(WARNING: This article includes major plot points for Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. So, a spoiler alert is in effect right now.)
Teen Titans have come a long way from the 2003 series, and it feels great to have grown up with these characters. Being the 28th film, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is certainly one of the strongest films in the DC Animated Universe and is further proof that Bruce Timm knows what he is doing.
As the #DC Universe Animated Original Movies are aimed at an adult audience, there are no restraints when portraying the darker aspects of these heroes and villains. DC has many characters who have dark pasts, but they are so mature that they can joke their way around it — and kick ass at the same time. That makes the characters feel more grounded and is also a tone that is true to the comics. So, here are some points that the #DCEU can pick up on from Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.
Handling Troubled Pasts
While traveling through the internet, I happened to notice a statement regarding the "dark" and "brooding" characters of the DCEU. Every extremist DCEU fan revels in the fact that the DCEU isn't supposed to be fun, as these characters are so troubled. Meanwhile, critics say Superman should smile more. However, there needs to be a middle ground. Nobody is asking the characters to crack jokes all the time, and having them scowl and brood all the time is nothing but boring. Heck, Zack Snyder said in an interview,
"Everyone says that about 'Batman Begins': 'Batman's dark.' I'm like, 'OK, no, Batman's cool.' He gets to go to a Tibetan monastery and be trained by ninjas. OK? I want to do that. But he doesn't, like, get raped in prison. That could happen in my movie. If you want to talk about dark, that's how that would go."
This is a great example of how the DCEU can learn from DC's animated movies. I always used to enjoy Beast Boy's ability to change into anything, but the conversation between him and Terra revealed so much about his past. As Terra was the new kid in the group, the writers used her for all the exposition. That's why, through that conversation, we got to know about each of the Titans' past. I was worried that there would be flashbacks for each of them, but director Sam Liu decided to rely on the conversation.
The flashbacks was used in a very innovative way to explain Terra's backstory. It was divided into parts and used to draw parallels to her present situation. Instead of being vague, Liu kept it straight to the point, and that had a much more profound impact on my mind.
So, my suggestion to the writers of DCEU would be to rely on simple subtext instead of showing irrelevant dreams with obscure analogies. I am sure a lot of thought went into the "man bat" and "floating Bruce" dreams, but it didn't really supplement the character the way the director thought it would. By now, the audience knows about everybody's origin stories, but a peep into their emotional maturity might be a fresh take on these superheroes.
How To Punch The Audience With The Twist
Well, obviously don't show it off in the trailers. Nowadays, the marketing teams have so much on their shoulders that they have to lure in the audience as much as they possibly can. That has led to mishaps before, but is certainly not acceptable. Yes, I am talking about the Doomsday reveal.
The Judas Contract also has important moments that could have been ruined by bad marketing, but they weren't.
In The Judas Contract, it is revealed that Terra is working with Slade to take down the Teen Titans.
The twist mentioned above wouldn't be a surprise for comic book readers, but for me it was a genuine surprise. The character was being prepped as the black sheep, and I was invested in that idea. That's why, when the twist was finally revealed, it caused genuine shock.
Another key aspect of the reveal is to put it at the end of the second act, so that there is a payoff to that twist in the third act. This is the 21st century — a twist should be utilized to flesh out the character's arc while keeping the audience involved. The pay-off to this movie's twist was so emotionally charged and action packed that it nearly brought me to tears.
This problem is created by the writing department. I don't know where the DCEU's idea of being edgy stemmed from, but it led to some lackluster writing and meaningless conversations. For example, Snyder's Pa Kent told Clark to let people die in order to protect his identity. In every other version of that conversation, Pa Kent told Clark that he was proud of his efforts to save humanity. There are a plethora of examples that look good in the trailers, but are illogical when you see them in the movie.
If I consider The Judas Contract as a solo movie, the relationships between these characters are still understandable. Apart from a minor flashback, the team's interpersonal relationships are made clear through their conversations. They kept Terra as the new kid in the group so that the exposition wouldn't feel unnecessary.
The relationship between Terra and Slade was disturbing, not just because of the absurdity of their relationship, but because of Slade's history. I think that history was very well utilized without delving too much into his past. Liu trusted us to be on par, and I think it payed off really well.
Also, I absolutely loved the humor in this movie, as none of the jokes felt shoehorned in. The sexual relationship between Starfire and Nightwing felt welcome because the movie decided to show as little as possible. After all, they are characters from our childhood. Showing Bruce Wayne lying with a naked girl or showing his butt might seem "edgy," but it doesn't become anything more than that at the end of the day. The Judas Contract doesn't keep each and every character snarky or edgy. Damian Wayne and Terra filled that role, whereas everyone else had their own level of compassion and that added a layer of warmth to the team.
Use Of Color
This goes without saying that Snyder's movies have a significant lack of color in them. They all feel dull and drab. On the flip side, Suicide Squad, minus the sound design, looked very jarring. The characters had a variety of colorful clothing and makeup, but none of that really popped out. Collider even went to the extent of color-correcting some of the frames, and you can clearly see the difference:
The most common argument regarding the color grading is that, as the DCEU is so hyper-realistic and deals with serious concepts, the color is kept dull and dark to establish the grittiness of this universe. The Judas Contract deals with child abuse, social isolation and even pedophilia, while using the full range colors to maximum effect. The characters, the costumes and the action sequences looked vibrant and intelligible, and in no way did that undermine the seriousness of the plot.
That brings me to my second problem: the nighttime fight sequences. My favorite fight from the DCEU is the Smallville fight sequence. Why? Because it happens during daytime. Both of the fights in Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad occur at night, and that automatically kills the use of color. My worries have been further cemented after watching the Justice League trailer, where the fights seem to take place in the dark.
The fight sequences in The Judas Contract were very well choreographed and showcased a unique fighting style of each of the characters. There were fewer wide shots and the camera always followed the movement of the characters. So, my suggestion would be to take heed from this movie and orchestrate the fights in broad daylight, or at least in a brightly lit place. That way, the stunts and the amazing CGI will be far more intelligible and memorable.
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Making A Cohesive Plot
We have a director duo in India, Abbas-Mustan, and they're infamous for the overuse of twists in their movie. By the end of their movie, you won't even know what hit you. Except for Man of Steel, both DCEU movies had a convoluted plot, and the extended cuts are proof of this. In Batman v Superman, sometimes the government is the antagonist, then Lex, then Batman, and even Superman becomes his own villain. Suicide Squad also kept shifting the focus from Joker to Amanda Waller and then to Enchantress. Not only does this muddle the plot, but it also brings the movie to a stand-still. (Side note: The Jesus allegories and references to classic comics isn't an achievement — it's a sign of a lack of original ideas).
If you look at The Judas Contract, there is a clear good guy team (The Titans), a clear bad guy team (Brother Blood and Slade) and a twist that will turn your head. The complication shouldn't be in the plot, unless it is a Christopher Nolan movie. The characters should have layers so that the audience can concentrate on understanding them instead of trying to figure out what they're actually watching. That said, I think the DCEU has taken a step in the right direction by keeping a single antagonist in Wonder Woman (Ares) and Justice League (Steppenwolf).
The comparison between an animated movie and a live-action is a bit unfair, but these points can be implemented by any and every movie. The Judas Contract is an exceptional movie in the DC animated universe and, as I pointed out, has showcased a very mature take on some of our beloved superheroes. The DCEU is showing signs of change and, in my honest opinion, I think receiving help from the animated team will bolster DCEU's name in the history of comic book movies.
Have you watched Teen Titans: The Judas Contract? What did you think of it? Do you have some pointers for the DCEU? Comment below.