of Atlantis. Jerry O’Connell, I am not really buying as Superman, but I am really getting in to Jason O’Mara’s Batman, it’s too bad that he actually doesn’t get to do much in the film and is pretty much taken out of it in several stages. I really do enjoy Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, but she again, is not really given much to do. Now, let’s move on to the Titans themselves because they have got some excellent actors in place for this one. Stuart Allan is perfectly cast once again as Damian Wayne, this kid was born to play this part and I really liked Jake T. Austin as Blue Beetle though I would have liked it if they had given him more Hispanic mannerisms to his performance, especially considering that Blue Beetle is one of the few Hispanic Superhero’s around at the minute. Kari Wahlgren is perfect as Starfire, while she doesn’t quite match up to Hayden Walch, I still think she is pretty decent, I think she does a really good job in the role and really makes both a believable mother figure and leader of the team and is one of the best performances in the entire film. The best performance by far though is Taissa Farmiga who plays Raven who really knocks it out of the park, once again, it is a bit difficult to get over a new voice playing the character after being played well by Tara Strong, but I really enjoyed her performance. Brandon Soo Hoo as Beast Boy is the only one who I am not entirely keen on, it’s not his fault, he is actually pretty good in the role and is a good replacement to play the character, it’s just Greg Cipes was pretty much near perfect, but I am not going to hold that against him. John Berthnal was pretty good as Trigon and he makes a really good villain, there are tons of great menace to his voice. Other than that, most are really cameos and I am not really a fan of Chistopher Gorham as The Flash especially considering what a good job Grant Gustin is doing on the CW series. I can finally talk about Steve Blum being cast as Lex Luthor, which feels really weird considering he is the voice of Wolverine in the animated Marvel cartoons, what’s even weirder though is that he plays Toymaster in the beginning and I couldn’t tell, well done there. Good cast, but as was to be expected, the standout performances come from the Titans who also get the best written parts.
The animation is one thing I would really like to talk about. Once again it is fantastic and has kept up the good standard that the previous films had. Once again, I won’t go into too much detail, I have already mentioned that, like the previous ones , it’s based on Jim Lee’s art style so you know you are going to get a good looking film, though one thing I have noticed from these films is that the costumes feel rather samey. They also have weird lines drawn into them in various places and feel rather angular at times. Raven’s kind of really stands out for that reason since it seems to be trying to replicate her costume from the Teen Titans animated series. I know that’s a nit pic, but it is just something I have noticed. The fight scenes are fantastic, once again DC animated films show what you can do with animated fight scenes and these are really good, showing off all the different character’s abilities to an excellent degree. They are excellently choreographed and drawn.
If there is something else I want to praise about this film, it is the film’s score, which has been composed by Frederik Wiedmann who has done an excellent job on this one. As for the rest of the soundtrack, I really hated the pop songs that were inserted in there. I’m certain there is a deal there for some band that I have never heard of that is pretty big in America and gets played on the Radio every so often that I am missing out on but I really didn’t enjoy them and they kind of jarred with it, though I didn’t mind the J Pop song too much that played during Beast Boy and Robin’s game of dance dance revolution and yes, seriously, that does actually happen in the film and actually I don’t mind it because I think it ties in very well to what makes a really good Titan story, that being the idea of balancing normal teenage life with these on-going crises. In other words, learning to have ‘down time’ and to bond as a team. The best Teen Titan stories tend to be good allegories for what young people genuinely go for and being depicted how the villains act and that’s what makes the Titans one of the most human teams out there and is what gives them their appeal, and that’s what this film does really well.
Justice League vs Teen Titans is a film that is really good at times, but it falls short at the finish line, and that is mainly down to the fact that the Justice League really doesn’t have a reason to be here, there are a couple of moments that make you scratch your head and its climax feels slightly rushed, however, it was actually an enjoyable film and I can’t fault it for what it got right and that’s get the Titans right and that’s great for me because I’ve felt jarred about the Teen Titans for years now and I am glad I have got something to fall back upon. It’s not a perfect movie, in fact I have already labeled my issues, but as a DC animated film, I thought it was pretty good, I can really recommend it to fans of Titans. Justice League fans should keep clear, there are better films than this you can pick up and I would say it’s an alternative to the DC Cinematic Universe right now. I’m not going to say that this film is better than Deadpool or Captain America Civil War, far from it, those were much better comic films and I had a lot less to complain about those films if you have read my reviews. I wouldn’t call this a film to skip.
The DC animated films will be back later this year with Batman the Killing Joke and I think you should pick that one up as well, but don’t miss this one. The characters are pretty good, the plot’s pretty good, the character arcs are pretty good, the animation is good, the fight scenes are great and I think the positives kind of outweigh the negatives, it’s just the negatives feel rather jarring. You could save your money and wait for this one to have a price drop, there’s no rush to see it, save your money for Killing Joke as I suspect that is going to be brilliant.
What are your thoughts on Justice League vs Teen Titans, did I get it right or do you completely agree/disagree with me. Please leave a comment in the comments section, I welcome all opinions. Also what are your thoughts on the DC animated films and the DC live action films that are coming out at the minute? Are DC in trouble at this point in time of is there some hope left?
Thanks for reading my review, hope it was good read.
Calvin – Nerd Consultant