Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016): Honoring the Old “Teen Titans” Show and Creating a Great Original Story

Justice League vs Teen Titans poster

    “Justice League vs. Teen Titans” is a lot of fun. As someone who grew up on Bruce Timm’s justice league and the old original animesque “Teen Titans,” this is the first time with these films I’ve felt the spirit of both really captured, while still remaining true to “The New 52” tone they’ve had going on in all these films. The Teen Titans are really who carry the film and this is there story and it is their development and actions that end up making this a favorite film for me.

     The film was directed by Sam Liu, written by Bryan Q. Miller and Alan Burnett and produced by James Tucker.

SPOILERS ahead

     The story involves Trigon’s (Jon Burnthal) attempt to return to Earth to destroy it and to use his daughter Raven (Taissa Farmiga) as the way to do so. When the Justice League investigates he takes control of a few members leaving the Teen Titans to team to together to stop him and save the Justice League.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack at moments reminded me of Bear McCreary which added a lot to the haunting nature of Trigon and the pasts of Raven and Damian. Frederik Wiedmann once again did a fantastic job.

The Animation – WB and DC continue to put out great animated films and this one is no different. The world is dark but beautiful and feels epic in feel.

The World – The world is rich as we get an appearance of Trigon, the Legion of Doom, the Justice League and Teen Titans. This world is huge and still gives room to explore many of the characters within it.

The Characters – The characters are what carry this film and the reason to see it. Whether it is certain Justice League members or the Teen Titans as a whole, these are the folks who make this film fun.

Batman / Bruce Wayne – Batman is the only Justice League member not to get possessed and it is thanks to him that Cyborg is saved and later the rest of the Justice League. He risks himself in the process though and is out of it until the end.

Barry Allen / The Flash – Flash appears briefly but his comedic antics and comedic villains are both on display, even at the end. I like the Flash a lot now as he adds much needed levity to the super seriousness of “The New 52.”

Oliver Stone / Cyborg – Cyborg gets to be both Justice League and Teen Titans and brings pizza at the end as a callback to the show! He is great and we see that he is the leader when Batman is out of commission. He is pretty much a Teen Titans member and co-leader with Starfire over the course of saving Raven and getting to the final fight.

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Grayson should have been in the final fight. I don’t know why he wasn’t as he’s pretty much Damian’s babysitter until Damian is dropped off at the Justice League. Maher is once again wonderful and brings charm to the awkward flirting that Starfire and He do with one another. We needed more of this character.

Trigon – Jon Bernthal is fantastic as the monster and power that is Trigon. I wanted to see more of this character and his influence on the world beyond just trying to enter it and sending his sons out. He still felt like a threat though, even though the final battle with him was kind of stupid.

Teen Titans – The Teen Titans are the best part of this film and really the main reason to watch this. I didn’t see “Teen Titans Go” and don’t plan on it, so this is the best version of them since that past 2003 show.

Koriand’r / Starfire – Starfire is the leader and she feels like an alien in this but also the idealist we saw from when she was in the show. Her dynamic with everyone is great as she is the glue and the one who helps Damian open up.

Jaime Reyes / Blue Beetle – Blue Beetle is cool and doesn’t put up with Damian’s crap. He is very much the Cyborg of the group (and not just because he is pretty much a cyborg from the alien tech melded to his body) as his personality is big, leading him to fight with Damian. I like how he doesn’t know the suit’s power…he reminds me of some of Venom’s hosts that way.

Damian Wayne / Robin – Finally Robin isn’t perfect (sort of)! We see his anger come out and how he was raised by sociopaths and it does make an impact on how he interacts with others when he invades the Teen Titans security, eggs Blue Beetle on and nearly dies because of it and confronts a demon taking the form of Ra’s Al Ghul, giving him the chance to face his past trauma and see how alike he and Raven are. Both having fathers out to destroy the world. His friendship with Raven is one of the best parts of the film. Loved that he neutralized Superman with kryptonite and later puts it back in his pouch as Superman frowns.

Garfield Logan / Beast Boy – Brandon Soo Hoo’s performance reminded me of classic Beast Boy from the 2003 “Teen Titans” show. He’s funny and his wit and humor make him gold in every scene. I love how he fights too and moves between small and large creatures to have the largest impact in a fight, and he does it a comedic way.

Okay: Wonder Woman – She like Superman feels a little too alien and even though she’s played by Rosario Dawson, I never got her character fully. I’m also biased against her design and miss the classic design, but that would be made up if she had a bit more development and motivations…she isn’t as bad as Superman at least.

Okay / Con – Justice League Development – We see them fight Lex Luthor and some folks at the beginning in the Legion of Doom but it never goes anywhere and the villains never feel like a threat. It’s cool to see Lex Luthor at least.

The Teams Working Together in the Final Fight – The fight in Trigon’s realm is cool, Superman’s fight against the Justice League and Flash, Wonder Woman and Superman against Trigon is just weak…so it ends up being an okay/con.

The Cons: Superman – This guy is alien, distant a jerk and has zero chemistry with any of the characters, and he’s supposed to be in love and dating Wonder Woman. I never got that and his presentation in this new 52 Universe feels off. I miss the Bruce Timm Superman, he felt like a real character at least.

Superman Stops Evil Justice League Alone – Cyborg and the Teen Titans are trying to get the crystal for Raven to trap Trigon in it again but they feel useless as Superman stops both the Flash and Wonder Woman who are also possessed before they even reach the portal. Seriously, the Teen Titans and Cyborg weren’t even needed, it’s implied through how easy he saved the other two Justice League members that Superman could have done it all himself.

     The only real downside to this was lack of development for the Justice League, which made sense given this was about the Teen Titans, and Superman being so overpowered everyone being there felt unnecessary. I hate this version of Superman, he’s distant and treats everyone around him like crap besides Diana and even their relationship doesn’t really work because we never see it develop so I didn’t feel chemistry in that relationship. Seriously, I look forward to when one of these films eventually kills Superman off. Besides that, the Teen Titans are awesome and the best I’ve seen the characters since the show that aired in 2003. This managed to capture that same spirit and be it’s own thing, which is the best that could have been hoped for.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. A favorite and worth checking out.

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“The Flash” Season 1 – Fun and Light Finally Comes to the DC Cinematic Universe

The Flash Season 1

   A show that manages to have both drama, fun and keep a consistent tone. I never expected such a thing from the CW as so much of there shows are grimdark and have characters stuck in a cycle (like the Winchesters) so no growth happens. Not so for the 1st Season of “The Flash.” Every episode has consequences and leads to something greater. There are obviously issues, mostly that come from being a CW show and falling into some of the traps that seem to come with the territory of that network hosting your show but it is counterbalanced with fun and joy while still keeping drama.

      “The Flash” was created by Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg.

 The story involves the Flash’s creation after Dr. Wells’s Collider sets off an explosion that creates Meta-Humans in Central City. From here Barry Allen must become the hero the city needs while solving the mystery of his murdered mother and stopping the Meta-humans in Central City.

The Pros: Central City – Central City is awesome! It is a city with hope that still has to deal with the problems of Super Humans who can cause problems. The fact that our protagonists made it this way adds another layer to that conflict within the city as well.

The Tone – The tone is uplifting even with Barry’s mother being dead and his father in prison. It’s very Disney in that way. It works and it is the only hopeful DC project I’ve seen so far. “Gotham” doesn’t have any for obvious reasons as that doesn’t really mix all that well with modern Batman and even Superman has gone grimdark. Not-so for the Flash who is still allowed his hope and innocence.

The Meta-Humans and Rogues – These folks are interesting even with many of them just being common thieves out for revenge. There were two who stood out though.

Everyman – Hannibal is a shapeshifter  and takes a lot to take down. He’s good at getting into our heroes’ heads.

The Trickster – Mark Hamill (who played “The Trickster” in other shows including the animated “Justice League”) is so much fun in this. He is like the Joker who he’s also played as we see him hold people hostage and put on a show. I can’t wait to see this character return as he almost outsmarts and beats the Flash, showing besides Captain Cold and Reverse-Flash and Grodd, that he is the best opponent.

Captain Cold – This guy is cold as ice and manages to manipulate our heroes to free the Meta-Humans. He isn’t a meta-human and more than makes up for it with his guile and his own version of honor as he never reveals who the Flash really is.

Allies – I enjoyed the allies even though they can fall a bit too much on to referencing “Arrow” sometimes. I get they are in the same universe but there is a better way to do crossovers.

Dr. Caitlin Snow – Snow is awkward and also one of the smartest members of the team and helps save Barry from the foot he often puts in his mouth on many occasions. I liked her character and that it took her a long time to come around to Dr. Wells her mentor being a villain.

Cisco Ramon – Cisco is the guy coming up with names for all the Meta-Humans. I really liked how we discover he is a Meta-Human as he remembers an alternate timeline where Dr. Wells kills him. Their relationship is great as he is the mentor and father Cisco never had and it is at S.T.A.R. Labs where he finds acceptance and family.

Oliver Queen/Arrow – He is the Batman to Flash’s Superman and the brood to the Flash’s joking and hope. That is really where their friendship really works. He joins the final fight and neutralizes the Alternate-Flash.

Felicity Smoak – She has  a great chemistry with Barry and the members of S.T.A.R. Labs and would have worked perfectly in this show. She helps characters grow and never stops being a friend.

Primary Antagonists – The main antagonists are a lot of fun. This is one thing the show did amazingly. Whether it is Grodd, Eiling or Thawne…these folks are intriguing.

General Eiling – Clancy Brown is in everything! In this we see him as the hunter of Meta-Humans as he hopes to weaponize them to stop the evil ones. To him people are a means to an end and he has a respect for the Flash even as Flash is probably on his hit list too.

Gorilla Grodd – Grodd was experimented on by Eiling and Thawne and continues to evolve. He is psychic and makes Joe nearly kill himself. He is also extremely strong and survives getting hit by a train. I can’t wait to see where his evolution takes him. I hope we get to see the Grodd of the animated Justice League as he was a Gorilla who felt like a threat and was on par with Lex Luthor in schemes at times.

Eobard Thawne/Reverse Flash – Thawne created the Flash since in his future he and the flash were enemies. He goes back in time to kill Barry as a child but fails due to the Flash saving his younger self so instead kills Barry’s mother as well as Dr. Wells to speed up the event and creation of Meta-Humans. He’s ambitious and complicated as even though he is a sociopath he clearly had feelings for his mentees and Barry. Tom Cavanaugh does a great job.

Protagonists – The primary protagonists are wonderful, even though the romances don’t really work.

Iris West – Iris goes from someone who is all about the social to an active journalist who first breaks the existence of the Flash to the world. Her arc is standing up for her agency as she shoots down Eddie or Barry whenever they try to speak for what she wants or what she should and shouldn’t know. This is what makes her compelling, not the love triangle.

Joe West – Jesse L. Martin (last saw him as Tom Collins in “Rent”) is awesome as the detective who adapts pretty quickly to the changing world of Central City. He works with Barry closely and has to deal with how his overprotectiveness alienates him from his daughter. He was one of my favorite characters and he is good at holding his own against the Meta-Humans.

Barry Allen/The Flash – Barry is kindness with a refusal to kill as we see him do all he can to see the best in people, even when he gets burned. He is naive and hopeful and it makes him a lot of fun and he deals with letting go of his mother and moving on with his life, taking all he learned from her to heart. He’s a bit of an obsessive nerd and it works for the character. I liked him when he wasn’t in romance mode.

The Parent Relationships – Wells and Barry, Barry and his Dad, Joe and Barry and Joe and Iris. These relationships really define the show as we see them grow in love and the relationships change overtime. Joe is overprotective but comes to trust his daughters choices in the end just as he does for Barry and Wells’s betrayal is contrasted with the fact that he wanted to give Barry what he had taken away and gives him the chance to save his mother.

The Flash and Reverse-Flash Relationship – These two are foils and contrasts made all the more complicated by the fact that the Reverse-Flash created Flash and became his mentor and friend. This makes his final demise sad in a way even as the writers write him as just ambitious and evil by the end.

The Cons: Eddie Thawne – There was the idea of a character here but in the end he was the trope “Noble Sacrifice” as he cornily says all he wanted was to be Iris’s hero. Lies, he wanted to be in a relationship with her, though due to plot it could never go anywhere.

Ronnie – Ronnie is the boyfriend who is just kind of there. He never feels like a character and just needs rescuing. He does save Flash a few times at least but he wasn’t needed for Snow to feel guilt over what happened. So in the end he was redundant. He does marry Doctor Snow at the end though.

Atom – What is it with boyfriends not being written all that well on this show? He’s the rich nerd billionare who bought out Oliver Queen’s company and is in a relationship with Felicity Smoak. He’s also just kind of there and exists only to have a mini-plot with Cisco. He is the reference part of the show.

Love Triangle – This didn’t work. I could see the ideas they were going for but in the end they just made everyone involved look like manipulative dicks. Whether it was Eddie and Iris passive aggressively fighting but still being together or the Flash lying to Iris and justfying himself by saying she likes him. Just didn’t work. The romances just didn’t work.

CW Look – Everything is too polished. It works sometimes but it makes it so destruction never looks real. It’s all too polished and CG.

Reference – Arrow and The Flash fight and it is cool until you think too hard about it. I get a meta-human making people angry and turning the Flash on Arrow but it felt more like a contrived reason to have them fight and to bring Arrow into things when The Flash worked fine with Felicity being the only reference to Starling City.

The Cliffhanger Ending – Future Flash stops Present Flash from saving his mom (no explanation is done but he does get to say good-bye. Eddie kills himself which erases Reverse-Flash who is his future descendant from existence and a big giant singularity forms above the city for the Flash to stop. The End.

    This was a good show and one I would definitely recommend. The Flash is one of the most underutilized characters in the DC Universe and is usually the glue of the Justice League. It is wonderful to see his comedic nature and charm put to good use here and allowing him space to breathe. This show could have easily been grimdark given the Reverse-Flash killed his mom, but he always manages to keep some level of innocence to him and light, even when he’s facing the dark. For this reason alone I’d recommend the show. It’s broken out of the dark tone the DC Cinematic Universe (Nolan “Dark Knight” Trilogy, “Man of Steel,” “Arrow,” etc.) seems to be trapped in.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good.