One of the best-loved and most famous Teen Titans storylines of all time has been adapted into a new animated film. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is the latest entry in the DC Universe Original Movies series. It should please both fans of the original story as well as those who have never read the 1984 story arc from Marv Wolfman and George Perez.
All of the main heroes are back for more- Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, Robin, Raven, Starfire, and Nightwing. They’ve also welcomed another hero to their team, Terra, whose Earthbender-like powers add a heavy punch to the team’s offense, but whose past traumas keep her disconnected from her teammates. The foe they face is Brother Blood, an apparently immortal leader of a cult, who has old enemy Deathstroke on his side. Of course, as you might guess based on the title, there’s some betrayal lurking close by, too.
Judas Contract is another strong installment in the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation series. It also signals a departure for the team of young heroes that’s promising for future films.
“This is the first [film] not solely related to Justice League or Batman,” points out James Tucker, supervising producer.
Happily, Judas Contract doesn’t need the JLA or the Bats to make it compelling, fun, or good. It does that all on its own and manages to retain the same humor, authenticity, and occasional grittiness that we expect from these movies.
This is not a little kids movie by any stretch. Kari Wahlgren, the voice of Starfire, said she likes how the films have gone in a darker direction, and Judas Contract certainly does. Brother Blood actually bathes in the blood of his enemies. There’s also the incredibly uncomfortable juxtaposition of Terra: one moment a young teen struggling to figure out her identity and the next almost a Lolita vixen with overly rouged cheeks and a skimpy nighty.
Though each of these aspects is gross in its own way, they don’t detract from the overall appeal of the film. Where Judas Contract runs into issues is in deciding who it wants to focus on.
First, we have Jaime Reyes aka the Blue Beetle. Voice actor Jake T. Austin said he felt Jaime had grown out of his naivety into someone more “real.” The character has dropped away from being part of the comic relief and instead struggles to understand and control the bug from which he gets his powers. Until he can, reconnecting with his family is unlikely.
There’s also Damien Wayne (Stuart Allan), the son of Batman, who continues to be a sullen one-note Robin. He’s grouchy, irritatingly arrogant, and, at this point, his personal vendettas are exhausting to watch. At least this time around he cares about his team, a sentiment he tries, in his own aggravating way, to impress upon new team member Terra.
A runaway who was tortured and nearly killed by her family and neighbors for being a “demon,” Terra (Christina Ricci) is withdrawn, uninterested with her team, and bothered by Beast Boy’s (Brandon Soo Hoo) continued advances. In many ways (minus the Beast Boy bit), this makes her very much like Raven in last year’s Teen Titans vs. Justice League. The difficulty is, in giving us a new character and her backstory and having her play a pivotal role in the plot, we’re asked to care too much about Terra too quickly. Judging by the reaction of the WonderCon audience, it didn’t work.
Judas Contract would have been better suited focusing more fully on Nightwing (Sean Maher) and Starfire (Wahlgren). Their dynamic is far and away the most compelling and the most satisfying. Even though they, particularly Nightwing, are essential to the plot, at times they outshine the rest of the cast. With very little effort, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract could’ve become, Nightwing and Starfire: The Judas Contract . While that would have probably disrupted the continuity with its source material, the finished film might’ve been better off.
In an interview prior to the premiere, character designer Phil Bourassa said the first five minutes of Judas Contract are his favorite part of the film and indicative of the story he would like to tell. It shows Starfire’s arrival on earth and her first encounter with the Titans. If Bourassa was ever given the chance to tell this story, then he’d have more than enough fans lined up to see it.
I have attended the WonderCon screenings of the DC Entertainment films for the last several years and every time either Nightwing or Starfire comes on screen, the crowd erupts in cheering. It’s well past time for them to have their own film.
That critique isn’t meant to indicate Judas Contract is lacking. On the contrary, the movie is another fantastic example to hold up against some of DC’s live action films as proof that the DC Universe Original Movies are producing better character arcs and stories. Watching the Teen Titans slowly mature, both as a group of young heroes and as a franchise separate from the Justice League and its heroes, is an exciting adventure. Judas Contract is more than worth your time and should easily set the stage for a long run of Teen Titans features.
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is available now on Digital HD and releases on Blu-ray and DVD on April 18th.
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