Review: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

Director: Sam Liu
Screenplay: Ernie Altbacker
Producer: James Tucker
Starring: Sean Maher, Taissa Farmiga, Kari Wahlgren, Christina Ricci, Miguel Ferrer
Distributor: Warner Home Video

I couldn’t find a good way to start this review off, so I’ll just start with this: coming from someone who really likes and enjoys the original Teen Titans series,  I really hate Teen Titans Go! with a big passion. At first, it seemed harmless, but seeing how it has absorbed and consumed the rest of the Cartoon Network schedule with its continued low-brow presentation, all I could ask for is that it dies a horrible, painful death. Alas, and thankfully for likeminded individuals such as I, there is an alternative to the sugar-high bastardization clogging the television ways, in the form of the DC animated films that come straight to DVD. There have been two that include the Titans, starting with Teen Titans vs. Justice League (stay tuned for that review sometime soon), but today, I’m going to be taking a look at the latest offering from DC, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, to see how this team can be done right, once again.

First off, roll call: Starfire. Robin. Raven. Beast Boy. Terra. Blue Beetle. Joined with them is the former Robin, Dick Grayson (not aged 12), now known as Nightwing, and banded together, their mission is to take down a terrorist cult lead by the nefarious Brother Blood, a near-immortal false prophet with an affinity for bathing in his enemies’ blood. Gross. But this evildoer’s got some backup, in the form of Deathstroke, along with a bit of infiltration from within the group. Take a guess as to who it is. But the plot thickens, and soon it becomes less about stopping an evildoer’s plot, and more about fighting for their own survival. Will this be the end of the Titans, as we know it? Or will it be all up to Nightwing to save his comrades from certain death? That should be enough comic book movie cliches for this part.

Given that this is a DC animated film, the running time won’t be overly long, as is the case with The Judas Contract, clocking in at only 84 minutes. Because of that, while the film does feel brisk in its pacing, things can feel a bit too swift with the fast pacing. Then again, compared to the two-and-a-half hour slog-fests that have been churning out lately, with Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice, it’s certainly nice to see a whole movie in half the time. The film also makes good use of its PG-13 rating, with plenty of action and just enough swearing to not go overboard. Although I have to question how an animated decapitation scene passes for a PG-13 rating, but hey, I’m not in charge of the MPAA so what do I know?

One thing that I did not know from the original series is that Starfire’s people, the Tamaranians can learn language via the act of kissing. Which just so happens to happen in the first few moments, a five-years-ago flashback, where she thanks Dick for their rescue by a big ol’ lip-lock, learning English in the process. In his words, “useful.” And going on with that, I love the chemistry that these two have; sure, on duty, they’re Starfire and Nightwing, but their more personal connection, as Kori and Dick, is something grand. They flirt, they speak in innuendo, they even move in together, and that’s a big step in any relationship. And it warms the romantic side of me, so that’s a big plus for this film.

As for the rest of the cast of characters, I’m not all that into the rest. I’ve never been a fan of Damian Wayne as Robin, nor have I ever been a fan of Terra. You all know why she’s here, a blind moneky can point it out, but she just oozes so much pessimism and bleakness throughout the first act of the film, and it brings everything down. Oh, and she’s also got PTSD from her terrible childhood, which triggers from time to time, and one such memory includes when she was about to be gunned down for, of course, being a witch, only for a certain someone to save her by decapitating the gunman. You know, as you do. Heel turn, then face turn, all that jazz. Of course, Beast Boy is his usual playful, cringy self, always excited about food, Twitter, and being on SModcast with Kevin Smith (yes, that really happens), but I can’t really comment all that much on Blue Beetle, I’m not that familiar with him. He does have a nice arc where he starts volunteering at a soup kitchen, wanting to find something more out of life, so that’s nice. Thankfully, Raven is more subdued here, but part of me misses that mean streak she had in the original animated series. Guess they had to give that trait to Terra for this flick.

Deathstroke, Slade, whatever you want to call him, he’s still the savage sword-swinging badass we all know and… uh, tolerate. Although he’s got kind of a creep factor going on with him, with what he likes. Oh, and uh, blah blah, Brother Blood, cult of personality, Donald Trump, blah blah. That’s all you’ll get out of me for that.

In a world where the mass appeal of the Teen Titans brand is consumed by the mess that is Teen Titans Go!, it’s good to have options such as animated films like this, and even the new live-action Titans that’s coming soon. Start to finish, The Judas Contract is a very solid film, and I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the best that DC has put out, recently. Equal parts action, drama, and even a little bit of levity here and there, it all adds up to an excellent addition to the Teen Titans franchise. Points to the third act of the film for giving a very satisfying, if only too swift, climax. No spoilers, but Nightwing takes Deathstroke to Suplex City, and it’s a fine scene. If only we could get more of this and less of that bastardized mess clogging the TV waves, but only in a perfect world, I suppose.

Also, Dick/Kori for life.

Verdict: If you’re a Titans fan, buy it. Otherwise, rent it or wait for it to show up on HBONow.

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