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Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

Posted August 5, 2018 By Curiosity Inc.

I know I’m late to the party on this one. There were too many other films to review, too many other projects taking up my time, and I really wasn’t inclined to bother with a cash-in movie spinoff of a TV show I’ve never seen for a demographic far outside my age range. The solid critical reception did pique my interest, but even so, this didn’t look like my kind of movie.

But then I remembered something: I’m a huge nerd. I know who Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven are, even if I’ve never seen this particular iteration of them. This is still the DC Universe, and it wouldn’t even be my first time (or second, or third…) adjusting to a new version of it. So I gave the movie a chance and quickly realized my other huge mistake: By writing off this particular series as an immature and brainless joke, I had been playing right into the filmmakers’ hands all along.

See, the basic gist of Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is that every superhero on the map is getting their own movie, but the Teen Titans are getting laughed out of Hollywood. This is especially galling to Robin (voiced by Scott Menville), considering that Alfred, the Batmobile, and Batman’s utility belt are all getting the Hollywood treatment before Robin is.

(Side note 1: At least one of those is really happening. Seriously.)

(Side note 2: And yet nobody mentions that Cyborg already got his big-screen debut in Justice League. That seems like an especially glaring oversight.)

Anyway, this leads to a storyline in which Robin has to choose between his friends and his own solo career. It’s your typical kids’ movie boilerplate about friendship, but that’s not what sinks the storyline. What really stinks is that in one montage, we clearly see how the other Titans knowingly and deliberately screw things up for Robin against his express instructions, and there’s never an apology or lesson learned. Though at least this storyline gets us a funny performance from Kristen Bell as the personification of Hollywood, even if her character arc is so blindingly obvious that even a child could immediately see through it.

At the same time, the Titans conclude that they need an archnemesis before they can be considered legit superheroes. Enter Slade Wilson, voiced by producer Will Arnett. While the character is indeed an iconic Titans villain and Arnett is great fun in the role, he was totally the wrong choice to be the villain of this movie. The filmmakers had to go to some outrageously contrived lengths to make this renegade super-soldier-turned-mercenary into a serious global threat, and present him in a kid-friendly way. They couldn’t even say his name — Deathstroke — in a movie for such a young audience, so they had to make this overlong and unfunny running gag about how “Slade” is fun to say.

(Side note: I’m just saying, Doctor Light would have been a much better fit for this plot and this style of humor. The filmmakers could have even pulled from elsewhere in the DCU and put Gorilla Grodd in there — all the jokes about fighting against a monkey, just think of the possibilities.)

All of that said, we get a hilarious bit of meta humor in which Slade is mistaken for Deadpool, so there’s that. Which brings me to this movie’s bread and butter.

More than anything else, this movie is really more of a meta parody of superhero media. DC is especially vicious toward itself, with jokes about that godawful “Martha” line, that wretched Green Lantern film, and how the upcoming DC Universe streaming service is transparently an attempt at taking over the world. Alas, there are considerably fewer jabs taken at Marvel — most of them come courtesy of Stan Lee himself. (Yes, seriously.)

I won’t bother talking about the primary cast, mostly because they’ve been voicing these characters for so many years and it shows. Really, I’d much rather talk about all the hilarious voice-over cameos they were able to fit in. Lil Yachty and Halsey do surprisingly well as Green Lantern and Wonder Woman respectively. Superman sounds freaking hysterical with Nicolas Cage’s voice, and they even brought in Cage’s son Kal-El for a cameo as young… Bruce Wayne. Seems like a missed opportunity, but whatever. Patton Oswalt and Wil Wheaton get fleeting yet wonderful cameos, respectively voicing Atom and Flash. Jimmy Kimmel was apparently on hand to voice Batman, but it’s honestly so much funnier when Batman doesn’t say anything.

Most of the movie’s fast-paced humor is relentlessly silly and unapologetically immature. While there are a lot of legitimately clever gags, incisive references, and a joke about Shia LaBeouf that had me rolling in the aisles, these are the exception. In most cases, the film tends to make tired pop culture references targeted at an audience young enough that they haven’t already heard the same joke hundreds of times. (Though there was that one joke about Libyan terrorists that I laughed hard at — you’ll know it when you see it.)

Alas, there are a couple of times when the filmmakers got too clever for their own good. There’s one joke about using Plastic Man as clothing that’s actually pretty disgusting if you think about it for more than five seconds. We’re also treated to a lengthy time-travel sequence in which the Titans insert themselves into the origin stories of other classic superheroes, with implications that are REALLY fucked up. Yet the movie almost gets away with these because the moments are here and gone within seconds and so extraneous that it’s easy to forget they ever happened. So the filmmakers could have and should have cut them entirely.

But the movie does so much to justify its own existence in how Robin is implicitly treated as a message to overbearing fans. Hear me out.

Robin is frustrated because it seems like every superhero — down to the most obscure — is getting their turn at the big screen, and Robin wants to know why he’s not getting his shot at mainstream recognition. I’m reminded of all the comic book fans upset that Hellboy, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant-Man all got movies (to say nothing of Steel, Jonah Hex, and Howard the Duck), and yet Namor, Sandman, Hawkman, She-Hulk, and the Martian Manhunter never did. For so many years, the internet has been loaded with blog posts and thinkpieces about how somebody’s favorite comic book character would make for a fantastic movie, arguing that mainstream audiences have already been primed for it by some far more obscure hero.

Through Robin, these filmmakers subtly accuse the fans of being shortsighted, so focused on the big-budget spectacle and the mainstream recognition that there’s no real thought given as to what a good movie with this material would actually look like. Hell, there’s one line in which Green Lantern practically admits outright that his own movie bombed — it might have been nice to see the movie keep going in that direction, acknowledging that worldwide recognition can just as easily mean worldwide derision.

Instead, the movie settles on the message of “be yourself and love what you love”. It’s good of the filmmakers to send the message — sugarcoated as it is — that something doesn’t need to be taken seriously by the mainstream or even taken seriously at all to be fun. It’s especially great to see this message coming from DC, after the self-important faceplants of the Zack Snyder era. Moreover, if more fans take this message to heart and lighten up, maybe we don’t have to treat every little change in direction like apostasy, or every reboot like it’s the fuckmothering apocalypse.

On a miscellaneous note, I want to address the music. Most of the musical numbers left me cold, but the “Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life” is diabolically catchy, in large part because it’s sung by Michael Bolton. Goddamn is it great to see that man embrace his status as a pop culture punchline. In all honesty, my favorite part of the music was in hearing the original Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi theme used as a recurring motif. That was a sweet touch.

(Side note: The movie opens with a useless cartoon short that serves no purpose except to promote the upcoming “DC Super Hero Girls” series. Fans of the old 2003 “Teen Titans” show will want to stay for the mid-credits stinger and get ready to write a ton of emails to Cartoon Network. There’s also an end-credits stinger, good for a disposable laugh.)

Ultimately, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies takes the Lego Movie template of anything-goes, irreverent, fourth-wall-breaking meta humor and applies it to the modern superhero cinema landscape. Deadpool for grade school, if you will. Alas, it doesn’t always hit the mark. Too many jokes go on for way too long, especially when the movie is only 90 minutes long and the plot is perilously thin as it is.

But when this movie gets it right, the filmmakers really¬†get it right. Those fleeting moments of genuine brilliance are almost — ALMOST — enough to redeem the predictable and silly moments when the movie loses all semblance of intelligence. This one gets a strong home video recommendation.