Movie Review: ‘TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES’ is more subversive than ‘DEADPOOL 2’

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES

Rated PG
Directed by: Aaron HorvathPeter Rida Michail
Starring: Tara Strong, Greg Cipes, Khary Payton, Hynden Walch, Scott Menville,  Nicolas CageKristen BellWill Arnett

You read that SEO friendly headline correctly.

Directors Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail’s TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES is even more subversive than DEADPOOL 2. Sure, Deadpool is sharp, sarcastic, sardonic and can lob an inspired swearword when called for, but the Teen Titans have a lot more going for them without the aid of f-bombs and bombastic violence. While they’re just as scrappy and nihilistic, with a shared “burn it all down” mentality, they’re also far more daring. Based on Cartoon Network’s hugely popular series, this feature is wonderfully irreverent, totally meta and absolutely hysterical. It’s not only a remarkably solid comic book movie, but also a side-splitting, quadrant-skewing animated triumph.

These days it seems like every superhero is getting a stand-alone movie – everyone except the Teen Titans. The team – Starfire (voiced by Hynden Walch), Raven (voiced by Tara Strong), Cyborg (voiced by Khary Payton), Beast Boy (voiced by Greg Cipes) and Robin (voiced by Scott Menville) – are happy saving the world one minor villain at a time. But their peers and society view them as silly sidekicks instead of superheroes, causing the gang to wonder if they’ll ever get big-screen validation. In order to pull themselves out of relative obscurity, de facto leader Robin devises a few radical, wacky schemes to help his pack of underdogs change hearts and minds. Primarily, he wants to prove their worth by defeating designated nemesis Slade Wilson (voiced by Will Arnett).

Tara Strong, Scott Menville, Hynden Walch, Greg Cipes, and Khary Payton in TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES. Courtesy of Warner Animation Group.

Many series that get the big screen treatment (I’m looking at you, SEX AND THE CITY, ENTOURAGE and VERONICA MARS) wind up feeling like three episodes forced into one grand narrative. TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES is much more serialized, as their situations build and funnel into each other. Existing fans will adore this just as much as newbies. The filmmakers spend just the right amount of time – through the magic of song – to introduce (or re-introduce) the characters. It deepens your love of the team to see them play around in a larger cinematic sandbox. Those catchy songs will stay in your head long after the credits roll. And don’t be surprised if you find your little ones dancing during those end credits.

Perhaps what works best is that the film consistently hits the right notes and subverts superhero tropes. Though the filmmakers might be working from a checklist of traditional superhero movie prerequisites (e.g. the one-knee landing pose and doomsday device), they integrate these things fluidly, finding plenty to mock in a self-aware manner. It’s pretty astounding how zany they get with the DCEU properties. They go for broke, slipping in a multitude of insanely clever inside jokes (like the gang taping over YOUNG JUSTICE, or even the mere mention of waffles) alongside the more well-known callbacks (like a few of the movie titles and barbs about a few of the characters). This is perfectly layered comedy right down to the voice casting – specifically Superman as voiced by Nicolas Cage, whose own live-action Superman dreams went the way of Krypton. Hearing him say the word “goofsters” is worth the admission price alone. Not only that, they reference other studios’ properties with similarly cheeky spirit. Without spoiling anything, there’s a “super subtle” cameo that’ll end all “super subtle” cameos going forward. It’s a clear winner. They even carve out time to throw shade on a certain actor most find obnoxious. All humor dealing with pop culture works on a more enlightened level than that in DEADPOOL 2, which used most of its references as punchlines, not necessarily as the set-up to the punchline as they adeptly do here.

Despite being fairly light on emotional impact, there’s a hearty sentiment infused into the narrative about working together as a team. Let’s be honest, though. Are you really searching for heartfelt pathos in a movie that features a white tiger (voiced by Michael Bolton) playing a keytar, singing an inspirational ditty? Probably not.

There’s a hilarious bit about the gang pulling a BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 that dips into pitch-black comedy. The filmmakers hit all taste levels from high-brow to low-brow. Fart jokes and potty humor are inescapable, since kids are part of this movie’s demographic. However, the filmmakers adroitly demonstrate these elements can be legitimately funny. They go for the easy laugh with Balloon Man’s epic gaseous explosion, but later, they creatively craft a “commitment to a bit” segment involving an on-set prop toilet.

When all is said and done, this is a superhero movie that’s worthy of being called super.

Grade: B+

TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES opens on July 27.

Leave a Reply