Sunday, 5 August 2018

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES

78. “Uh, portals.”



05/08/2018




“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is the first superhero-themed film I have seen in a very long time. I read comic books – I have as standing order with my local store – and I don’t feel I need to find those stories elsewhere, especially as other media, especially film, usually tell exactly the same stories first told in print, having already been proven to work, up to ten, twenty or thirty years before. Furthermore, with the exception of Marvel’s “Daredevil,” and Erik Larsen’s life project “Savage Dragon” for Image Comics, all the books put aside for me are by DC Comics – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and so on – which has been owned by DC Comics for over fifty years now, although they only appeared to realise this in the last ten of those.

Why did I make an exception here? For one thing, “The Times” newspaper gave this film four stars out of five, rather high for a film based on a TV series (based on another TV series, based on a comic book) that is supposed to be awful: “Teen Titans Go!” is renowned for the cognitive dissonance created in fans of the previous “Teen Titans” series, unable to get past how their young-adult, anime-inspired comedy drama series became a kids’ gross-out comedy, even if it is made by exactly the same people. (This film has a joke for this, where the original animated team infiltrate the original credit sequence, so they can let people know they are still there - they always were, on DVD.)


From here, the plot is inevitable, but clear: The Teen Titans are seen as jokes, with no arch-nemesis and, more importantly for Robin, no film. His teammates Starfire, Cyborg, Best Boy and Raven, are more about the shenanigans, as witnessed with a sequence regarding a film prop toilet, but Robin, as told through a “Lion King” dream sequence, is an also-ran sidekick that could be dropped by Batman. But with Hollywood director Jade Wilson making films of all the heroes, they need to find an arch-nemesis to make themselves movie-worthy, someone with a cool name: this is found in Slade, whose surname is also "Wilson," from the original “Teen Titans” series, featuring “mind manipulation” powers of the “made you look” variety which, while providing laughs, is also how Robin learns the integrity he needs to become the true hero he believes he already is.

I know this film is primarily a comedy, but when you feel the show itself is having to prove its worth against those who hate it for not being their “Teen Titans,” then the answer is really to go for an all-out onslaught on the Hollywood intertextual superhero film machine that serves those fans, right down to having Nicolas Cage, of the aborted Tim Burton film “Superman Lives,” voicing Superman. Numerous obscure references to obscure heroes and teams, particularly the Challengers of the Unknown, are liberally sprinkled. In a sequence where the Teen Titans prevent the origin stories of superheroes, so they can be the only ones left, includes a surprisingly macabre joke where a baby Aquaman is deliberately caught in a plastic can carrier, one of a number of anti-Aquaman jokes.


“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is a cathartic trip for all concerned, and shows up the superhero film genre, numerous Marvel references and all (including a Stan Lee cameo, from the actual Stan Lee), to be as inflated and self-important as Balloon Man, the villain the Teen Titans fight at as the film begins (unexpectedly voiced by Greg Davies, of “Taskmaster” and “Man Down” – and that is for everyone, not just UK audiences).

One little thing did bug me, and it is a clash with the comic book: the self-important villain Slade is used in the original “Teen Titans” animated series, and the name “SSLLAAADDE” can be made to sound cool, but this is from the character’s real name, Slade Wilson (Deadpool, who is confused, buy the Teen Titans, with Slade, was deliberately named “Wade Wilson,” by creator Rob Liefeld, due to that resemblance). However, the villain’s real name, when introduced in “New Teen Titans Annual” #2 in 1980, is DEATHSTROKE THE TERMINATOR – that’s pre-Schwarzenegger, too.

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