I only recently discovered Teen Titans Go!, as my two younger, nerdier children began to tune in to the animated series, and get a lot of joy out of the frantic, stream-of-consciousness style of humor. When word came through that there was a movie being made out of the concept, the cleverly titled Teen Titans GO to the Movies, they were definitely down to see it. And since it was coming out while we were in the USA on holidays, when entertainment is more freely part of the schedule, it was an easy choice to get out there and give it a go, even though I’d personally have rather seen Mission Impossible: Fallout.
The results? Well, actually, it’s pretty good. I thought it was good fun, and my girls looooved it—though I’m sure one’s enjoyment would be completely dependent on how much you can put up with the frenetic pace of modern cartoons. However, if you can handle that (and I can), then you’ll find a film with decent characterization and a plot, dare I say it, makes more sense than some other superhero films I could mention.
The concept of the movie, for the uninitiated, is that Batman’s sidekick Robin has pulled together a team of teenaged heroes—Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy—who are largely disrespected by the rest of the hero community because they aren’t very focused at fighting evil (instead being distracted by things like their own theme song). Things come to a head when Robin realizes that every other hero out there is getting their own movie, but that nobody wants to make a movie about him (opting instead to make films about Batman’s butler, car and utility belt).
In order to get more respect, the team attempts to cultivate an arch-enemy in the form of Slade (also known as Deathstroke to comic readers) and even succeed at preventing him from stealing a powerful jewel. A film deal comes as a result, but the director (who is really evil) uses the process to separate Robin from his friends, and to trick him into releasing the jewel so that Slade’s plan to hypnotize the world via a streaming superhero film can be fulfilled. Of course, Robin is able to patch things up with his friends and to fight back and defeat Slade, but not before the teen heroes have to fight the older heroes who have been brainwashed by the villain, which makes it the second animated movie this year to have this plot point, after The Incredibles 2. Weird coincidence, right?
In addition to the solid story (with “solid” being defined as consistent with the film’s internal logic), the whole thing is also pretty funny—I certainly found plenty to laugh at in the movie’s rapid-fire delivery of sight gags, humorous asides and bizarre songs. One of the funniest bits is the demonstration of Slade’s powerful “mind-bending powers”, when he sends the Titans into a complete mental breakdown by making an ordinary pencil appear to bend like rubber, or making an ordinary thumb appear to disconnect from the rest of his hand.
Another clever sequences comes when the Titans attempt to eliminate all other super-heroes from existence (as it’s the only way they’ll be able to get the superhero film director to pay them any attention) by erasing their origins. Batman’s parents, for example, are redirected from Crime Alley to go down “Happy Lane’), and there’s a quick cutaway of some turtles being redirected away from some glowing goop. Of course, this doesn’t work, and it’s over as a subplot pretty quickly, but it fits the story well and provides a lot of chuckles, plus a lot of geeky references to enjoy.
In fact, a good portion of the enjoyment comes from nerdy comic book references, like a movie poster with a gender-swapped version of a Batman v. Superman movie, a direct reference to the unpopularity of the Green Lantern movie, and an extended cameo by a certain real-life comic creator whom movie fans are well familiar with. My favorite, maybe, was the way the Titans keep insisting that Slade is actually Deadpool, because of his similar appearance. (“Look at the camera and say something inappropriate!”) Also, Superman is actually voiced by Nicholas Cage, which is itself a big geeky superhero reference, of sorts.
In any case, you never have to wait long for a joke or an action sequence (a bit like Thor: Ragnarok, really), but at the same time the movie manages to give you the right amount of heart in the midst of all the chaos, as Robin learns a valuable lesson about what is really important in life.
Certainly, this film isn’t going to stand out as any sort of animated classic, and it’s not going to bring the Teen Titans into the mainstream consciousness. But for fans of the TV show, or of funny superhero stories in general, it does provide a cohesive and worthwhile story, without sacrificing the series’ funny and intentionally jarring style.