REVIEW: ‘Justice League vs. Teen Titans’ falls short of promise

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Justice League vs. Teen Titans, the 25th entry in the DC Original Animated Features series, is a mixed bag, at best. It does a few fun and clever moments, mostly written around the adolescent Titans and how they relate to one another as well as a new member among their ranks.

However, the film suffers severe pacing issues that make it feel much longer than its 78 minute running time. It’s also fairly predictable story-wise, and the voice acting feels stiff and uninspired. Overall, it’s a rare disappointing entry in what has historically been a consistently entertaining series.

What’s it about?

During a Justice League battle against a Lex Luthor-led “Legion of Doom” (Cheetah, Solomon Grundy, Weather Wizard, and Toymaster), Robin/Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan) disobeys the orders of his father, Batman (Jason O’Mara) yet again.

Thinking his arrogant, headstrong son needs a lesson in teamwork, Bats send Damian west to Titans Tower, where Starfire/Koriand’r (Kari Wahlgren) works with this DC continuity’s Titans – Raven (Taissa Farmiga), Beast Boy/Garfield Logan (Brandon Soo Hoo), and Blue Beetle/Jaime Reyes (Jake T. Austin) – to hone and control their abilities.

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Displaying the aristocratic attitude and air of superiority that he’s shown just about everyone since his introduction into the DCU, Damian wastes no time in starting trouble with his new “teammates.” Damian is surprised, however, to find a kindred spirit in Raven, who understands Damian’s origins and early tutelage under a monster all too well.

Just when Damian and the Titans begin to thaw toward one another, the monster from Raven’s past, her father, Trigon (Jon Bernthal), makes his play to take back both his wayward child and Earth. His weapons to do it are none other than the Justice League themselves, who fall prey to possession by Trigon’s demons.

So all the Titans have to do is defeat their mentors, the world’s most powerful heroes, save the world from a powerful demon, and make sure that demon can never harm one of their own ever again. No problem, right?

Justice League vs Teen Titans

Not exactly “original”

Yes, Justice League vs. Teen Titans differs from some of the DC Original Animated films in that it doesn’t draw inspiration from or adapt any one particular printed DC Comics story arc. If anything, it does take elements from the 1984 “New Teen Titans” arc “Terror of Trigon” by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez.

On some occasions in the series, most notably Justice League: Gods and Monsters and Batman: Assault on Arkham, exploring wholly original story arcs has turned out well, giving audiences fresh and edgy takes on familiar characters and concepts.

However, with this release, there’s precious little that’s either “fresh” or “edgy.” In fact, the only new element to be found in Justice League vs. Teen Titans is actually a rather unwelcome one: the use of a “good times montage” set to a pop song soundtrack. The trope may be more appropriate here than it ever has been before, considering the youth of the film’s main characters, but it still feels forced and lazy.

The rest of the film is, as stated earlier, predictable fare. The inclusion of the League screams “marketing” – Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Cyborg and Flash (No GL and Shazam in this release) actually come off as a rather unimaginative and ineffectual team, easily falling prey to Trigon and then utterly failing to even slow the demon down once freed from his grip to fight him. But this is by design – how else could the Titans save the day and the new Robin find his place on the team?

Remarkably poor voice acting, pacing

The film’s second act (which contains both the unwelcome montage and a video game dance-off scene – not kidding) drags terribly, contributing to Justice League vs. Teen Titans feeling much longer than its one hour and 18 minute run time. In the scripting process, perhaps it seemed necessary, considering all the new characters introduced and interpersonal dynamics established.

But in execution, it all falls flat, due in part by a lack of energy and inspiration in the voice cast. Noticeably absent from this release is acclaimed voice acting director Andrea Romano, who has directed the voice casts in the more memorable and successful DC animated series and features. It makes much more sense that the lack of zip and dramatic timing in the delivery of dialogue in Justice League vs. Teen Titans is due to her absence rather than any shortfall of talent in the cast itself.

Worth seeing?

Justice League vs. Teen Titans is worth a rental, at best, unless you’re a completist and have been collecting all these releases from the start. In that case, buy it in the gift set edition with the collectible figure (Damian Wayne), watch it once, then put it on the shelf and let it collect dust.

When you do watch it, however, be sure to watch for the mid-credits scene, which has become a staple of these releases almost as much as it has in Marvel’s live-action films. Old time Teen Titans fans will certainly enjoy it, and it holds some promise for a better Titans feature release in the future.

Justice League vs. Teen Titans

Starring the voices of Jon Bernthal, Taissa Farmiga, Jason O’Mara, Sean Maher, Rosario Dawson, Jerry O’Connell, Christopher Gorham, Stuart Allan. Directed by Sam Liu.
Running Time: 78 minutes
Rated PG – 13 for fantasy action violence and some suggestive images.

 

 

Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.

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