Animated comic book movies have been around for decades at this point, but I think it’s high time we recognize the efforts of one studio in particular who has consistently show up to play ball.
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)
Cast: Stuart Allan, Jake T. Austin, Taissa Farmiga, Sean Maher, Christina Ricci, Brandon Soo Hoo, Kari Wahlgren, Miguel Ferrer
Director: Sam Liu
re-released on blu-ray April 18, 2017
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, Audience Score 71%
The Guardian: n/a
I’ve written about Sam Liu before. He also directed the Batman: The Killing Joke movie which I reviewed last summer, so in order to save some time, I’m going to dive right into the plot summary and then tell you what I think about this most recent DC original animated film.
Courtesy of Wikipedia…
Five years ago, the original Teen Titans (consisting of Dick Grayson as Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Beast Boyand Bumblebee) rescue Princess Starfire of planet Tamaran from her captors sent by her evil older sister Blackfire who had staged a coup and forcibly took the throne. As she is no longer able to return to her world, the Titans offer her a home on Earth as one of them.
In the present, Dick Grayson (now called Nightwing) rejoins the Teen Titans to track down a terrorist cult led by Brother Blood who plans on capturing the team to absorb each of their unique abilities with a machine that he has tested on Jericho (whom his assistant and lover Mother Mayhem quickly shoots afterwards). Brother Blood hires the mercenary Deathstroke to deliver the Titans to him, which he obliges to do for both the money and get revenge on Damian Wayne for foiling his evil plans a few years ago and replacing him as Ra’s al Ghul’s heir before Damian turned against the League of Assassins. Deathstroke monitors the Titans through his double agent Terra, who joined the team a year prior and whom he rescued after her parents turned their whole village against her and tortured her. When Damian grows suspicious of Terra’s behavior and starts tracking her, he is captured by her and Deathstroke, thus revealing her as a spy to Damian.
Terra acts cold and distant towards the other Titans despite their welcoming attitude, but eventually warms up to them. During the night celebrating her one-year anniversary with the Titans, she shares a tender moment with Beast Boy and kisses him. The next day, Deathstroke kidnaps Blue Beetle at the soup kitchen he works at, Beast Boy at a convention where he thought he would do a podcast with filmmaker Kevin Smith, and Starfire at the apartment shared by her and Nightwing. Dick discovers what happened to the other Titans and is attacked by Deathstroke. He manages to escape by faking his own death, while Terra captures Raven in Titans‘ Tower.
Deathstroke and Terra bring the Titans to Brother Blood, but since the machine cannot operate properly without a fifth Titan (as Slade had failed to capture Nightwing), Slade hesitantly offers him Terra instead. Brother Blood starts draining the Titans of their powers and ascends to godlike status, but they are rescued by Nightwing. Nightwing and Robin fight Deathstroke, while the rest take on Brother Blood, who has absorbed all of their powers. The two villains are stopped by the intervention of Terra, who is thoroughly hurt and enraged at Slade for his betrayal. Brother Blood is depowered by Raven unleashing her inner fury as a demon and killed by Mother Mayhem, while Deathstroke is buried underneath multiple rocks thrown by Terra. Too ashamed to face her former allies after betraying their trust, Terra decides to bring down the entire area. Beast Boy attempts to assist Terra in escaping the crumbling fortress, but Terra pushes him back and is buried underneath multiple layers of rubble. Beast Boy digs her up, and she dies in his arms.
In the epilogue, Beast Boy goes on Kevin Smith’s podcast and talks about the Titans with the host. He mentions that the team has a “wonderful new member” and that he will always miss Terra.
In a post-credits scene, Jericho is shown to have survived the bullet Mother Mayhem shot at him earlier.
I’ll just come right out and say that this movie is refreshing to watch. There are complex adult relationships portrayed on the screen, some well placed profanity, and while the violence doesn’t overwhelm, it is decidedly more graphic then your average PG-13 fare. Featuring an ensemble cast, and then spending time with each character was a wise movie on the part of DC, because each of characters is developed in such a way that they become more compelling then any live-action counterparts we’ve seen thus far.
Starfire, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, and Deathstroke all have great arcs, and it’s very satisfying to watch Terra meet her end as the revealed Judas of the team.
Pros: The animation, pacing, and storytelling are all top-notch, but as already mentioned, the relationships between characters, especially the romantic ones, are fascinating to watch. The Teens are all so dramatic and appealing to watch.
Cons: There is a decent amount of filler at the beginning of the film, with previous Titans on a mission and the meeting of Starfire. This flashback and the one of Terra’s home life seem out of place and very uncomfortable to watch, especially with the Deathstroke seduction scene. Also, Terra turns too quickly.
Runtime: 1 hour 24 minutes
Points of Interest: Adapted from a Teen Titans series from the 1980s, this story has also been adapted for the Teen Titans animated series of the early 2000s. Beast Boy appears on a podcast with Kevin Smith in the movie, in real life Kevin Smith is a huge comics fan, and has a particular affinity for Batman.
I think that overall the plot with Brother Blood, the contract with Deathstroke, and the hidden mole of Terra gave the movie the steam it needed to make it around the block. It should be celebrated for it’s adventurous and adult themes, even if Deathstroke and Terra have be really weird personal relationship in the background. The leadership tactics of Star Fire, versus old hat exercises from Nightwing.
With over twenty movies in their catalogue at this point, DC has done an excellent job of adapting some of their best stories for home release, and this Teen Titans story is one of the better ones. Yes you can see a lot of the plot twists from a mile away, but it does such a good job of getting you there, that I think the journey really is the most important part in this case.
Speaking of twists, this week on Watch Culture, Andre and I give a recommendation on 2011’s Source Code, and I bet you’ll enjoy it. That said, I’m out of theories for now.