If you were a kid in the early to mid-2000s and a fan of superhero cartoons, chances are you watched a DC animated series called Teen Titans.
Based on the comic book series of the same name, Teen Titans was a show way ahead of its time, combining an overlooked source material gem with anime influences and surprisingly deep character drama and social commentary. The series was so beloved by its viewers that its straight-comedy spin-off, Teen Titans GO!, was met with immediate panning and negativity from fans of the old series, myself included. Now, after nearly a decade since the end of the original series, the Titans have been brought to life once more in Justice League vs. Teen Titans.
After going off the rails and disobeying orders during a Justice League mission, Robin (the Damian Wayne version) is scolded by Batman and sent to live with the Teen Titans, a group of teenaged superheroes in the process of learning to control their powers and how to work as a team. However, one of the Titans, a girl named Raven, has a dark past that she’s hiding, involving the mythical demon Trigon, and now not only the League, but the entire world is in danger of being destroyed by this seemingly unstoppable force.
I will admit that I’ve been a bit distant from the DC animated universe as of late.
I watched Justice League: War and Young Justice a couple years ago, and I liked them well enough, the latter being somewhat worthy to be called a Teen Titans successor, and JL v. TT definitely falls in line with the same general tone of those works as well. It’s a very straightforward and serious superhero movie with the occasional bouts of comedy and mild romance, though the latter was so vaguely present I wonder why it was even there at all. Perhaps I’m just missing something from the previous movies.
The story progresses with pretty much the same beats that you would expect it to: Robin dislikes being treated like a kid and lashes out at the Titans, but through a series of more friendly interactions and intense battles, he learn to get along with them, while the Justice League is slowly being infected by Trigon’s power. It’s not entirely predictable though, and it manages to catch me off-guard with some hidden comic book knowledge several times throughout the film.
Damian is definitely the most volatile and outright hostile Robin that I’ve seen to date, and it took a little while to get used to him, but eventually I grew to like his more abrasive and “mature” attitude quite a bit, though his voice is still a bit too young for my taste. Beast Boy provides the comic relief in a slightly more straight-faced manner than his former iteration and is easily the most fun character to follow in the film, while Blue Beetle adds a feeling of lacking control and serves as a great way to get Robin riled up in his first encounters with the Titans, though he doesn’t really have much of a character in his own right.
Raven definitely has the most going on with her character in this film, as she is at the center of everything going on with the main villain plot.
I’ll try not to spoil stuff for those who aren’t deep into DC lore or haven’t seen the original Teen Titans series, but her backstory and interactions with Trigon make up some of the most intense parts of the movie. While it is completely unfair to compare it to the Trigon arc in season 4 of the TV series, I still feel like they could have done a little bit more with this film version. I honestly think this movie needed at least 15-20 more minutes of character building, since the film is only 79 minutes long, focused around Robin and Raven, especially since Starfire has been taken out of the romantic equation. If you don’t know much Teen Titans backstory, then this probably won’t affect your viewing that much, but for those who do understand what I’m talking about, then you will probably be sorely disappointed by what this movie has to offer in that area.
On the animation front, I find myself somewhat torn.
The character designs are very much in the vein of the new DC animated movies and they serve as solid upgrades from the anime-esque designs of the TV series. The action is solid and carries a lot of impact most of the time, and the combat sequences are pretty fun to watch. There are a lot of moments where the animation slacks off noticeably though and I noticed characters or objects just drifting lazily across the screen when they were in motion. I do absolutely love the design of Trigon’s realm though. The demonic aesthetic combined with fleshy textures is really terrifying and engrossing.
On the sound end, the soundtrack is pretty solid and filled with some exciting fanfare moments.
However, the sound mixing is god awful. There were countless times throughout the film where I couldn’t hear what characters were saying over the soundtrack, and I’m pretty sure I missed significant plot details because of that. This is one of those mistakes that I’m absolutely shocked didn’t get fixed before release and put a huge damper on the film.
As for voice acting, most of it is pretty solid, especially the comedic delivery from Flash and Beast Boy. However, Taissa Farmiga’s portrayal of Raven is, surprisingly, pretty terrible. I don’t know if it’s because she doesn’t have a lot of voice acting experience or the director didn’t know how to portray Raven, but her dialogue feels like it’s being spat out as fast as possible, and it really ruins a lot of the big emotional moments.
Unfortunately, this is not the triumphant return of the Teen Titans that we were hoping for.
It’s not bad by any stretch, but it needed significantly more time to develop character drama, as well as some notable technical tweaking, to leave me fully satisfied. If you’re still bitter about the other recent DC film, however, then this one will still be a welcome relief.
Justice League vs. Teen Titans is available for both physical and digital purchase, though I would honestly recommend renting it to try out before making the investment unless you’re a huge DC fan.
Final Score: 6.5/10