Justice League vs. Teen Titans?
More like Who Needs The Justice League When We Have Damian Wayne?
On March 29th, DC’s latest animated film Justice League vs. Teen Titans was released online. Like many Teen Titans fans, I was thrilled to see the titular team make a glorious return. However, the movie was far from what I’d expected. While it wasn’t downright bad nor good, it was extremely underwhelming – which is saying a lot considering the fact that the story was supposed to focus on my all-time favorite heroine. The poor treatment of its female characters is just one of the things that made the film feel like such a missed opportunity.
In terms of aesthetics, I’ve greatly enjoyed DC’s line of Justice League-centered films. Where Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice failed, movies like Justice League vs. Teen Titans deliver colorful and fast-paced action. However, any adaption has to make a decision regarding character design. Oddly enough, several of the designs match those featured in the Young Justice series (i.e Beast Boy and Blue Beetle). But in spite of this development, the voices for the characters don’t match – which I found a bit odd. As far as the designs of the latest installment go, I was glad to see the changes made to Wonder Woman’s costume as well as the consistency to the others’ outfits – with the exception of Starfire. While she’s far from the worst offender, Starfire is both hypersexualized and silenced in this film. Neither she, Raven, or Wonder Woman is framed in the best light.
But as discussed in an earlier article, the film follows the storyline of The Terror of Trigon. Teen Titans first attempted this plot and said adaptation was well received. With such a high bar set, Justice League vs. Teen Titans was doomed from the start. The film simply couldn’t keep up. Following the events of Batman: Bad Blood, the film features the new Robin (Damian Wayne) confronting his own ruthless nature. In order to do so, he is sent to work with the Teen Titans.
I’m going to get this off my chest from the get-go: I am not a fan of Damian Wayne. Tim Drake is and always will be my favorite Robin. On paper, Damian has a lot of potential. Having been raised as an assassin by the League of Shadows, he is naturally not the most social person – in fact, he’s arrogant and rude 99% of the time. While I have no problem with this aspect of his character, the movies leading to Justice League vs. Teen Titans suggest that he’d moved away from the brooding preteen stereotype. But it became all too clear that his personality had undergone a complete reset in this film.
Three movies of character development: totally retracted. And this is but the beginning of the problems I had with Justice League vs. Teen Titans.
Soon after joining the Teen Titans, Damian learns that fellow member Raven is the daughter of an interdimensional demon-lord named Trigon. The title of the film is solely based on the two confrontations that take place between a possessed Justice League and the Teen Titans. Hoping to dominate Earth by taking control of the Justice League and using Raven as a living portal, Trigon only appears in the flesh during the latter half of the film – and a lackluster appearance at that. Don’t get me wrong, he looks fantastic – but his gait and voice aren’t threatening at all. He doesn’t have a presence. Once a character or scenario breaks the viewer’s immersion it has already lost something crucial. In addition to the movie’s poor handling of the antagonist, the use of Magical Girl-esque transformation sequences and slow pacing did little to hold my attention.
Did the depiction of the heroes hold better? Yes and no.
Beast Boy is unfunny and Nightwing takes part in zero of the fights. Need I say more?
Although she should have been the center of the story, Raven acts as more of a secondary character to Damian Wayne. To be fair, the writers nailed the character’s personality. She’s just as introverted and selfless as she’s always been. I would have liked to see more sarcasm from her, but I don’t think it could have been accomplished with the actress chosen to portray her.
I’ll confess once more: I’m completely biased to the voicework of Tara Strong. Her take on the Teen Titans’ version of Raven was so full of nuances that the film version was nowhere near reaching. I’m not alone in this. In perusing several articles and comments, fans seem to agree that the new voice for Raven seemed off. Her lack of participation in the final fight was also disappointing. The Terror of Trigon arc may have been her story, but it sure didn’t come across that way. More time was devoted to Damian’s fight with Ra’s Al Ghul than Raven sorting out her own inner conflict.
As for Starfire and Wonder Woman, they’d definitely seen better days. After having received “cameos” in both Batman vs. Robin and Batman: Bad Blood, I was thrilled to see Starfire get a fresh start. But as mentioned before, I was disappointed. She serves more as the team’s maternal figure than a fully fleshed-out superhero. While this in itself isn’t a problem – seeing as there’ll be more movies to come – Starfire comes off as completely useless in several of the fights. At the very least, she retains her playful nature. On the other hand, Wonder Woman is a more than capable fighter in all of her scenes, except for one off-hand comment at the end. Early in the film, Wonder Woman can be seen berating a romantic movie’s use of the Damsel in Distress trope. But after having been saved by Superman, she quips, “Just like the movies.”
Just like the movies. Excuse me?
I think you can guess what my reaction was to this.
In the end, would I consider Justice League vs. Teen Titans a bad movie? No. I think a part of what made this movie so disappointing was our fervent desire to like it. While we really, really wanted to like it, the film was not what anyone had expected. But despite its many flaws, it’s still worth a watch. Even if you’re the most disgruntled of fans, the film’s cinematography, easter eggs, and detailed unwrapping of Raven’s story are enough to keep anyone happy.