A decade ago this month, DC released The Dark Knight, arguably the greatest superhero film, but also the beginning of a bleaker, darker superhero. Just a few days ago, DC released a trailer for their gritty angst-filled live-action version of Teen Titans, in which a perturbed Robin proclaims “Fuck Batman.” While the world of flesh and blood superheroes and villains seem packed with pummeling flesh and spreading blood, DC’s animated kid-friendly ventures have found the humor and farce of just how silly the DCU has become. Following The Lego Batman Movie’s burst of lightness, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is even more meta and darkly hilarious, where even the creation of superhero films is an act of villainy.
While every superhero has seemingly received their own film, Robin (voiced by Scott Menville) has waited his turn to no avail. Before a screening for the newest Batman film – perfectly titled Batman Again – Robin sees trailers for every perfunctory part of Batman’s team. Alfred’s getting his own movie (coming broom). The Batmobile has its own spinoff (coming vroom). Even the utility belt has a movie deal. With everyone other hero going Hollywood, Robin is left out of the spotlight, wondering when it’ll be his turn.
To be fair, the Teen Titans – Robin, along with Cyborg (Khary Payron), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Starfire (Hynden Walch) and Raven (Tara Strong) – aren’t exactly known for their crimefighting. In their Cartoon Network series, they’re more about hanging out, eating obscene amount of food, and… continuing to hang out, not exactly the type of antics that deserve a movie. Superhero director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) points out to Robin that every hero needs a nemesis, which leads the Titans to the sword-and-gun toting criminal Slade (Will Arnett). Yes, he’s actually Deathstroke in the comics – and not Deadpool, as the Teen Titans keep calling him – but Slade is so much more fun to say than Deathstroke.
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies posits that the only way for Robin to be worthy of a film is to be moody and edgy like the usual DC fare. But first-time film directors Peter Rida Michail and Aaron Horvath, who also cowrote the film with frequent DC animated film scribe Michael Jelenic, undercut this with constant jabs to just how ridiculous DC and comic book films in general are. In this universe, Batman V Superman is called Yawn of Justice, Stan Lee will make a cameo in literally any film he can, and Lois Lane has to be warned about Gene Hackman’s real estate schemes. In one insanely ridiculous and ingenious scene, Michael Bolton plays a white tiger playing a keytar, singing an upbeat song called “Up Beat.” This is where all the joy has gone in all the other DC films.
It’ll also be hard to ever watch another DC origin film after Teen Titans’ most brilliant bit, where the Titans go back in time to stop heroes’ origin stories, then when that doesn’t work out, they have to make sure the origins do happen. The sequence is packed with references to needing Libyan terrorists to supply them with plutonium, and some playfully dark moments that ensure you’ll never watch a Batman origin story the same way again.
Beyond the typical Teen Titans animation style, the film goes all out in playing with various visual looks, in everything from a shot-for-shot recreation of The Lion King, right down to the animation, to Akira-ish motorcycle chases and stop-motion crafts projects. Even visually, Teen Titans Go! is having fun with parody, having Robin recreate several infamous comic covers, and being more inventive with its style than expected.
Teen Titans Go! is the takedown of comic book movies that is essential right now, as Marvel gets into its own darkness with Infinity War, while DC has just announced its latest slate of darkly-lit origin stories. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies rivals The Lego Batman Movie in terms of deep cuts and jokes clearly aimed at the older audience accompanying their kids. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies looks on its surface like a kid’s film, but with Nicholas Cage finally playing Superman, and the Warner Bros. water tower identified as “the home of the Animaniacs,” it’s obvious this is more for the fans that will dig the layers of jokes being told in every scene. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is the one of the most satisfying superhero films in years, but also one of the funniest films of the summer.