Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016) is the latest feature from DC animation since Batman: Bad Blood. After Damian (once again voiced by Stuart Allan) botches a Justice league mission, he’s sent to join the Teen Titans who must then step up to combat the world-conquering Trigon, as well as a possessed Justice League.
While JLvTT doesn’t seem to borrow from any specific comic, it takes elements from DC mythology and meshes it together to form a pretty traditional but still satisfying story. Its got the typical mind-control, students vs mentors, world altering threats, all that fun stuff. Anyone with a passing interest in the classic Teen Titans tv show or comic lore in general is likely to find what’s served here quite satisfying. Sure, most of the meal is classic comic tropes with a garnish of DC lore on the side, but its put together competently enough that anyone looking for such a meal is likely to find it very appetising.
The animation hasn’t altered much since Bad Blood, still maintaining that semi-dark but slick and fluid style. For a direct-to-video film its pretty solid. On top of that, this new film brings in a number of interesting character designs with classics like Beast Boy, Raven, Blue Beetle and Starfire finally getting their animated-verse debut. They all remain relatively faithful to the comics in their appearances, though Star Fire does seem to unfortunately draw more from the heavily sexualised imagery of New 52 rather than the original cartoon (which as a fan of that show I do find disappointing as its far superior). On top of that is a tonne of Cthullu inspired imagery that emerges from Trigon’s appearance, which adds a pretty awesome layer of grotesqueness to it, and keeps it feeling distinct from other similar offerings.
Now to the characters. Its only taken approximately 4 movies, but Damian is finally likeable as Robin! This film seems to address his criticisms of being headstrong and unlikeable head on by actually baking it into the story in a way that allows the character to grow. The transition from arrogant solo artist to compassionate team player is rushed for sure, but its better than being stuck with Damian’s ‘holier than thou’ attitude for another movie.
Of the Teen Titans, Raven fares by fare the best in characterisation. Not only is she depicted very close to the show (which warms my heart), the film shows a more troubled and softer side to the character, and the relationship that grows between her and Damian is not only genuine but makes sense from a narrative perspective. I’m definitely shipping Ravian from now on. Aside from her, the rest of the Titans draw from their typical characterisations – Beast Boy is a cheeky prankster, Blue Beetle is troublesome and a bit headstrong and Starfire is ridiculously optimistic and cheerful. Overall the characterisation is relatively standard, but faithful enough to satisfy fans.
At this point I’ve been overly positive about this film, but now we get to the problems. First off, there is a 10-15 minute sequence in this film that feels like its from a bubbly pop-teen flick. Why in a direct-to-video superhero film do we need to see a CARNIVAL MONTAGE overlayed by POP MUSIC?! Its a baffling choice. This montage is also swiftly followed by a DANCE OFF. Yes, a dance off. And that’s not even the end of it. After the dance off (shudder) when we get back to some bloody action, the animators randomly decide the Teen Titans need to get into costume through a sailor-moon esque transformation! Once again, why?! This part of the film feels weirdly separate from the tone and ideas of the rest, and is incredibly incredibly jarring. Now that I’ve got that little rant out of the way, the film does suffer from predictability, especially for comic fans. You don’t need Superman’s vision to see every plot point and character moment from a mile away. That doesn’t make it bad, as many animated DC have the same issue, but it is particularly prominent in JLvTT .
But aside from some tonal schizophrenia and dull plotting, JLvTT is still a definite step-up from the disappointment of Bad Blood. Any fans of the original Teen Titan‘s show or the animated-verse should give it a view. Just probably not worth a second look.
General Audiences: Recommended
True Believers (DC): Recommended