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Review: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS FROM WARNER BROS.: The Titans are on the hunt for the villainous Brother Blood, not realizing that they might have a traitor among them.


Led by Starfire, the Teen Titans—Beast Boy, Raven, Blue Beetle, Robin and the just-returned Nightwing—have built a cohesive team in their never-ending battle against evil; but their newest teammate, the mysterious and powerful Terra, may be altering that dynamic. Meanwhile, an ancient evil, Brother Blood, has awakened, and familiar foe Deathstroke is lurking in the shadows—both waiting to pounce.


Ultimately, the Teen Titans will need to battle their enemies and their own doubts to unite and overcome the malicious forces around them in this twisting tale of intrigue, adventure and deception.


SPOILER FREE REACTIONS: In the 1980’s, Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s run on the New Teen Titans rivaled Marvel’s X-Men for popularity on the newsstand. It is no surprise that Warner Bros would eventually get around to adapting the most popular story to come out of that series into an animated feature. The story has been adapted into the ongoing DC Universe series of movies and serves as a sequel to 2016’s Justice League Vs Teen Titans. While not a point by point adaptation, the resulting film is remarkably reverent to the source material and the liberties taken are necessary to make the story fit the world that they’ve established. It’s not perfect and there are a few tonal issues throughout the story, but the result is a well paced and enjoyable action movie. There is a lot of love shown to the original story and it is a worthy addition to put on your shelf.


SPOILERS: The story opens with a flashback to the original Teen Titans (Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Bumblebee, and Beast Boy) meeting Starfire and welcoming her to the team. It’s a fun sequence to open the story and there is a surprising amount of care put into this short sequence. Robin and Speedy get updates to their costumes that respect the classic look, but still give them modern a feel. The sequence doesn’t really add anything to the story, but it introduces Starfire and establishes the Nightwing/Starfire relationship that continues throughout the story. However, the sequence itself, has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and doesn’t really feel cohesive to the rest of the film. It is mostly fan service, with Young Justice’s Crispin Freeman, Jason Spisak, and Masasa Moyo reprising their rolls as Speedy, Kid Flash, and Bumblebee. That being said, it is such a fun sequence it’s hard to complain too much about it not really going anywhere.


The story then moves to the present day, with the current team (Beast Boy, Raven, Blue Beetle, Robin, Starfire, Nightwing, and newcomer Terra) on a raid of one of the bases of H.I.V.E., a criminal organization/cult led by Brother Blood. It’s revealed as the story moves along that Terra has been an agent of the assassin Deathstroke, who has been hired to capture the Titans and deliver them to Brother Blood. The Titans are taken down in their personal lives one by one except for Nightwing. The captured Titans are placed in a machine that will harness their powers and transfer their combined force to Brother Blood, giving him the powers of a God. With the absence of Nightwing, the machine is still has a vacant spot, so Deathstroke betrays Terra and she ends up in the machine along with the Titans. Nightwing arrives to rescue them, Brother Blood is defeated, and Terra, mad with rage, tries to kill Deathstroke and dies in the destruction of the H.I.V.E compound.


The film largely follows the Judas Contrast story of the original comic with various adjustments along the way to make things fit in the world that has been set up in the previous films. The original story is largely both a Nightwing and Deathstroke origin story and as both those characters are already well established in the series, those elements are gone, but with mixed results.


Deathstroke, voiced by the great Miguel Ferrer in one of his last performances before his untimely death, is the character that is effected the most by the aforementioned changes. While the story does refer to the hatred Deathstroke harbors for Robin from Son of Batman; Deathstroke’s involvement in this story is a much less personal mission than in the comics by eliminating the original backstory where Deathstroke blames the Titans for the death of his son. If it had been any other character, this would have hurt the film, but as Deathstroke is portrayed as a stone-cold killer with a rigid code of professionalism, it still feels appropriate for the character. In contrast to the comic, and an undoubtable change for the better, is Deathstroke’s relationship with Terra. The film makes it clear that the sexual advances Terra makes on Deathstroke are a one-way street and that he is just manipulating her to take down the Titans. Its hard to argue with Warner Bros. not wanting an increasingly popular character, who is about to make the transition to live action films, a statutory rapist. It is an element that has always been one of the more cringeworthy moments of an otherwise classic story, and the change is a welcome one.


Terra’s story is largely intact and her character essentially follows the same beats as in the original story. Terra (voiced by Christina Ricci) is portrayed in the film as a far more sympathetic and tragic character. She flashes back to a traumatic childhood throughout the story and her relationship with the Titans has her a lot more conflicted about her mission to infiltrate the team. The film recreates a moment from the comics where Terra and Beast Boy share a kiss. Where as in the comics its just a moment for Terra to manipulate Beast Boy, in the film it is played far more bittersweet. Terra doesn’t appear to be playing with Beast Boy in this version and the kiss is an honest moment between the two of them before the story moves along to Terra’s downfall. It’s a decision that works in the story and gives Beast Boy a reason to mourn Terra at the end of the film. I’ve always thought it was strange in the comic that the team builds Terra a monument to honor her death when she’s shown to be so unrepentantly evil in that story.


The involvement of H.I.V.E is given more prominence in the film and smartly brings Brother Blood into the story to give H.I.V.E a face. The film does a good job of introducing him quickly and moving the story along. The H.I.V.E. master plan is largely the same as in the comics and the addition of Brother Blood taking the Titan’s powers works, as it gives the rest of the team something to do in the finale while Robin, Nightwing, and finally Terra take on Deathstroke.


The rest of the changes are largely cosmetic. Robin is taken out of the story early and remains captured until the finale and his involvement is largely incidental. Blue Beetle serves as a worthy replacement for Cyborg in the story and follows a similar storyline; having family issues before he is attacked. Raven’s involvement in the story is toned down and she is far less suspicious of Terra than in the original story. Beast Boy is largely intact in the story, and is given an update as someone obsessed with their social media presence that feels very appropriate for the character. An end scene featuring Beast Boy and a cameo by Kevin Smith gives Beast Boy an opportunity to narrate the ending which works well to sum things up. Donna Troy and Jericho are missing from this story, but both receive a nod as the story goes along.


Nightwing is given a lot to do in the story and is well handled. From a design perspective, I’m not crazy about them putting him in the New-52 red outfit, as for me it is too much of a callback to Chris O’Donnell’s suit in Batman and Robin. It feels like a studio note to have arguably their most popular character look like he does in other media. Given the time it takes to develop these films, I would imagine that Nightwing’s look will go back to the black and blue costume soon as it has in the comics.


Starfire is handled fairly well, and the decision to keep her as the leader of the team is a welcome one as it gives her character a little more to do. Starfire is a character that is often relegated as a reason to give the comic book artist an opportunity to draw a beautiful woman and the film gives her more to work by focusing on what a highly-trained warrior she is supposed to be. I do feel that the filmmaker should have done more with the subplot of Nightwing returning and Starfire feeling undermined by him as the team leader. It is mentioned but then quickly dropped in favor of the storyline of Nightwing and Starfire moving in together.


This brings up an issue that has been a problem for many of the DC Animated Universe movies where the film suffers a little from an uneven tone. The filmmakers clearly want to get the most out of their PG-13 rating. There is no reason why Starfire and Nightwing should be talking about their sex life in the middle of a battle and only seems to be there for the filmmakers to tell the audience how grown up and mature they are, which for me, has the opposite effect. It’s like when a little kid learns a swear word for the first time, but hasn’t learnt how to appropriately use it. It’s not as badly done as in some of the previous films, but still remains an issue. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a brief musical montage during a surprise party for Terra where a light, pop song is played. The scene is fine for what it is and does the job by adding to how conflicted Terra is at betraying the team, but it feels disjointed from the rest of the movie and seems to play for a younger audience than the rest of the film.


In summary, the filmmakers are clearly fans of the original story and despite the changes that have been made, the result is a well-made film that honors the source material. If you’re a fan of the original, it is well worth you time. Go pick it up.


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