I've always been a fan of the DC Animated films. It started somewhere between the old Batman animations and The Batman/Superman Movie, but was solidified around the time that I watched Superman: Doomsday. However, I recently sat down to watch Justice League vs. Teen Titans and felt that a review for this film would be a nice change of pace for me as a writer as well as my readers. I've mostly confined my writing to theories and speculation, so a review here and there will make my claim of "I love stories" a bit more valid.
Anyway, to give a general overview, this film continues the story of Robin (Damien Wayne) and his continued conflicts with Batman. However, the newest lesson Batman wishes to instill in his son is the value of teamwork. The irony is definitely not lost on Robin, but that's besides the point. To make this easier, I'll divide this review into sections so that if you wish to see my opinions on specific aspects instead of the whole, that will be granted to you. I will also catch myself on any spoilers I drop and those will be indicated with a spoiler add-in just to be sure!
This story is actually a lot better than I had expected it to be! Justice League: War and Batman: Bad Blood were not the best films in my opinion and slightly lowered my expectations going in. Add to it the film has a vs in it which, in my experience, does not always mean they'll be fighting as much as you want them to. There was definitely fighting involved and more than just a one scene ordeal too!
However, that's not the entire purpose of the film (yes, I was disappointed too, at first.) As I said, the purpose of Robin joining the Teen Titans is to teach him the value of teamwork. As such, quite a bit of character growth happens and that's what I enjoy most about this story. It's not the fighting, it's not the character interactions, it's the growth of these newly introduced characters.
Keep in mind, this is not rapid character alteration by any means. Given the age of the Teen Titans, I think maturity is the best way to describe it. The characters mature into the heroes that they're capable of becoming and that transition is really great to see, especially from Robin. I'm not going to go into the specifics, but I would say character development is at its strongest in this film which is great to see. The past DC Animated films have not really touched on that, it's been more about the plot and character interaction. All in all, the story blends character development with action far better than previous films.
The Voice Acting
Casting is always an important aspect of a film and this film is no different. I've come to enjoy Jason O'Mara's Batman and Rosario Dawson's Wonder Woman, but having seen the DC films prior to the New 52-based films, I miss the old voice actors.
For me, Tim Daly IS Superman. It may just be that he did it for so long, but his voice is the one I think of when I think of Superman. I have no qualms about the rest of the Justice League, he just sounds off to me.
To the same point, Clancy Brown is Lex Luthor for me. There is a Luthor in this film for a brief period in the beginning to introduce the Legion of Doom, but it just sounds off to me.
Given they're the focus of the film, my greater criticism of the voice actors is the Teen Titans. When I first heard about this film, I guess I just assumed would be the voice actors from the TV series. As I said, this is the New 52 line of films, so it would make sense to recast the Teen Titans given Cyborg was recast for Justice League: War and has been a recurring character since then. I definitely enjoy Shemar Moore as an actor; I'm a long time fan of Criminal Minds, but I just miss the familiar shout of "BOOYAH." The recasting makes sense, though. These iterations of Starfire, Cyborg, and Robin (Dick Grayson) are older, mature as I described it earlier, so their voice actors should meet those changes accordingly.
There's also a mystery role played by Jon Bernthal and I gotta say, it's hard to recognize him. His southern drawl is still very much present and if you listen close enough to pick up on it, it really adds to the character he voices. He seems to have a knack for the roles that take him to dark places as noted by his work on The Walking Dead and Daredevil.
The Set-Up for Future Films
Unlike the films from before the New 52 films started, there was little continuity involved with the DC Animated films. Justice League: War established the beginning of a loose continuity that gets occasionally interrupted with films such as Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke; however, in between the Justice League films, Batman has gotten his own set of films from Son of Batman to the most recent addition, Bad Blood.
Much in the same way, Justice League vs. Teen Titans seeks to reconvene with characters introduced within both continuities while adding more to the mix for the purpose of most likely doing more with the Teen Titans. To my knowledge, this is a first for the team in terms of the DC Animated films and that alone is a great development from this film. In terms of future films, it's clear that the Teen Titans will be returning in some capacity.
I'm thinking they'll show up again in a solo film or two, sans Justice League, but that's not to say that they won't be appearing alongside them, either. There are a number of villains that the Teen Titans could assist the Justice League in fighting such as Darkseid or Doomsday, neither of which have been introduced to this New 52 line of films. There's also the possibility of showing up in the Batman films given Robin has been added into the fold and Nightwing has been a recurring character in the New 52 films as well. At any rate, it's extremely likely we'll be seeing more of the Teen Titans soon and I'm eager to see these characters develop and interact with new friends and foes alike. With any luck, they'll be expanding their team or rotating the roster a bit for new adventures and rich character exploration.
The Character Portrayals
Given this is the "New 52" set of films, I feel it's necessary to get into the way the characters are written. I've already expressed my grievances with these characters no longer being voiced by the actors I know and love. However, it's also important to see the other side - the new version of these characters.
For the most part, the characters are as you'd expect them to be if you're a fan of the comics excluding a few exceptions that came along with the New 52 shift. These changes are Starfire, Cyborg, and, obviously, Robin.
With Starfire and Cyborg, these characters are more mature than their anime counterparts. It's a rather abrasive and sudden change, but I appreciate the change because it fits the tone of the DC Animated films compared to the TV series whose target audience was pre-teens and children. They're still fun, yet their maturity brings an extra layer to the characters - a sense of understanding of what is expected of them. Starfire went from the curious girl to the motherly leader and that's a welcomed change. In some aspects, this seems to be a continuation from the TV series in that Starfire, the original Robin (now Nightwing), and Cyborg have moved on to take on the responsibilities they were meant to assume. There was an episode in the TV series where Starfire jumped a few decades into the future, but it was a grim perversion of reality created by the absence of Starfire. The reality presented by this line of films is far more fitting for the characters and shows progression with the characters (even though DC's Rebirth comes from a lack of interest in current character progression in the comics).
Much like Cyborg and Nightwing, the new Robin (Damien Wayne) has been around for a few films now and we've had time to see him be fleshed out as a character. Before these films, I was not familiar with Damien Wayne as a character, so the Son of Batman film was my first introduction to him. Since then, it's clear that this child is a direct incarnation of Batman, or as close to one as possible. That's definitely a different approach to the Robin situation because every other Robin has been molded by Batman into something better, achieving their potential and learning from Batman along the way. This version has inborn instincts and training similar to what Batman received but at a far younger age which caused his world view to dramatically shift closer to Batman's. And that's just the baseline of the character given this film is the most open attempt from Batman to help him become something greater than he is, overcome his hubris for his sake and Batman's. I look forward to seeing Damien continue to mature and adapt as a character.
And that's essentially all I've got to say on this. I may continue to review DC Animated films as they come out if for no other reason than my enjoyment of what DC puts out. Any ideas on what the next film for this New 52 universe could be? Feel free to share your ideas and if it sparks a theory, you can count on being credited for the idea!