I guess I should get something out in the open right off the bat: Though it’s well known that I’m a huge fan of DC animated films and some of the individual characters featured in this particular movie, I’m not a fan of the team, per se. Maybe it’s because I don’t relate well to younger characters. It beats me. But if you offer a story that I find intriguing enough, I just might sample your ware. Having gotten that out of the way, I’m pleased to say that Teen Titans: The Judas Contract handily won me over.
Then again, I’ll give just about any major release from this group of filmmakers a try, so this was going to happen regardless, but the big question is if I believe something has staying power with me. Although some of you out there may scoff at me for saying so, I wasn’t too hot on its predecessor, Justice League vs. Teen Titans, which I’ve re-watched only one time since its initial release a year ago. That said, I humbly state that I believe The Judas Contract to be head and shoulders above it.
Maybe it’s because this wasn’t a Teen Titans movie masquerading as a Justice League one, or it was the fact that it delved even deeper into the characters and felt more authentic. And despite being populated mainly by adolescent superheroes, it felt decidedly more adult than JL vs. TT. It’s kind of like how Batman Beyond ended up being more mature than Batman: The Animated Series. Go figure.
You know, it’s really hard to even talk about this film’s plot without mentioning some of the pieces on the board as it were. To me, there are four important corners that make up this squared circle of awesomeness: Nightwing, Starfire, Deathstroke and Terra.
The reason I say Nightwing and Starfire are so important, apart from the former pretty much taking over as lead protagonist no doubt due to his Batman connection, is because Dick was once team leader and now returns to find Kori at the wheel. There’s kind of a playful rivalry going on, but any scene they share is pure gold. Furthermore, we get to see them take their relationship to the next level, and that opens the floodgates for more jokes as well as the viewer forming emotional attachments to them both. It’s quite commendable what the creative team was able to achieve.
I could’ve thrown Damian Wayne in there, but he’s kind of downplayed despite having the chance to renew his rivalry with Deathstroke, so at least there’s that. Sure, Brother Blood may technically be the big bad in this production, but it’s Slade Wilson who gets more screentime and rightfully so, as he’s a villain so badass that you actually start rooting for him.
Believe it or not, I am a fan of the divisive Son of Batman, but I will agree with a common complaint in saying that Slade wasn’t very well executed in that offering. Luckily, he’s redeemed with a vengeance here, even if all his backstory from the comic book is absent, most likely to streamline things for a standalone movie with time constraints. That aside, the only major disappointment is that Miguel Ferrer recently passed away and he was such a perfect fit for the character’s voice. He’ll be missed, needless to say.
His collusion with Terra, the lynchpin of it all, is retained from the source material, but with a few surprising tweaks that purists might not handle all that well. I’ll just say this: It looked like they were ready to pull the trigger on an ending that was very Carrie-like and, instead, went in another direction but to somewhat of the same ends. At least Christina Ricci was able to give her the gravitas needed, something folks on both sides of the fence will likely agree on.
From there, I want to touch on the slippery slope the filmmakers put themselves on. Trivia hounds are well aware that The Judas Contract was so incredibly close to first seeing release back in 2008 and, had it seen the light of day back then, it would’ve likely been a straight up adaptation. Instead, today’s product is a rather loose adaptation, keeping the spirit of the comic but conforming to the New 52 inspired continuity of the current line of animated films.
As such, I wouldn’t doubt the purists I alluded to earlier having steam shoot out of their ears, but it is what it is. Honestly, I was very moved by the closing minutes, yet I wonder if this flick should’ve gone with a different subtitle. After all, previous entries in the line retained the names of the comics that inspired them only when they were either strict adaptations or very close to the material, and I’ll cite The Dark Knight Returns and Under The Red Hood as examples of each.
Frankly, this movie falls somewhere in between something like Under The Red Hood and adaptations so loose that they got re-titlings in the way that The Court of Owls gave way to Batman vs. Robin. But, since the backbone is there, maybe it’s for the better they retained the subtitle because, like it or not, the Teen Titans aren’t as easy of a sell to the average Joe as Batman himself.
Moving on, the presentation is pretty solid and on par with other recent releases, so expect to see some vibrant colors and dynamic shading, along with a nice blend of hand drawn and CGI animation. The sound and musical score are on point, aside from one oddly placed pop-sounding song that occupied a brief montage of sorts. Thankfully, that didn’t stretch on for much longer like the aurally odious carnival scene in JL vs. TT.
Quite surprisingly, the bonus features gripped me more than expected. Aside from the sneak peek at Batman and Harley Quinn, I really dug “Titanic Minds: Reuniting Wolfman and Perez,” which, obviously, focuses on the minds behind the comic book. It’s mostly them sitting at a restaurant discussing the old days, but it gives real insight into the creative process. Plus, Marv and George express interest in re-teaming in the future, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Elsewhere, there’s the brief “Villains Rising: Deathstroke” that I found to be mildly informative and a couple of episodes from the Teen Titans animated series, which you’ll probably hate me for saying aren’t my coup of tea.
Overall, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is a tremendous blend of comedy, drama and tragedy – but it shouldn’t have been afraid to go with a little more tragedy. Having no shortage of well-choreographed action sequences that play to each character’s strengths, it has the potential to entertain many walks of life and by the end of the year, should stand as one of 2017’s stronger animated efforts.
Although it's only the second DC animated film to see release this year, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is undoubtedly a serious contender for being the best when 2017 is said and done.