Title: Justice League vs Teen Titans
Release Date: March 29, 2016
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation Studio / DC Entertainment
Directed By: Sam Liu
Release Format: Blu-Ray & DVD
On January 16th, 2006, “Teen Titans”, a popular animated series on Cartoon Network, aired its final episode, infuriating fans the world over. Cartoon Network didn’t make it any easier on the enraged populace by rebooting the series with “Teen Titans: GO!” a mere seven years later; a spin-off that was hated so much by the fan base at large that the creators actually dedicated a full episode to addressing the fan hate. Yes, that happened. “Teen Titans: GO!” was, and still is, so ungodly terrible that they had to do that and, to this day, I don’t know whether to view the dig at themselves as clever or a spit in the face because, make no mistake, the OG “Teen Titans” was a brilliant cartoon. Its characters were memorable, its plot lines developed, its voice cast brilliant (Long Live The Almighty Tara Strong) its animation superb; “Teen Titans” remains one of the best-animated shows I have ever seen and while Justice League vs Teen Titans isn’t a continuation of that series (I was hoping it would be), it did make me realize just how much I missed seeing these characters in a properly animated fashion.
Now, right out of the gate, I had been hearing some harsh criticisms of this movie and some of them, I won’t lie, I fully understand as I did have some of the same problems myself. However, while Justice League vs Teen Titans may not be a perfect movie, it still manages to be a vastly entertaining experience despite its flaws. I’ll get to them soon enough but I would like to focus first on what I loved about this movie.
First and foremost is the gorgeous animation. Warner Bros. Animation Studio is one of the few animation departments that is still using the hand-drawn style; a style that, sadly, seems to be a lost art in most cases. Sure, we still get animated cartoons on television but in terms of feature films, I can count the ones actually using hand drawn animation on one hand. With hits like Frozen, Tangled, and Zootopia (To be fair, they are all great films) grossing top dollar at the box office, it doesn’t look like Disney will be employing anymore hand drawn animators in the near future. The same goes for Dreamworks, which has conformed to the same style. But, after seeing what Warner Bros. has been putting out in recent years, who cares? These animators have crafted a pristine vision of these characters and worlds from DC and, quite frankly, I’ll take hand drawn animation over computers any day. It’s such a treat to see in this day and age and it’s great to know that some studios will still implement this particular style. That all being said, this film looks great. The animation flows with such precision, from the character designs to the action scenes. There’s even a transformation scene halfway through the movie, involving Starfire, Beast Boy and Blue Beetle, that feels as though it was lifted from an anime cartoon, reminding me of the transformations in Sailor Moon. So just with that, the movie is wonderful to look at.
This is no surprise given the other animated films released by this studio. Justice League vs Teen Titans represents the seventh film in the “New 52 Universe” and the fourth film to feature Damien Wayne, Batman’s irritating little devil spawn with Talia Al Ghul, moonlighting as the new Robin. Look, I’m not even gonna beat around the bush here, after the last three movies with this character, I was not looking forward to another Damien Wayne story and it’s not because the earlier films were bad (Although, in all fairness, Son of Batman was atrocious), it’s because this character has been an annoying little brat-bastard that I have wanted to punch in the face from the word go. It’s funny because a character like this wouldn’t be a problem if he went through any emotional changes or meaningful development but, suffice it to say, that was not the case with the last three movies. After all three of them, it honestly felt like nothing was accomplished with him as a character.
However, I am shocked, amazed and beyond pleased that that was not the case with Justice League vs Teen Titans, as Damien Wayne’s transformation actually feels genuine this time around and, by the end of the film, I miraculously got the sense that he had become a better person. He learns humility after an unexpected brawl with Blue Beetle, learns the value of being a team player, learns to have faith in others and even forms a very believable friendship/romance with fellow Teen Titan, Raven. This movie surprised me in how it made me love a character who I had consistently hated for the longest time and how it made the relationship between Damien and Raven work all too well. It makes sense that these two characters would bond, given their backstories, and it was refreshing to see Damien go through such an emotional change as a character. The film also manages to do things that I wasn’t expecting it to do. For example, there’s an entire sequence where Starfire takes the titans to a carnival just so they can have fun. However, the scene is not without purpose. In regards to the development of both Raven and Damien, a scene like that was not only needed, it was downright indispensable. It reminds us that, while they do have superpowers, the Teen Titans are kids first and heroes second.
The villain of the film, Trigon (voiced by Jon Bernthal), is a visually interesting character with a dark and twisted connection to Raven. He has the ability to possess others as hosts for his bidding and if you were wondering why the film has the title it has, it’s because he possesses The Justice League… for all of three minutes. It’s funny because when I saw the title “Justice League vs Teen Titans”, I was expecting to see “Justice League vs Teen Titans.” Hell, I expected The Justice League to play a more intricate role in the film. The movie begins with The Justice League squaring off in an epic battle with The Legion of Doom and yet, the fight really has nothing to do with anything else in the film. It looks amazing but it just comes off as an excuse to not only squeeze in The Justice League for more screen time but also for them to have an excuse give Damien Wayne the boot. That’s the first big problem with this movie; the title is beyond misleading. The film should have just been called “Teen Titans.” The film revolves around the Teen Titans for about 80% of the runtime, so a title like that would have made sense. Calling the film “Justice League vs Teen Titans” just appears to be a cheap marketing ploy. It’s one of the biggest scenarios of bait and switch I’ve ever seen.
With that being said, The Justice League does appear throughout the movie but not in the way you’d expect them to, or even want them to, based on the film’s title. They look cool and it’s great to see them but the movie didn’t really need them. The problems, sadly, don’t stop there either, at least for me. Trigon’s defeat is a massive cop out, especially given how well they built him up as a sinister villain. Nightwing is in the movie but is insultingly sidelined and forgotten about halfway through the film (Really? You couldn’t just have him in The Justice League?). Lastly, they hint that Nightwing and Starfire had a relationship at some point but even that goes nowhere and is forgotten about almost as quickly as it’s mentioned.
Overall, “Justice League vs Teen Titans” is not a perfect film but it’s certainly a film where the good qualities outweigh the bad ones. The action is great, the animation is top notch, the main characters are well developed and the story is beautifully paced for the most part. This movie isn’t an animated film for the ages but if you want to see a good story in a DC centered universe that isn’t bogged down by trying to do way too much in one sitting, “Justice League vs Teen Titans” is the movie for you. For everyone else, there’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
- Acting: The voice acting is great all around with Jon Bernthal’s Trigon and Taissa Farmiga’s Raven being highlighted.
- Cinematography: The animation is gorgeous and the action scenes are brilliantly handled. The Planet Azarath and The Legion of Doom Brawl are among the best the film has to offer.
- Story: Not the story we were promised by the title but a well-told story nonetheless, despite the cop-out ending.
- Characters: While many characters don’t get the screen-time we would like them to have (Nightwing, The ENTIRE Justice League), the development of characters like Raven and Damien Wayne are enough to sustain the film as a whole.
So have you seen this movie? If so, please comment below and join me and my fellow contributors for more reviews on TheNerdStash.com
- Top-Notch Animation
- Great Voice Cast
- Raven's Backstory
- Raven and Damien's Relationship and Development.
- Misleading Title
- Not enough Justice League
- Next to no Nightwing
- Villain goes down too easy