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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Son of Batman (2014): A Decent Telling of Damian Wayne’s Origin Story

Son of Gotham poster

    “Son of Batman” is alright. At times this film has moments of greatness only for it to be shot down by bad writing and not developing some of the intriguing characters more. This is a story that really deserved more time than the running time of an hour, which really brings it down the most it in the end. This is a film that is the origin story of Damian Wayne, but in many ways he is the least interesting character in this, and that isn’t completely is his fault, it is the fault of the writers, which I’ll get into deeper into the review.

     The film was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by Joe R. Lansdale and produced by James Tucker and based on the story “Batman and Son” by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert.

    The story involves the assassination of Ra’s Al Ghul by his former heir Deathstroke forcing Talia to take her son, who is the son of Bruce Wayne to Gotham City and Batman to escape. It is here Batman must deal with the reality of being a father and Damian must face a world outside of League of Assassins.

The Pros: The Animation – DC animation continues to put out beautiful looking work, and this is no exception. I’d almost say it is worth it just for the character designs as you make take inspiration for your own character work if you are comic artist.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is haunting and beautiful and reminded me of McCreary’s “Battlestar Galactica” soundtrack. Fredrick Weidmann did a great job.

The World – The world is cool but underdeveloped. The League of Assassins is huge and going through a civil war between the Ghul’s and Deathstroke and we even get glimpses of this Gotham and Batman.

The Characters – The characters who receive development are pretty great or okay. Sadly not all of them got development but the ones who did are a pro for me.

Slade Wilson / Deathstroke – The apprentice abandoned by his master out for revenge…this is Slade’s arc and it is great as he schools anyone he faces until the very end when he loses to Batman easily and just loses to Damian. I wanted more of this character and why Ra’s didn’t choose him to lead. Thomas Gibson did a great voice acting job.

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Sean Maher (Dr. Simon from “Firefly”) is my favorite character in this. He has depth and reason for what he does and you get him moving on from Batman. He is a warning and promise for what his future may hold. I like how he clashes with both Batman and Damian too.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Jason O’Mara is okay but his Batman is like a softer spoken Val Kilmer. I like Val Kilmer but most Batman are a lot better and same goes here. He is good but doesn’t even touch great. I wanted more of his relationship to Talia and further development with Damian, sadly we didn’t get that.

Okay: Ra’s Al Ghul – Ra’s is around for a little bit and dies. We see how much of a zealot he is and also how he is a caring Grandfather but that is about it. He dies way too early and his legacy is never fully explored.

Talia Al Ghul – Talia seeks revenge and gets easily beat by Deathstroke. Wasn’t impressed at all with that, though her relationship to Damian feels real as well as her love for Bruce Wayne. Morena Baccarin does a good job with what little she’s given.

Damian Wayne – Damian is a little too perfect. He hacks Batman’s computer, beats Slade in the final fight and gets over his anger way too quickly. For a guy raised in trauma he’s surprisingly well put together, which just made him feel like a Gary Stu/Mary Sue. He’s the core character and the driver of the narrative so I expected more.

The Cons: Killer Croc – Guy is just a giant monster and gets zero development. Great design but that means nothing when there is zero character behind it.

Doctor Langstrom – Beyond caring for his family we get none of the mad scientist tendencies. Why was he working for Ra’s prior? This is never answered, or how he got connected to Killer Croc. This was a shame as they are both Batman rogues, but this connection never went anywhere.

Deathstroke’s Plan – An army of Man-Bat’s…really? Batman defeated these guys so easily, you think the military is going to be that unprepared that they wouldn’t have some kind of sonar weapon. It was a stupid plan when Ra’s made it and Deathstroke continuing it was a shortfall on his part.

   This was an okay film. It strikes for good but never fully reaches there largely because so many of the characters that would be great in different contexts don’t get the agency and development they deserve. This film aimed high as it was giving us the origins of the one of the most famous Robins, yet I didn’t care about him. He was overpowered and seemed to have no flaws beyond anger that we never got to see him fully face. He was the definition of a Mary Sue/Gary Stu and it took away from the story. I wanted to know more about Deathstroke, Talia and Ra’s but an hour was not long enough to do so and the overall narrative suffered because of it. This is what made the film okay in the end…lack of development, too short of time and Damian’s too perfect tendencies as well as the main’s outside of him not being enough to carry the story. If you like Batman, check it out for sure. DC Animation hasn’t made any bad films I’ve seen yet, but this could have been so much more.

Final Score: 7.4 / 10