“Robin is forced to join the young super team and soon has to help lead them in a fight against the mighty Justice League after they are possessed by the demon Trigon.” – DC Comics
I always want to laugh when I read the synopsis that DC releases for these films… I feel like they want to quickly move on to the next project, so they give the most basic statement possible for the film in one sentence. While it is an accurate depiction of the film, it’s completely void of emotion or inspiration. If they were to create a synopsis for James Cameron’s Titanic, it would read, “Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater meet and fall in love on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, but the ship’s first trip will be its last.” Boom! Nailed it! Hire me DC!
Alright, if you couldn’t already tell, this is going to be a pretty snarky review, so let’s get to it…
The Source Material
This section can be skipped by those who have never read or have no interest in the source material.
Justice League vs Teen Titans is a comic book movie, so naturally, its story and characters stem from comics themselves. Lately, DC has showcased an issue of editing themselves appropriately, by throwing numerous arcs from multiple comics into single movies, when each movie could most likely stand on its own with just one of those arcs. Thankfully, they don’t follow suit here. Instead, they focus on smaller plots from various Teen Titans titles (Teen Titans, New Teen Titans, Titans, etc) – specifically those featuring Raven – and use Robin as a catalyst to introduce us to this new team. Some of the comics that were used as influence are:
Teen Titans: Terror of Trigon – The mysterious Titans member, Raven, has been battling her inner demons for some time now, but she can no longer hold the evil that is her father Trigon in check. Now the otherworldly demon has breached his dimensional prison, conquering the Earth–and Nightwing, Starfire, Cyborg, Changeling, and the rest of the Titans are mankind’s only hope of defeating him!
New Teen Titans (#4-6) – Raven’s origin tale continues, as the Titans must face off against their mentors in the Justice League of America for the fate of the world! But a terrible secret is revealed about the formation of the team and threatens to tear the Titans apart!
Teen Titans #89 – There’s a new hero in town, and while Damian might not want to join the Titans, he’s more than happy to lead them! There should almost always be a Robin on the team, but if Damian is their only available option, maybe they’ll pass on having a Boy Wonder.
This narrowed focus on source material allows for the film writers to maintain a clearer focus on their script so they can tell a better story… Well, you’d think that would be the case…
This wasn’t my favorite DC animated film… While I’ve managed to enjoy most of the Batman films, the Justice League movies tend to fall short for me, and this is no exception. There are a number of reasons I didn’t care for this movie, so for the sake of time, I’m going to jump right into this, beginning with the title itself.
First off, this is NOT a Justice League movie. I know the film is titled Justice League vs Teen Titans, but this is, for all intents and purposes, a Teen Titans movie. Yes, some of the Justice League members appear in the film, and they play a role in the plot, but they’re hardly the focal point. After finishing the movie, I felt slightly peeved that DC chose to mislead their audience in this way, because it kind of felt like clickbait. And then it hit me: that’s exactly why they gave the film this title. Justice League vs Teen Titans would sell more copies or downloads with that title, over a generic Teen Titans (insert secondary title here) film any day.
Then I sat down and watched the movie a second time, and realized that my assumption as to why they named this film Justice League vs Teen Titans is probably wrong… So what happened during my second viewing that brought me to this realization? To put it simply, DC doesn’t know whose story they’re trying to tell. Now, before you freak out, or roll your eyes, hear me out.
When you’re writing a narrative, you should begin your plot with your lead protagonist or antagonist, or, at the very least, provide a set-up that helps establish one of these two characters. This movie starts off featuring the Justice League in a battle with some of their biggest rogues. Now, you’re probably asking yourself, “What’s wrong with that?” On the surface, nothing. It’s an entertaining, albeit slightly tired, formula that throws the audience into the action, and re-introduces us to the Justice League. Regardless of how often DC uses this formula to kick-start their animated films, you can’t deny that it sucks you in. You’ve got Superman trading blows with Luthor, Flash going against Weather Wizard, Wonder Woman against Cheetah, Batman outwitting Grundy, and Cyborg comparing his toys to the Toy Maker… Then some craziness happens to provide the first twist of the movie.
If this movie continued to feature the Justice League as they explored this mystery, then I wouldn’t be complaining about anything right now… but it doesn’t. So while you think you’re enjoying the movie, the reality is that you’re not aware that the writers have put you on the wrong path. The problem is, none of these characters are the lead protagonist or antagonist for this movie. Your leads are actually Robin and Raven, as well as Trigon, who is only partially introduced… and that’s only if you’re familiar with comics.
The first ten to fifteen percent of the movie follows the Justice League, and like I said, it’s really enjoyable! They do introduce Trigon to a degree within this period, so kudos for that, but the League encounter him, and that puts me in the mindset that this is a Justice League movie with Trigon as the antagonist. So you can understand why I would feel a little off-kilter when the next two thirds of the movie – give or take two to three scenes – are spent introducing the Teen Titans and “developing” their story. I know it sounds like a minor aspect, but it plays a large role when building the structure of your plot. I end up getting halfway into the film, and there’s not actually a fully established lead to drive the narrative. That’s bad.
Eventually, Damian and Raven emerge as the leads, and once I have a focal point to hone in on, I begin to enjoy myself. Damian serves as a catalyst for introducing the viewer to the Teen Titans, and the story quickly establishes that there’s quite a bit of mystery surrounding Raven. Trigon has already done some pretty cool stuff earlier in the film, and ties between Raven and Trigon are hinted at, so that alone creates a solid shell of a story.
Unfortunately, this concept is riddled with other narratives that take away from that. Damian isn’t playing nice with the Titans, and stubbornly tries to out-perform everyone on the team. It feels juvenile. And yes, I agree with you, that DOES sound like Damian. My problem is that it’s overused and pops up too frequently, not to mention that it completely unravels Damian’s character arc over the course of Son of Batman, Batman vs Robin, and Batman: Bad Blood. Had this fallen immediately after Son of Batman or Batman vs Robin, I wouldn’t be as bothered by it… but it didn’t. So now I’m forced to watch Damian regress as a character… That’s never a good time.
The story continues to drown in themes of trust/ paranoia as Damian questions and challenges everyone on the Teen Titans. And then it gets worse… The team realizes they need some bonding, so they go to a fair, where Damian proceeds to challenge Beast Boy at Dance, Dance Revolution… I’m not joking… The entire thing is horribly cringe-worthy, and by this point, I couldn’t help but wonder where the story went. All I remember thinking at this moment in the movie is, “Honestly, I don’t care what happens next, just make it stop.”
By this point, I just wanted the movie to end. It hadn’t been terrible, but I felt like I was suffering from severe whiplash because the narrative had been all over the place. Thankfully, the movie jumps back on track, and are treated to a fun, action-packed climax as the Teen Titans go against Trigon, and do in-fact fight some of the Justice League… Yay! Too bad the only thing I can think about is what comics I want to read after I finish this movie and write the review…
I know I sound pretty harsh, but the movie is “meh” at best, with as many terrible moments as there are good moments. None of the story felt engaging, and I blame that on the technical aspects of the film. I’ve already ripped through the script, but the performances are terrible as well! Stuart Allen continues to improve as Robin in my opinion, so let’s celebrate that victory! Sadly, his partner Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) turned in a dismal performance as Raven, which sucks because Raven is awesome! I know the character is rather quiet/internal and plagued with demons, but let’s add some shades with peaks and valleys to the performance. Everything Farmiga did was flat, which is a shame because some of the best moments in the script were between Robin and Raven… and she didn’t deliver.
Farmiga isnt’ the only culprit who performed poorly though. Kari Whalgren, who portrayed Starfire, sounded like she popped a couple of Valium before beginning her sessions, and just doesn’t fit the character. Add in the poor editing that left extended pauses between lines, on top of her and Taissa’s yawn-worthy performance, with a script that doesn’t drive its own story, and you’re left with a mess! I’d love to say that the actors playing the Justice League help save the movie, but they don’t have enough dialogue to make that case. Besides that, even when the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Flash grace the screen, they’re mostly fighting and serving as book-ends for the movie.
The only saving grace of Justice League vs Teen Titans really is the action. All of the fights are done well and they’re quite entertaining, but it creates an issue of style over substance when the rest of the movie falls short. The only time the movie feels like it gets it right, is when Trigon (who is performed brilliantly by Daredevil’s Jon Bernthal, though you wouldn’t know it due to the vocal modifications) is front and center causing chaos. Those moments… they’re great! Everything else? Not so much…
I’ve tried to spare you from spoilers in case you’re reading this review to determine whether or not you want to see Justice League vs Teen Titans, but if you have seen the movie, then you can find some additional thoughts of mine in the spoiler tag.
The opening fight is fantastic, but I’m slightly concerned that each of our heroes just defeated one of the well-known rogues so easily… It’s going to be difficult to make a future film with any of these characters as the main antagonist after watch each hero stop them in less than a minute.
DC really does need to find another way to start their films though. It’s beginning to feel like a paint-by-numbers way to tell their stories.
Robin’s version of crowd control is the reason I love Damian as a character!
Why did Batman get so bent out of shape about Damian stopping Weather Wizard while he was possessed by Trigon? I get that he disobeyed orders, and that they can’t get information now, but did they really think they were going to get it another way? The League had basically been rendered ineffective, and Damian stopped the threat. It’s hard to go along with this when Damian clearly did the right thing.
There was absolutely NO CHEMISTRY between Dick and Kori on their first encounter… That was really bad.
I really enjoyed the moment where Raven healed Damian and they had memories cross. Also, I’m assuming that she glimpsed Damian’s future, but it looked more like the Red Hood than the future I’m familiar with for Damian, so I can’t be certain which of these it actually is.
All of Damian and Raven’s scenes are good, but the acting isn’t up to par, mainly from Raven.
Ok, actually, all of Damian and Raven’s scenes end full of angst… grrr… teenagers.
What’s up with Starfire’s fighting ability? She’s a powerhouse and should be dominating! Each of the Titans are holding their own with Trigon’s demons, but she’s getting knocked around… What gives? AND she’s supposed to be training the Titans! Fail.
Ah, thank God! Some good old possessed Justice League members going up against the Teen Titans!
I’ve got to say, I prefer Cyborg with the Teen Titans over the Justice League.
Damian stabbing Superman with the kryptonite!!!! Badass!!!
Why in the hell is Trigon just walking like a zombie while Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash all try to stop him? Get rid of the pests and destroy the earth already!
Oh look! It’s like the Lord of the Rings!
Wow… Low blow Vic! “Once you’ve gone ‘major league’… You get it.” What a douche comment.
Rent, don’t purchase! While I can justify watching this movie once, it’s definitely not worth the Andrew Jackson you’ll have to fork over to say this film is yours. My only exception to that rule would be if you’re a fanatic for Raven.
The action and animation are strong, and along with the conflict that comes with Trigon, there are some highlights to the movie. There’s even some worthwhile humor thrown into the script here and there (my favorite involves Damian on “crowd control” near the beginning of the film), and it’s nice to see Beast Boy and Blue Beetle. But when it’s all said and done, they can’t overcome the problems in Justice League vs Teen Titans.
If you’re a DC fan like me, then you’re going to watch the movie regardless, and you’ll probably form your own opinion. I often choose to see movies or read books that receive poor reviews just so I can have the knowledge and experience of that title myself. Would I re-watch this movie? No. If I could take out at least a third of the movie, would I re-watch it then? You betcha!
*A note for parents: Parents, if you have younger kids and you plan on letting them watch this, please be aware that this plot touches on a Satanist cult and deals with demonic creatures. It doesn’t promote it, but I’ve already seen comments from upset parents through other venues, so please be aware if this will offend you.
Justice League vs Teen Titans is available now on Blu Ray, DVD, and Digital HD.