DC Streaming Review – Titans: Dark Doesn’t Mean Mature, Guys

Warner Bros, the owners of DC Comics, decided to make a dark, gritty, and adult version of the popular Teen Titans property. They did two out of three.

SUMMARY

Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), former Robin to Batman, is trying to start a new life as a detective in Detroit. He finds that it’s harder to give up being a superhero than he thought, although he finds himself becoming increasingly more violent in how he handles criminals. One day he encounters a young girl named Rachel (Teagan Croft), who is being pursued by a cult who has been worshipping Rachel’s father, a dark presence from another dimension. Rachel has superpowers, but can’t control them, and her emotions can trigger a violent dark side of her personality. Dick works to keep her safe and, along the way, is joined by Kory Anders (Anna Diop), a flame-based alien in disguise, and Gar Logan (Ryan Potter), who can turn into animals… though I think it’s only really a tiger at this point. Together, they work to thwart the cult that’s trying to abduct Rachel and also to keep her safe while uncovering her background.

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I don’t quite get a Batman and Robin vibe, so that’s good.

END SUMMARY

Well, let’s go over the positives: Most of the ancillary characters in this show are awesome. Hawk and Dove (Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly) are the focus of at least 2 episodes and their relationship both to each other and to superheroing is complicated and interesting. They basically are using fighting crime as a way to deal with all of their repressed rage issues. Then there’s Donna Troy (Conor Leslie), AKA Wonder Girl, Wonder Woman’s sidekick who has quit heroics to be an investigative journalist doing the jobs that are too dangerous for non-invulnerable people. Both of their plotlines are an interesting commentary about the psyche of the superhero and about the real nature of heroism. There’s Jason Todd (Curran Walters), the second Robin, who gets to see what being Robin has done to Dick, making his choice to be Robin much more informed than Dick’s. Then there’s the backdoor pilot group, the Doom Patrol, a group of heroes who all have powers that make them social outcasts led by a guy who was in a wheelchair (And yes, this predates the X-Men). They’re… not as interesting as the X-Men, but still good to watch.

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He gets a helmet, she gets a concussion.

The costume and set design is great, most of the special effects in the show are really good by television standards, and I did also really enjoy the action sequences, although they are excessively brutal at times. Which brings us to the big negative of the series…

Dark does not mean mature, guys. Adding more violence, sex, and swearing doesn’t actually mean your show is more adult, except in ratings. This was the thing that I most feared about the show from the somewhat infamous “Fuck Batman” trailer: That it was going to learn all the wrong lessons from DC’s attempts to be mature in the past. What made Batman: The Dark Knight Returns mature wasn’t just the swearing or the violence, it was that it took a deeper look into what the psyche of a person who would dress like a bat and beat the hell out of criminals would become when he got older and the world got more violent. This show tries that, but then clearly dumps a bunch of “adult content” into the show just to make it seem darker. Not every “F*ck” is earned automatically, people. You need a reason for the character to choose “f*ck,” if they aren’t the kind of person who just casually drops it, and the reason can’t just be “we haven’t said it in 10 minutes.”

The casting and characterization of the main characters is mixed. I liked that Anna Diop, a black woman, is Starfire, who is typically… orange, and she mostly just shows her alien side when using her powers. She plays a version of Starfire who doesn’t know who she is and is largely confused about where she came from, which is new for an adaptation. That said, she’s also painfully more down and depressing than most versions of Starfire, which… doesn’t really help with the dynamic of the show. Brenton Thwaites is fine as an adult Dick Grayson, but the writing isn’t doing him any favors. We get it, you’re angry and you’re violent and whatever. Stop saying it over and over. Teagan Croft is pretty great as Rachel/Raven, because she’s able to convey that she can’t trust anyone, including herself. She’s afraid of herself and what she’ll do to people just as much as she’s afraid of what they’ll do to her. It works out well. Ryan Potter isn’t the cartoon Beast Boy from the 2000s, but he is close to the main comic version, and I think he does a good job. He’s not all green, but that’d cost a fortune in makeup, so I accept the compromise. Like I said, there’s a mixed bag here.

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Granted, we were never going to find humans that actually look like this.

Another negative thing is that the overall plot has a lot of filler and not all of it builds well towards the characters or the world. However, I did freaking love the “Nuclear Family” enemies, who are basically the 1950s if they had superstrength and were powered by evil. 

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They’re so polite and lethal.

And, last, although it’s a personal gripe, I’m pissed that they didn’t include traditional Titan Cyborg in this version. At first I thought it was because he’s in the DCEU movies, but no, apparently he’s just going to be in the Doom Patrol spin-off. Well, not the biggest deal, but still irks me.

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This is the correct lineup and I will never hear anything against it.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy this enough for a DC show. It’s too arbitrarily dark without enough actual exploration of the darker themes. It’s like the angsty-teen of DC shows: It says it knows how to be an adult, but it’s really just going to wear black, listen to metal, and then yell “I’M SO F*CKING DEEP!!!!” That said, if they bring this attitude to the dark satire of Garth Ennis’ The Boys that’s supposed to be coming out, that’ll work.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (Spoiler-Free)

SpoilerFree

I didn’t intend to see this movie. I didn’t really hear much about this film aside from it existing. But, I was walking back past the theater and it was the next film that started that seemed worth seeing. And I could not have been more pleasantly surprised.

So, I loved the original Teen Titans cartoon. I thought it was well-crafted, well-animated, well-voiced, had great characters that were complex while still being relatable, and had some great plotlines that allowed all those things to shine. But, it came to an end and was reborn as Teen Titans Go! which was… different. Truthfully, I only watched like 3 episodes of the new show (one of which was about assembling a sandwich, another about waffles, and another that was about thwarting a pizza boy, so food is clearly a big thing in the show) before stopping because I just didn’t think it was that funny. It was lighter, to be sure, and definitely was supposed to be a comedy rather than a superhero show, but it was not my thing. Even with the same voice actors (WHO ARE ALL AMAZING), it still just didn’t grab me.

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The left one has over 200 episodes. The right one had 65. Would you have guessed that?

Then I watched this movie. If someone could tell me that the rest of the series after I quit watching was like this film, I would probably go binge it all right now. Hell, I probably will anyway, because this was actually pretty well done. Is it perfect? No, but it was funny and original, which is more than I can give most comedies.

SUMMARY (SPOILERS IF YOU HAVE LITERALLY NEVER SEEN A TRAILER)

So, in the Teen Titans universe, every superhero has a movie (and the real ones are parodied and mocked mercilessly) despite also being real superheroes. One person who really wants their own movie is Robin (Scott Menville), leader of the Teen Titans, consisting of Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Raven (Tara Strong), and Cyborg (Khary Payton). The movie consists mostly of them trying to get a movie made, part of which is finding their arch nemesis in the form of Slade (Will Arnett), a villain trying to take over the world, and part of it is convincing Director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) to make the movie.

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Will Arnett is just gold for animated superhero comedies.

END SUMMARY

First off, this movie is a DC Fan’s dream. There are references to DC comics, movies, and TV series in basically every shot of the city, ranging from the obvious (Mr. Freeze Pops) to the obscure (The Challengers of the Unknown are actually a minor plot point!) to the ridiculous (there’s a poster for the film Jonah Rex, a T-Rex version of Jonah Hex that should totally be real). There are animation sequences designed to mimic the live-action movies, the DC Animated Universe, the Arrowverse TV Shows, and even Superfriends. The cameos are so frequent I think it’s harder to think of a property that WASN’T in the movie than one that was. And so much of them are used as in-universe product placements that it really makes me think that this entire world runs on superheros. If you’re like me and you think that postmodern style mashups between all of these properties can be funny, then you will be laughing throughout… often at jokes that nobody else got. Laugh anyway.

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There are like 30 references in this one screen shot if it’s in HD.

Second, there are the meta-gags. There are so many of these sprinkled throughout, like everyone mistaking Slade for Deadpool (because Deadpool was a rip-off of Slade’s identity of Deathstroke) or calling Superman (voiced by Nicolas Cage) a “National Treasure.” There are at least two “this is Nicolas Cage voicing Superman” jokes that I caught and I’m sure there are more. There are countless jokes about how much DC and Marvel are willing to exploit their IP as much as possible. There is a cameo that makes fun of Stan Lee cameos. There are jokes about the fact that people will continually see superhero films at the expense of any other form of entertainment. There’s even a running gag about how overpowered Raven is and lampshading how boring a movie of a character like that fighting villains onscreen might actually be. The jokes just keep coming, sometimes buried under other jokes.

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A reminder that Cage loves Superman so much, his son Kal-El Cage is IN THIS FILM.

Then there are just the bizarre gags, like having an 80s-style song called “Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life” by MICHAEL FREAKING BOLTON  that plays out like you’re on LSD or having the group poop in a prop toilet on a movie set. They’re mostly for the kids but, like I said, sometimes they’re actually just the set-up for a much better joke. And the last line of the film made me laugh for like 5 straight minutes, because it was just such a bizarre shot at children’s movie moralizing. There are also several that I don’t think I got because I didn’t really watch the show, but the fact that they mostly were still entertaining was a good sign.

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That’s Michael Bolton as a Siberian Tiger playing the keytar on a rainbow fountain.

It honestly made me think of Arrested Development in the way that the humor was just kind of shotgunned at you from every direction. It just wasn’t quite as clever as the writing on Arrested Development, but, again, it’s ostensibly a kids’ movie. Some of the jokes had to be made for kids, but I don’t think they all really speak down to them. Maybe a better comparison is The Lego Batman Movie: you can enjoy it as is and think it’s funny, but the more you know about the property and the world in general, the more you enjoy the movie. Granted, Lego Batman was a better film in general, but that’s a really high bar.

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Can’t beat a movie with the Condiment King in it.

The casting in the movie is perfect, with most of the characters being voiced not by people who would play them in movies, but by people who just love the characters they’re voicing. It gives even the minor cameos a passion that adds something to the experience.

As to the plot, it comes off less as a traditional film and more a collection of 15-minute episodes that loosely interconnect until the 30-minute finale, but, honestly, it worked out great, because you never got bored nor knew exactly what gag was going to come next.

Overall, the only real “problem” with the movie is that it is still a kids’ film. The humor is either referential or juvenile, without a ton of other jokes for people who don’t love DC and are old enough that a 2-minute fart joke is 90 seconds too long. But, I still enjoyed it from start to finish. Hell, there are probably 3 scenes in it that are so funny that I would recommend seeing the movie just to see them.

If you love comic books or have kids, you need to see this movie. Oh, and if *SPOILER* the end credit stinger is true, and we are getting a sixth season of the original Teen Titans show (which Cartoon Network started re-running last year, so it’s very possible), then just finding out about that early might be worth the ticket price.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.