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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Justice League vs. Teen Titans (Blu-ray)
Justice League vs. Teen Titans (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // April 12, 2016 // Region Free
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 12, 2016 | E-mail the Author
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice League vs Teen Titans!

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If you shambled out of Batman v Superman feeling sullen and depressed, don't make the mistake of assuming that Justice League vs. Teen Titans is more of the same. In fact, the title of DC's latest animated release means nothing. This is a Teen Titans movie, the Justice League play a fairly small role, and that titular "versus" is extremely short-lived. ...and you could very easily argue that it wasn't really the Justice League anyway, but I'll get into that whole thing in a minute. Whereas Batman v Superman is the handiwork of people who fundamentally don't understand or appreciate these characters, Justice League vs. Teen Titans has been crafted by Bryan Q. Miller (whose Batgirl run made for some of my all-time favorite comics), longtime DCAU caretaker Alan Burnett, and Sam Liu, the best director in DC's arsenal.

Tired of being sidelined yet again, Robin swoops in to save the day! In any other flick opening with this kind of battle royale (hey, it's the Super Friends versus the Legion of Doom!), Damian would fail miserably, be admonished by the Justice League for disregarding their orders, and learn a valuable life lesson. Frustratingly enough for this impetuous ten year old, that's not at all the case here. He is single-handedly responsible for stopping dead in its tracks some supernatural force that brought even Superman quaking to his knees. Were it not for his intervention, the Justice League may be no more, and untold millions could have fallen in this sinister entity's wake. Damian's reward...? Being shipped out of Gotham to be babysat by the Teen Titans.

The Justice League has turned to the Titans not because of what Damian did, exactly, but because of the life he's been forced to lead. Despite still being a child himself, he's never had what anyone could rightly call a childhood. His ten years of life have been devoted almost entirely to rigorous training, surrounded every waking moment by assassins or decidedly adult costumed heroes. He's a living weapon with no concept of how to function as part of a team. Camaraderie and friendship are entirely alien to him. For their part, the Teen Titans -- Raven, Changeling, Starfire, and Blue Beetle -- take Robin in with open arms. United by more than just their youth and superpowers, this is a makeshift family borne of loss and isolation. ...and, naturally, Damian resents it. A trip to the county fair, of all things, marks the turning point. Cotton candy, games on the midway, a faux-Dance Dance Revolution-off, a triad of unstoppable, hellspawned warriors: y'know, the usual. Family is at the core of Justice League vs. Teen Titans, and Raven's burden to bear is being the daughter of the demonic Trigon. She once summoned the strength to imprison her father in an extradimensional hell, and those walls are at long last beginning to crumble. Even worse, Trigon has possessed the Justice League to further his escape. The Teen Titans not only have to somehow stave off Hell on Earth, but they have to take down their mentors -- Superman among them! -- along the way.

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Justice League vs. Teen Titans may have gotten quite a few mixed reviews so far, but for whatever my vote is worth, I think it's phenomenal. None of DC's New 52-inspired animated movies have even come close to what they've delivered here, and quite a bit of that comes down to striking the right balances. For one, it's not an origin story. The Teen Titans are already an established team before the movie opens, and only one of the characters newly-introduced to this continuity has a flashback delving into her past. Because Justice League vs. Teen Titans isn't distracted by repeatedly setting up one character after another, it's better able to focus on characterization and action...to keep marching forward. The New 52 got off on the wrong foot by being so dark and dour, peppered with death and dismemberment while oriented around aggressively unsympathetic, unlikeable incarnations of the heroes we once loved. Justice League vs. Teen Titans wields a different set of tactics. It's not afraid to be bright-eyed, optimistic, and fun, and yet the stakes still feel devastatingly real when it counts. In a lesser movie, the shift from two kids having a K-pop dance-off towards hacking apart a demonic strikeforce would've been tonal whiplash, but Justice League vs. Teen Titans makes it work without missing a beat.

This is a horror movie, a teen comedy, a coming-of-age flick, and a superhero spectacle all in one. Its sense of humor pretty much always scores a laugh. The action is frequently spectacular, from the Flash bounding up a stream of hail towards the Weather Wizard all the way to a kaiju-sized Trigon leveling an entire city. I love how imaginative and inspired the imagery so often is, such as the innumerable different shapes taken on by the Blue Beetle's armor and the way Changeling strings together combo attacks by rapidly shifting between animal forms. It's appreciated that the Justice League and Teen Titans regard each other as people, not just an array of costumes and superpowers. If you pay attention, you'll notice that very few codenames get tossed around. Heck, I don't even know if this Garfield Logan prefers "Beast Boy" or "Changeling"; if he's called by anything other than his first name here, I must've missed it. There's no shortage of really terrific character moments, particularly those revolving around Raven and Robin. Given the bleak tone adopted by so many of these movies, it's a welcomed change of pace that there are no on-screen deaths -- even the flashback to the fall of Azarath -- while blood and dismemberment are similarly kept to a minimum. Only demons lose any limbs here, and they respawn almost immediately. There are also some unexpected and awe-inspiring appearances -- stick through the end credits for one of them -- and the introduction of the Hall of Justice to this continuity gives me all sorts of hope for what's soon to come. Also, thanks for allowing me to really like Superman again after he was so aggressively dickish in War and Throne of Atlantis.

Astonishingly little about Justice League vs. Teen Titans doesn't work for me. Some of the voice acting isn't up to snuff, particularly Taissa Farmiga as Raven. Even though this is a character that's been forced to repress her emotions, the performance doesn't sound natural or convincing enough to my ears. I still very much appreciate that the Titans are designed and voiced as barely-teenagers, of course. There's a lengthy emo song in the state fair sequence that's a bit too on-the-nose. I know plenty of people will grouse and groan about the '80s Saturday morning cartoon transformation sequence as the Titans get into uniform for battle, but I kind of loved it. It's also fair to criticize that Damian's not evolving all that much as a character across these movies, settling into some of the same familiar arcs time and again. Justice League vs. Teen Titans's take on Robin absolutely outclasses the past few entries, though.

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I get that some people want these movies to be visceral, epochal, universe-redefining events, and that's not what Justice League vs. Teen Titans is aiming for here. What this latest installment accomplishes is precisely what the DC Animated Movie Universe needs right now. It's breezy fun, it's an adrenaline rush, it's more emotionally resonant than I ever would've guessed, and it leaves me more excited about the prospect of a followup (in this continuity, anyway) than I've been in a couple of years. Highly Recommended.


Video
For the most part, Justice League vs. Teen Titans is a knockout in high-def, with a striking use of color and remarkably well-defined linework. There's enough of a diffused glow to lend the movie a cinematic sheen, but not enough that it ever comes across as soft. The only glaring flaw in this presentation is severe banding. As chronic an issue as this has been throughout so many of DC's animated releases, it's heavier and more distracting here than in perhaps any other of these movies to date. As long as you can look past that, though, Justice League vs. Teen Titans leaves very little room for complaint.

Justice League vs. Teen Titans arrives on a single-layer Blu-ray disc at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1.


Audio
The 24-bit lossless soundtrack on Justice League vs. Teen Titans goes straight for the jugular. Within the first couple of minutes alone, you have Cheetah leaping from one rear channel to the next, Luthor in his power armor soaring towards the front mains, Toymaster's barrages of missiles scattering in every conceivable direction, and Solomon Grundy's thunderous punches (and Weather Wizard's thunderous..err, lightning) rattling every square inch of the room. This six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack impresses every bit as much throughout the movie's many other slugfests. No matter how chaotic the action can get, every last element in the mix is rendered cleanly and distinctly, with the startling clarity of its voice acting never finding itself overwhelmed in the mix. Outstanding.

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Also included are Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs (640kbps) in French, German, and Spanish, while a Castilian Spanish dub is delivered in stereo. The list of subtitles addresses every one of those languages as well, along with an English (SDH) stream.


Extras
Justice League vs. Teen Titans is storming onto Blu-ray in a slew of different editions. There's the traditional release, of course, Target is offering an exclusive steelbook, and a numbered limited edition includes a really nice looking Damian figurine:

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There's no audio commentary this time around, the same as Bad Blood before it, but DC's piled on enough extras to make sure you still get your money's worth.
  • Growing Up Titan (23 min.; HD): Far and away the highlight of the disc's extras is this lengthy Teen Titans retrospective. "Growing Up Titan" charts the team's evolution from the Silver Age all the way to its current post-Flashpoint-soon-to-be-Rebirthed incarnation, touching on several seminal storylines along the way: The Judas Contract, the Trigon-triggered '80s lineup, and Roy Harper's addiction to heroin. It's more than just a journey through history, though, exploring the impact of '60s counterculture on a group of teenage superheroes, the contrast drawn between the Teen Titans and their mentors in the Justice League, and even how ancient mythology influenced Marv Wolfman and George Perez' revival in the early '80s. This was one of my favorite superhero books growing up, so it's especially a blast to see Wolfman featured front and center here. Well-worth a look.

  • Heroes and Villains (11 min.; HD): Raven and Trigon each score their own dedicated featurettes, delving into their interwoven pasts, seemingly endless abilities, and what drives them. One is ensnared in an endless struggle with the darkness within, while the other embraces that evil as a ravager of worlds.

  • From the DC Comics Vault (46 min.; HD): "Sidekicks Assemble!", from The Brave and the Bold's second season, features its own version of the Teen Titans: Aqualad, Robin, and Speedy. Even more of a perfect match for the movie, the Teen Titans ep "The Prophecy" revolves around Raven's dark past.

  • Sneak Peek (10 min.; HD): More than just an early look at the upcoming adaptation of The Killing Joke, this is a genuinely thorough and compelling making-of piece. I particularly appreciate the emphasis on translating Brian Bolland's distinctive artwork to the screen, complete with a slew of panel-to-polished-animation comparisons. Among the other highlights are footage of the reunited original Batman: The Animated Series cast at work as well as details on how the graphic novel has been respectfully expanded to reach a feature-length runtime.

Justice League vs. Teen Titans also serves up a DVD and a digital copy. I'm pretty sure that the standard release includes a slipcover as well, although that doesn't make the cut in the limited edition.


The Final Word
I hope that Justice League vs. Teen Titans has set the template that DC's animated movies follow from here on out. It strikes the perfect balance between charming and harrowing...between thoughtful characterization and the adrenaline rush of superheroic spectacle. Even with a bit of less-than-spectacular voice acting and an overly on-the-nose emo number in the soundtrack, this is undoubtedly my favorite of DC's animated movies in this New 52 continuity and comes very Highly Recommended.
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