DC and Warner Bros. have a long history of impressive animated features, both on TV and direct to video. Over the past few years, DC has been basing a line of their animated movies loosely on the New 52 plotline that started in the comics during 2011. They actually share continuity between them and follow different exploits of various DC teams such as the Justice League, Batman and his proteges, the Teen Titans and even Justice League Dark. DC and Warner Bros.’ latest animated feature, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract follows this continuity for better or for worse.
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is based on a comic book storyline entitled The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract from the 1980’s. The comic is well regarded as one of the most iconic DC storylines to date. This plotline is known for revealing Deathstroke’s origin, the inclusion of the evil organization H.I.V.E., and Dick Grayson becoming Nightwing. While the movie takes the basic structure from the source material, it makes a lot of changes. Some of these changes are clearly to tone down some of the darker elements of the story, some are so it lines up with the other films, and some seem unnecessary.
The Judas Contract focuses on the recently established Teen Titans. Their current team consists of Starfire, Blue Beetle, Beast Boy, Raven, Robin and their latest addition, Terra. Nightwing is around too, but he is not a regular member. The team is facing off against Brother Blood and his cultists as they are trying to create a device of unknown origin to harness super powers. Blood also hires Deathstroke to keep tabs on the Titans and feed him information, but his reasons for doing so are somewhat unclear.
Visually, this movie is quite impressive. The characters all look incredibly distinct and are fantastic adaptions to their comic book counterparts. The bright colors and the expressive characters reflect the recent art style that many of the DC animated features have taken on, adding a strong sense of continuity. The action scenes are equally impressive. The movie displays each hero’s powers fairly well. What is really interesting is that there are vast power differences between each of the Titans, but certain things hold them back. Terra, for example, has the power to shift, manipulate and mold the very earth beneath her feet. This makes her incredibly powerful, but she is held back by not wanting to crush her comrades as well as some intense past trauma. With these restraints, the animators are still able to display her combat abilities in impressive ways, especially when she lets loose. There is a smoothness to the action scenes that adds to the tension, and the final act has some impressive battles.
The voice acting within the film is fairly good. Personally, no single actor stood out to me, but they all did a fine job. Christina Ricci (Pan Am, Mothers and Daughters) does a lot of heavy lifting as the voice of Terra. She is able to capture her annoyance with the more upbeat members of the team while clearly having a level of pathos due to her past. Miguel Ferrer (Twin Peaks, Iron Man 3) was probably the weakest link as Deathstroke. Perhaps it is because I have heard him portrayed in a number of ways in both TV and games over the course of many years, but he seemed to lack any sort of intensity that a grizzled assassin should have.
The story may be the weakest aspect of the movie sadly. While the set-up of the story is interesting, the ultimate execution is awkward. The heroes get a lot of chances to use their powers, there does not seem to be enough time for them all to get the proper characterization. A couple of them have subplots in this movie that are severely underdeveloped. When these plots reach their conclusion, it feels like the film is going for unearned catharsis that ties into the themes of the movie but adds very little. The theme focuses a lot on relationships in different forms. This is brought up constantly as opposed to actually explored, so it seems quite underdeveloped as well. Terra is struggling with the idea of letting people into her life, while Nightwing is hoping to further his relationship with Starfire with moving in with her. Again, these themes are all present, but they barely tie into each other. There is a moment where two characters actually have an actual conversation about it, but it is a bit too little too late to have much impact.
Another part of the story that weakens the movie is its connection to the previous movies. Because they are following the path that was set forward from the other DC animated movies, Damien Wayne is currently Robin and Dick Greyson is already Nightwing. This supposed to be a story about the Teen Titans, but Nightwing ends up overshadowing the other characters. While he was a founding member of the team when he was younger, he is now in a more advisory role. Even so, he tends to get a lot of screen time and affects the plot in a big way. It actually gives the Titans much less to do when the third act kicks off. Similar to how Batman felt like an unneeded addition to Justice League Dark, I feel that Nightwing drew attention away from the titular team. Because this movie feels the need to connect to the previous films, I feel it actually weakens the narrative by having both Damien and Dick in this film. It divides attention between them weakening both character’s impact on the story. Traditionally, Deathstroke is one of the Titan’s most notorious adversaries. In this film continuity, he hates Damien for being the heir to the League of Shadows. Deathstroke and Robin mention this once and they do get to face off, but Robin’s rivalry with the villain seems inconsequential. With such a personal adversary, I feel their verbal and physical confrontations should have held much more weight than they did. The only Titan that really had an arc throughout this film was Terra and thankfully the payoff for her plotline was quite satisfying. This, unfortunately, was not the case for the rest of the team.
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract serves as an interesting adventure into the world of DC, but very much lacks the impact that it should. Even without being fully familiar with this iconic plotline from the comic, it is clear that the story itself just does not marry its themes with the plot in a strong way throughout the film. It certainly is passable but the characters, save for a couple, felt somewhat inconsequential. For fans of the comics, this is far from essential viewing. For people who have been following these movies, it is likely you will want to watch it for that reason but unfortunately, this is one of their weaker outings.