Friday, April 07, 2017

'Teen Titans: The Judas Contract' Doesn't Need Batman to Become the Best Film in the DC Animated Movie Universe So Far

It has been a long time since we had a film from DC Universe Animate Original Movies (DCAOM) that doesn’t have Batman in it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love Batman.  Thus, I always enjoy his presence in a movie.  But it’s also now time for DCUAOM to trust their non-Batman properties.  It has been four years since Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox’s ending established this new, New 52-inspired DC Animated Movie Universe, and three years since it had its first feature with Justice League: War, and all movies set in this universe all have had Batman in it.  Even in Justice League Dark, which is about a team that doesn’t have Batman as a member in the comics, the character is shoehorned in with a prominent role (which I didn’t mind much because I thought it was brilliant).

The latest DCAOM movie, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, is the first time in the DC Animated Movie Universe in which Batman doesn’t make an appearance (though Batman protégés Dick Grayson [ex-Robin and current Nightwing] and Damien Wayne [a.k.a. Robin] are among the central characters).  This could be a sign that DCAOM is going to do more non-Batman projects now (I would love to see a few Superman movies).  Or maybe not, since the next DCAOM feature is a Batman and Harley Quinn movie (note: not all DCAOM movies are set in the DC Animated Movie Universe).
Anyway, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is a sequel to last year’s Justice League vs. Teen Titans.  It’s based on Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s “The Judas Contract” – one of the most iconic, if not the most iconic, Teen Titans comic book storylines ever.  In the movie, Dick Grayson a.k.a. Nightwing rejoins the Teen Titans – currently mentored by Starfire and made up of Robin, Raven, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, and Terra – and enlists them in taking down H.I.V.E. bases and figuring out what its leader, Brother Blood, is really up to.  Meanwhile, in order to take care of the Teen Titans, Brother Blood hires the mercenary Deathstroke, who has planted a mole into the team.

The movie starts off with a fun flashback prologue, which shows the original Teen Titans – made up of Robin (Dick Grayson), Speedy, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, and Bumblebee – meeting Starfire for the first time and recruiting her to the team.  Honestly, aside from showing that there’s already a romantic spark between Dick Grayson and Starfire during this initial meeting (as Dick and Starfire bringing their relationship to the next level is a significant subplot and running joke in this movie), the prologue doesn’t really add anything of substance.  Speedy, Kid Flash, and Bumblebee don’t appear in the movie anymore.  The event has no connection to the main plot.  Still, it’s immensely fun.
Overall, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract proves to be better than Justice League vs. Teen Titans, which was a mess of tones and has a thin, punctured plot.   The Judas Contract is more mature and coherent, and is much more even as a result.  It’s fast-paced, and its subplots – despite being clichéd – are effective enough in bringing dramatic and character depth.  In fact, if I hadn’t been already familiar of its source material, I would have enjoyed its narrative and reveals more.  It also makes some effort to “reward” fans who have been following the DC animated movie universe by referencing Son of Batman, one of its earlier movies – a minor plus, but a plus nonetheless.

It’s not exactly flawless or superb.  It has a couple of stumbles.  But it doesn’t have real drawbacks.  If there’s a “disappointment”, it’s that there’s no Cyborg in it when it was teased in Justice League vs. Teen Titans that he would be hanging out with the team for a while (as Cyborg was a prominent Teen Titan prior the New 52 reboot).  But this is just a trifling matter.

The biggest compliment that I could give Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is that it almost has the same outstanding quality of a Young Justice episode.  Almost.  It isn’t as well-written and delightful, but it has the same kind of “gritty teen superhero story with balanced humor, drama, and action” feel.  Thus, I think Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is the best among the eight movies set in the DC Animated Movie Universe so far.  And it manages to be so even with no Batman.

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