Pain is what makes a hero.
Okay, I have to just take a moment and give thanks once again to Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (see my review here) for renewing my optimism about the DC original animated movies because without that I never would have seen this film. So many of the recent DC animated movies just mire themselves in darkness, whether that’s through excessive violence or even a dark and muted colour pallet ‘cause they think that’s what people want. Newsflash! Not everybody wants that! These are super heroes, you’re allowed to let a little light into proceedings. That’s not to say that Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is in any way kid-friendly, it’s not. Leaving aside some of the subject matter of this film for a minute, it has a pretty high body count and there’s a couple of gruesome deaths, though in most cases we’re spared some of the graphicness of the deaths by either only seeing the result or it happening so quickly that we don’t focus on it. Also the language in some scenes, but then again considering the characters involved and the situations, some of the language feels entirely appropriate.
What stops me getting annoyed at graphicness in this film as opposed to other DC films is that this film has a better balance. It’s very much just something in the background and isn’t rammed down your throat like other films. Instead the focus of this film is exactly where it should be, on the characters and the story, which is what I’m so thankful for. On the character side of things, I haven’t gotten around to seeing the previous film Justice League vs. Teen Titans, yet, but this group of Titans very much feels like a team.
Robin (Damian Wayne) is still surly and way too full of himself, but he’s calmed down a bit since his earlier film appearances and he actually compliments people and offers support to his team mates, even if he does do it in his own special way. Beast Boy is the joker of the pack and way too obsessed with social media (which I can completely see happening to the character). I also would like to commend his voice actor. The scene between him and Terra on the beach and that ending monologue, just damn, unless Kevin Conray and the rest of the old DCAU voice actors are in the mix I don’t normally expect that level of punch to the voice work in these movies. Blue Beetle is struggling with the alien scarab that has attached itself to his back and has a tendency to attack anyone that comes within three feet of him, but also manages to find a way to be a hero without his powers. Starfire is now the leader of the Titans and I have to say that’s not something I’ve seen before, but it really works for the character. It makes me wish this was a TV series and not a movie so I could see more of her in this role. I also like that we get to see a stable, loving relationship between her and Nightwing which is something we don’t see often enough in superhero shows and films in my opinion. Then there’s Raven who, while she’s perfectly serviceable in the film, doesn’t really get much to do. I’ll get to Terra, the new girl, in a minute.
All of the characters interact well and while I would have liked a few more scenes of them all just interacting so we could really see how they play off of one another, I’ll take what I can get. Also it’s good to seem them working as an effective fighting force. There are plenty of action scenes for the team to show their stuff, but the action is mostly there to keep the pace going, a lot of this film is about character. Every member, aside from Raven, gets something to do. Robin gets to have a few choice words with Deathstroke when he turns up. Starfire and Nightwing get to further their relationship while also working out how to lead the team without stepping on one another’s toes. Blue Beetle tries to find a way to get his scarab more accustomed to being around humans so that he can actually see his family in person. These little arcs that run through the story help to humanise the characters and are handled in a pretty mature way, there’s no conflict for the sake of conflict, every problem feels like a natural one that would come out of the situation. I only wish the film had another ten minutes or so, so that we could explore them a bit more because outside of character work they don’t really have that much affect on the main plot.
Speaking of which, Terra. She’s new to the Titans and is a trouble kid with, literally, earth-shaking powers. Now I’m going to try avoiding the plot twist with her character, even though it does come fairly quickly in the film and it’s pretty much famous for comic fans, but I won’t say specifically what it is, but if you want to avoid even a hint of spoilers skip to the next paragraph. There are two ways to do Terra’s character, in the comics she was a complete and total psychopath and in the original Teen Titans cartoon she was more of a tragic figure. Here the film tries to go for somewhere in the middle, though leaning more towards the cartoon version and honestly I think that’s for the best. Terra is an incredibly damaged character, we get flashbacks to her back-story and it is messed up to say the least (and part of the reason this film is not kid-friendly). You can’t help but want the Titans to get through to her, but in the end her pain is just too much and it buries her. Also I just want to applaud Terra’s voice actress. Not only does she give one of the best performances throughout, but those painful, anguish-filled screams at the end, dear lord they were good. I’m surprised the actress has any voice left after that.
When it comes down to it, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, isn’t perfect, but it is good. The main plot of the film is rather generic, evil cultist wants to capture the Titans so he can absorb all their powers, but it’s the characters, the acting and the writing that save this film. The Titans work as a team while also dealing with their own personal problems. The main arc of the story though comes down to Terra’s and it’s a wonderful exploration of a damaged character struggling to overcome the pain of her past. As Beast Boy says, pain can make a hero, like pressuring creating a diamond, or it could just grind you into dust (seriously go watch the beach scene with Terra and that ending, both are worth it.) Also it helps that all of the fight scenes are punchy and energetic. I enjoyed this so much more than I was expecting and you might too so go check it out.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.