Bringing down DC – Teen Titans Goes to the Movies

Based on the Cartoon Network television series Teen Titans Go! (2013-present), Teen Titans Go To the Movies follows Robin, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Raven and Starfire as they embark on a quest to get Robin his own movie. I’d love to elaborate, however my previous sentence pretty much sums up the film’s plot in its entirety. If you think the storyline’s lacking in substance, you’d have assumed correctly. Robin wants a superhero movie like most of the other heroes, and that’s as far as it goes. There’s not even really any subplots to pad out the narrative. Instead the film goes off on one or two tangents from time to time; providing a selection of random sketches that wouldn’t have altered the script’s structure had they been removed. Essentially this is 20-minutes’ worth of story bulked out to take up 88-minutes of screen time. 

Nevertheless, for a feature so void of anything beyond “a kid wants something”, Teen Titans Go to the Movies is surprisingly good, especially when it comes down to its humour. Provided you can get past the unnecessarily abundant use of poop and fart jokes frequently cropping up, the film has a tendency to utilise gags that are both significantly surreal and dark for what’s clearly a kid’s movie. There’s one particular moment in the film where our heroes decide to embark on a random (and fleeting) sub adventure where they must undo all the superhero origins before subsequently redoing them shortly thereafter. There’s a twisted hilarity in watching our protagonists essentially murder aqua man with a six pack beer ring set, before reviving Bruce’s fate by gleefully sending his parents to their death. These types of skits are practically inconsequential to the larger plot playing out, yet they make for some the film’s most visually hilarious of moments. It is jokes such these that save the film from its excessive use of toilet humour throughout. 

There are slightly less optical jokes pottered throughout too. These less blatant of gags function to appeal to a more old school audience of comic book movies. Lines such as when the Titans inform Superman that Louis Lane is in danger of falling victim to Gene Hackman’s real estate scheme nods back to 1978’s Superman. Even the decision to cast Nicholas Cage as Clark Kent functions as a cheeky wink to a lost era that never came to be. Back in the 1990s, Cage was initially in talks to play the Man of Steel in a planned Superman reboot directed by Tim Burton and penned by Kevin Smith. Superman Lives never came to be, although numerous treatments for the film leaked into the public after they were passed around Hollywood. Many of the ideas Smith and Burton had in mind for the film were borderline bizarre. Burton’s trippy concepts were made more infamous when test footage of Cage donning a prototype Superman suit leaked online several years back. Cage represents a version of Superman that’s not only outrageous, but non-existent; a reboot from a parallel universe. Casting Cage in the role two decades later serves as a subtle gag as well as an elusive homage.

In addition to the fact that Teen Titans Go to the Movies is packed with largely solid humour, it’s also unafraid to tear the superhero genre a new rear end. Whereas the trailer implied that the movie would be an unending tirade of references (which it kind of is), there’s also a commentary running throughout attempting to showcase just how futile all these comic book movies really are.

This isn’t to say the movie is doing something unheard of.  Declaring this to be ground-breaking is about as ridiculous as interviewing a swan. We’ve had a fair few features that have critiqued superhero flicks in recent times. Kick-Ass (2010) and Deadpool (2016) have been pulling the genre apart for quite some time now. Heck, even films such as Logan (2017) and The Incredible 2 (2018) have contributed toward exposing the genre in their own ways. Pulling apart a ubiquitous subcategory of storytelling and informing audiences how formulaic and meaningless they all essentially are isn’t revolutionary. What’s so surprising, however, is the fact that a kid’s movie has decided to join this club in such a frank and brutal fashion. Teen Titans Go to the Movies isn’t new, but it is audacious when you take into account it was made for an audience largely made up of people who’ve yet to see their tenth birthday.

What I think is most enjoyable about all of this is the fact that Warner Brothers themselves created the damn thing. Although the same directors, writers and/or producers are not responsible for its inception, the fact that the very studio who delivered clangers such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) are ridiculing their own properties their outlandish idiocy sharpens the rebellious edge of Teen Titans go to the Movies a great deal. Deadpool mocks the hell out of Marvel and DC like nobody’s business. Only difference there is it’s made by 20th Century Fox (at the time of writing). Whereas Deadpool functions like an outsider giving other studios the middle finger, Teen Titans Go to the Movies feels more like a group of employees mocking the very organisation who pays their salaries. 

In a way, this sort of self-mocking stance could help the studio’s DC Extended Universe somewhat. Making a film which implies the studio themselves are fine with criticising their own properties implies they’re aware of their own stupidity. Again, it’s not like Zack Snyder penned this film, however having a DC film explicitly reference how stupid other DC films have been in the past suggests a new found self-awareness. Some audience members may well this implied sense of self-realisation as an advantage. “If they the studio themselves understand their past errors with such clarity, perhaps the DCEU’s incoming course correction turns out to work after all. Obviously this isn’t necessarily the case. Just because some writers are able to poke fun at the creations of a fellow colleague doesn’t automatically mean history won’t repeat itself when it comes to future DCEU instalments. Still, it serves as a nice bit of PR for the studio and their upcoming releases.

Of course the DCEU isn’t the only collection of superhero movies this film likes to poke fun at. Marvel is very much in their line of site throughout. Everything’s fair game here, and it’s all done in a manner that’s surprisingly blatant. In addition to all the winks and references to clichéd convention, the film goes out of its way to directly ridicule varying forms of superhero lure. The montage I mentioned up top regarding the undoing and subsequent redoing of famous DC origins is a good example of this. Scenes like these serve to take moments considered sacred by many, only to turn them into cute-yet-ridiculous visual punchlines.      

All of this seems to lean toward the film’s overall message, which is that despite the amount of significance and importance our culture places upon these sorts of movies, at the end of the day they’re not quite as significant as we may like to assume. Whereas the creators of this film clearly adore the sorts of movies they’re parodying, it’s clear they’re of the opinion that all this superhero hullabaloo is downright bonkers. 

At the end of all this, Teen Titans Go to the Movies appears to be laughing at the significance our culture has place upon these movies. Whether it’s how clichéd they are, how many special effects saturate their runtime, or how many spinoff features are green lit; none of these stories are anywhere near as important as they may sometimes present themselves as being. 

Such a metaphor functions as a commentary on the movies themselves, the studios who make them, and the people who rant/write about them in their spare time (that last one most certainly applies to myself). Whereas many look upon these as if such features are grand titans defining contemporary society, in actuality they are cash cows built from whacky source material about caped crusaders using whacky powers against criminals.

All this subtle criticism toward superhero movies results in the plot echoing parts of The Incredibles 2 (2018). Considering both were made more or less at the same time as one another means this is largely coincidence. Still, the themes certainly reflect one another. Slade’s Doomsday device – which is actually a Netflix type global streaming service here – works as a way of critiquing modern consumption habits. The Doomsday device is designed to beam Robin’s superhero flick onto all media platforms across the globe. Slade’s Robin movie will play on every smartphone, laptop and television screen; dumbing down and brainwashing the citizens of mankind into doing his evil biddings. Much like the Incredibles 2, such a plot device toys with this idea that people rely far too much on superhero films these day; placing far too much importance and reliance upon their existence. 

Teen Titans Go to the Movies may not be the most jam packed of movies in terms of plot, however it’s funny, sharp, unafraid to poke fun at the genre it belongs to and written by people who clearly love the source material they’re poking fun at. For a film clearly made for the youngsters of this world, it’s packed with plenty of jokes for the older generation of superhero fans, not to mention a heap of self awareness that has a surprising amount to say regarding modern movie viewing habits.

Provided you can get past the silly poop jokes and lack of story, there’s plenty in here to superhero fans and critics to laugh at in equal measure. 

Published by Amber Poppitt

I'm a writer from the UK with dreams of someday becoming a professional screenwriter. I also happen to be a huge film/TV/novel enthusiast with an undying obsession toward Doctor Who.

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