DC's latest animated film offering is worth the stream, not the buy
Versus seems to be the name of the superhero game this spring as Batman faces off against Superman in theatres and Daredevil takes on the Punisher on Netflix.
DC and Warner Bros' latest installment in their growing animated catalogue "Justice League vs. Teen Titans" features the more experienced League facing off against the rookie Titans.
The plot of the film will be familiar to those who grew up with the original "Teen Titans" animated series that aired on Cartoon Network in the 2000’s. It revolves around the character of Raven (Taissa Farmiga, American Horror Story) and her parentage with the terror Trigon (Jon Bernthal, The Walking Dead). The Justice League and the Teen Titans seek to uncover the secrets of Raven’s past while trying to protect her from her devil of a father.
These shorter animated movies have become a popular way to both reprise older series that were well received and to introduce those who enjoy the superhero movies to a smaller, more accessible method of meeting new characters. Other short films, including "Justice League: War, Son of Batman" and the "Lego" versions of "Batman" give the superheros a chance to have a new, slightly different image from film to film.
Each new storyline provides an opportunity for the viewer to get a better idea of each hero. "Justice League vs. Teen Titans" is a culmination of a few different films and even delivers a teaser at the end for another DC film that will be coming out that involves Terra, another Teen Titan.
A less familiar element to the more casual superhero fan will be the inclusion of Damian Wayne (Stuart Allen, "Batman: Bad Blood"), otherwise known as Robin and biological son of Batman. Damian is the audience’s “in” to the Teen Titans team after Batman forces him to join the team to learn the virtue of teamwork. Allen puts in a very capable performance as Damian Wayne and has really come into his in the role over the past few Batman animated movies.
The rest of the cast is not quite as solid. Farmiga’s Raven is so flat in her delivery that the actress comes off as more apathetic than emotionally distant as that character should appear. Jason O’Mara is a fine Batman but seems to be doing his best Solid Snake impression from the "Metal Gear Solid" videogame franchise. Fans who grew up with the Disney Channel will recognize Jake T. Austen of "The Wizards of Waverly Place" as the Blue Beetle as well.
The film itself is beautiful to look at, the characters all cleanly rendered in a pseudo-anime style. Action scenes are all fast paced and fluid which is where this movie really shines. The stylistic elements of the movie are visually make up for the lack of character excitement.
The narrative itself is too cluttered for the film’s 79-minute running time and can never quite decide which character it wants to be about. Telling an engaging story about one character in the span of 79 minutes is hard enough, let alone focusing on two entire rosters of two separate super teams. At the same time, the movie is an animated short and can’t really be compared to a long-form film that is shown in theatres.
There are moments of humor that really let the character’s shine such as Damian’s early attempts at “crowd control” or Beast Boy’s training sequence with Raven, but they are not enough to anchor the film in anything that makes the audience care about these characters if they are not already familiar with them through other mediums.
Overall, "Justice League vs. Teen Titans" is a fun diversion but is not worth paying full retail price for the DVD or digital download. These animated films tend to pop up on Netflix fairly soon after the release of the next movie. In that case, it is a worthwhile watch to see some cool action sequences and funny moments with characters you enjoy.
David Tunis-Garcia is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org