JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS REVIEW

I’ve always been a big fan of the comic book animated films. Sadly Marvel has seemingly given up on them, but DC has continued consistently. DC has a wide array of installments, some being completely original and others being adaptions. To better align with the comics, starting with Justice League: War the films have adopted The New 52 continuity. From a business standpoint, it made sense. Unfortunately as a viewer the films have been noticeably of lesser quality than pre-52 ones. The actual League is modernized, in a negative way. Is the latest film in this universe an improvement? Interestingly, Justice League vs. Teen Titans focuses as a sequel to both Throne of Atlantis and Batman: Bad Blood. It suffers some of the same ongoing negatives as previous entries but ended up being perhaps the best New 52 film.

We’ll get this out of the way first: Damien is still extremely annoying. Ever since debuting in Son of Batman, DC has been focused on making him a central focus in the films. Why? Who really knows. Surely they can see just about every line he has is terrible. He’s been doing nothing but disobeying orders and being rebellious since his first appearance, which is no different here. At the very least in the climax his character arc comes full circle in an admittedly well written sequence. In theory going forward he will be developed as a character, but time will tell.

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These movies usually start out with a great action sequence, and it’s no different here. We have the League battling the Legion of Doom. The actual fights are well animated, but Lex Luthor is written so cheaply. This wouldn’t be a bad thing too much if not for the fact the after credits sequence for Throne of Atlantis exists. There he apparently was enlisting Ocean Master to join with him in thematic fashion. None of that is mentioned in this film, instead making Luthor cannon fodder. One has to imagine if DC simply abandoned this plot point in favor of moving in another direction. At the very least, the Wonder Woman/Cheetah fight is probably their best encounter in animation.

Obviously the big draw is to see the team battle the Teen Titans. Like the Batman vs. Robin title, it’s a little misleading since the fight isn’t much of a focus at all. This could be a disappointment for those hoping to see a throw-down between the two teams. The next biggest draw then is of course the Titans themselves. This is their first major animation appearance since the show’s incarnation ended in 2006. (The slapstick comedy known as Teen Titans GO! doesn’t count.) It’s interesting seeing Starfire as the leader here, and she does an excellent job of it.

Blue Beetle was a bizarre choice to include. I suppose he was put there to be the Cyborg of the group. Besides rescuing Cyborg, he doesn’t do anything of major importance, but he wasn’t bad either. Beast Boy is pretty much lifted straight from the comics. Aside from one awful line near the end, he’s written as genuinely funny. (Perhaps the best line was when he said “awkward call to Batman” after Damien was literally fried.) Raven was a surprising highlight. One could say the story even revolved around her. Her backstory is somewhat similar to Damien’s, so it was interesting to see how the two connected. Her character arc was great to watch, and she had the best lines showing that she doesn’t have to give into evil. Taissa Farmiga did a terrific job voicing her.

Superman unfortunately spends most of the movie looking like a joke. This is consistent with his previous New 52 film appearances, which is a pale representation of the character we admire. Thankfully, the writing picks up with him in the climax where he actually feels like Superman. Batman is solid throughout, and the dialogue between him and Cyborg was fun to watch. Wonder Woman is very good, with perhaps her best appearance so far in the New 52 series. The League however appears rather unreasonable when they confront the Titans about Raven. Surely at least Flash would have objected to taking her by force.

The film has a few notable plot holes, the main ones which take place in Trigon’s hellish realm. Beast Boy randomly reacts to the environment, but goes back to normal some seconds later. The reason for this isn’t given and came off as rather odd. Another thing is that shouldn’t all these demons be working together? So why were they grabbing away Damien’s opponent when the latter was on the same side as them? This made no sense. Trigon like in his Teen Titans show appearance is a great antagonist to have around. His dialogue is perfect classic overlord fare. As basically the devil of DC, his taunting dialogue to Raven was very good, and of course the latter’s response even better. The climax offers a grand final battle. It’s not that fast-paced due to the large nature of the threat, but still gives a sense of climatic dread since the League members are getting thrown around. The soundtrack isn’t bad, though at the same time a little forgettable.

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Overall, Justice League vs. Teen Titans is a surprisingly solid entry in the DC animated film series. The story progresses nicely with the right amount of dialogue and action. The Titans were very good, (there’s a sense of thematic awe when we see the Tower for the first time) and hopefully they get to appear in another film. (Based on the mid-credits scene, it’s more than likely.) The story at the core however is not a vs, rather about a person defying her evil heritage. Raven was a fantastic focus and easily made the movie. The League mostly is solid this time around. Damien is still unbelievably annoying, and sadly it looks like he isn’t going away anytime soon. Still, if it’s one New 52 film you should check out, it’s this one.

8/10

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BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE REVIEW

I remember the immense hype at Comic-Con 2013 when they first showed the Batman/Superman logo. The only thing that could match it was the unveiling of the Age of Ultron, but even then BVS completely overtook the film world. The two characters are some of the oldest in comics and two of the greatest heroes in the genre. Both have enjoyed success on the big screen, though Batman more so. The two have united in many cartoons, most notably in the legendary World’s Finest three-parter. (Which was collected as the Batman/Superman Movie, a must have if you haven’t seen it!) A film starring the two had been in development, but eventually fell through. With 2013’s MAN OF STEEL, DC started their version of a cinematic universe. DAWN OF JUSTICE is perhaps the decade’s most awaited film crossover, and rightly so. It’s almost surreal watching the two together on the big screen, but is the story surrounding the encounter good? Well, here’s the thing: it’s not written that well but if you’re a comic fan it’s certainly an event.

We now live in a world where we can see Batman dodging blows from Doomsday on the big screen. Twenty years ago this kind of stuff was the subject of fan fictions. Seeing Batman in his Dark Knight Returns armor throwing Superman around makes the film worth the price of admission alone. The film’s incredible climax however doesn’t negate the mediocre writing found throughout. (Mostly in the first half.) Also all of the trailers and marketing made it seem like that this was going to be an all-out action movie. The film surprisingly doesn’t have any real fight scenes for the first hour & a half. The two characters meet up at the halfway mark in a well written sequence, but the reason why we’re coming down to watch this, as Lex Luthor puts it: “the greatest gladiator match in the history of mankind” doesn’t happen until the climax. The film went the route of having a lot of exposition, and then making the climax one action sequence after another. I think the formula of having a couple of scattered fight scenes and then one big one an the end is better than what Dawn of Justice did.

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Going into the film I thought a probable negative would be that it’s trying to be too many things. On the onset it’s being a Man of Steel sequel, a Batman reboot, and a Justice League setup. The film actually does a good job with these without feeling overloaded. I do think it was a mistake of marketing to announce all the cameos and updates on the League film, because it would have been far better to see them without the prior knowledge in mind. At the core, this is a Batman/Superman story with a cool appearance from Wonder Woman. But as I said, the writing isn’t spectacular, and when compared to a film like THE DARK KNIGHT, it looks pale in comparison.

I thought Henry Cavill was very solid as Clark Kent/Superman in Man of Steel. His appearance here was pretty good, but there are quite a few questionable scenes, which is more due to the writing. For one thing in the India sequence there’s a very empty death and then Superman comes out of nowhere to help Lois. Why couldn’t he have come a few moments earlier? I’m also not a fan of the line, “No one stays good in this world.” These type of lines characters like Captain America and Superman should never be found saying. Another thing is that after a major explosion sequence, Superman disappears, instead of saying something. It’s only natural that the people would assume the worst in this case. Superman’s portrayal wasn’t bad, but certainly could have been a lot better. He is an icon of hope, but the film chose not to utilize this major aspect of the character. Instead it decided to take a more political look at what Superman means to the world at this point in time. I do find this aspect intriguing, and it’s neither overplayed nor underplayed. I just wish the hopeful aspect of his character was a factor, but it’s sadly not. At the very least, Clark Kent’s portrayal was spot on, much like the version from the classic Adventures of Superman days.

The film smartly shows the climatic  Man of Steel fight scene with Superman and Zod from another perspective: Bruce Wayne’s. Not only does this give us our first look at why Batman grows to dislike Superman, but we also see that intense battle from the people’s point of view. Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman was a shocking choice for most at first, but by the time the film started to roll around people began to accept it, and even happily anticipate it. Affleck portrayed an older Batman very well, and I’m eager to see him in his own solo film. The reasoning used for Batman’s justification of ending Superman is interesting, (if there’s even a slight chance someone with all that power could turn against us) but can be hypocritical when you consider that there’s at least two instances where Batman himself kills people. With his expertise and gadgets, he could equally be a menace and thus could use his own logic on himself.

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Lex Luthor is no stranger to the live action world, appearing in almost every Superman film to date. Jessie Eisenberg brings something different to the table. He’s definitely a good actor, but as Luthor the writing went a little too crazy. He was basically the only comic relief of the film, but it was more bizarre than genuinely funny. The conversation he had with Finch in his house was so terribly written I had to question what the writers were thinking. A lot of his lines are unrealistic, and there’s this strange scene where he feeds a Jolly Rancher to a senator…and the latter just stands there! The writing then throws us this one-sentence backstory on why he hates Superman, which is out of left field. This version of Luthor is far different than the iconic one we’ve seen in the 90’s Animated Series. I don’t think anyone would dispute that’s the Luthor we would have rather seen. Honestly the best thing about this incarnation was the King Kong shirt he was wearing earlier in the movie.

As expected, Gal Gadot didn’t appear too much as Wonder Woman, but when she did she completely nailed the role. Her big intro scene is one of the film’s highlights.  Amy Adams as Lois Lane wasn’t bad in Man of Steel. What was bad was the completely tacked-on romance at the end. (There was no build up to it at all.) At least here the romance feels organic. Her role as hardcore journalist, damsel, and encourager is identical to the comics, and Amy plays each of these parts well.

Even though the first half has some mediocre writing and odd scenes (the Batman dream sequence was rather long) there’s certainly things to like too. Superman overhearing Bruce’s secret conversation with Alfred was classic comic book fare. The Batmobile sequence was also one of the best car chase scenes in recent history. The references to the Joker were fantastic. Now, obviously the best part of the film is the actual confrontation between the two characters. Director Zack Snyder set a precedent in Man of Steel of how comic book fight scenes with characters like these should be done. As expected, the fight here is more down to earth, but this isn’t a bad thing. The battle is satisfying and the choreography is excellent. One forgets the mediocre writing from here on out until the credits start to roll.

The way the fight scene comes about however is a little questionable. If Superman had revealed right away what was going on, the battle could have been avoided. But predictably Superman doesn’t directly say the reason why he’s there, instead letting the battle happen. Then afterward things turn around unnaturally fast. One of the most unexpected aspects  of the film was throwing in Doomsday. Once again, it was a mistake unveiling him before the film came out. (Imagine being in the theater and hearing the word Doomsday without having the prior knowledge.) The monster made for a nice final conflict. Still, he’s worthy of his own movie, not being thrown into the final 20 minutes of one. The soundtrack is very solid. There are a lot of standout themes, such as the one which played during the Batmobile sequence and Wonder Woman’s emergence. There are some questionable themes however, such as the out of place early Lex Luthor one.

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Overall, DAWN OF JUSTICE is an event film, but not a greatly written one. There are numerous parts of the film that just weren’t done very well. (Keefe not knowing who Luthor is for example was pretty farfetched.) The actual conflict between the two characters doesn’t disappoint however. (There’s even a clear winner.) Zack Snyder still directs the best fight scenes to be put on a comic book book film. Ben Affleck as Batman is definitely a primary highlight, delivering an iconic portrayal of the character. Superman is more on the mixed side. His character was on point in Man of Steel, but seems to have regressed a bit here. The story progression was also better in that film. Here the major confrontation is saved for almost last. It’s an interesting formula, but the questionable writing and the cringe-worthy Lex Luthor takes away from the first half. Even though this paragraph sounds negative, the film is still engaging and despite not having many fight scenes, it’s never actually boring. Wonder Woman was great and the ending was completely shocking. With better handling of the story the film could have been a masterpiece.

7/10