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Justice League vs. Teen Titans
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: March 29th, 2016 - Digital; April 12th, 2016 - Blu-ray, DVD

Synopsis: Justice League vs. Teen Titans welcomes the Teen Titans to the ever-expanding canon of classic DC Comics characters within the DC Universe Original Movies. When Damian’s over-aggressive tendencies almost destroy a Justice League mission, he is sent to learn teamwork by training alongside the Teen Titans. However, adjusting Damian’s attitude turns out to be the least of the Teen Titans’ troubles as Raven’s satanic, world-conquering father Trigon begins an escape from his inter-dimensional prison. To complete his return, Trigon must have Raven’s assistance – and to accomplish his goal, he spreads his demonic forces across the globe, infiltrating the minds and bodies of the Justice League to do his bidding. To save the universe and prevent a literal hell on Earth, the Teen Titans must rescue – or defeat – the Justice League, and intern Trigon for all eternity.

The voice cast for Justice League vs. Teen Titans includes several actors reprising their recent Justice League roles – Jason O’Mara (Complications, Terra Nova) as Batman, Jerry O’Connell (Crossing Jordan, Stand By Me) as Superman, Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Rent) as Wonder Woman, Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds) as Cyborg and Christopher Gorham (Covert Affairs, Ugly Betty) as Flash. Sean Maher (Firefly/Serenity, Batman: Bad Blood) also returns as Nightwing, as does Stuart Allan (Batman vs. Robin) as Robin/Damian. Making their Teen Titans voiceover debuts are Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story, Wicked City) as Raven, Jake T. Austin (Wizards of Waverly Place, The Fosters) as Blue Beetle, Brandon Soo Hoo (Tropic Thunder, From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series) as Beast Boy and Kari Wahlgren (Phineas and Ferb, Legion of Superheroes) as Starfire. Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, Daredevil) takes the villainous center stage as Trigon.

Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment, Justice League vs. Teen Titans is directed by Sam Liu from a screenplay by Bryan Q. Miller and Alan Burnett based on a story by Miller. James Tucker is Supervising Producer. Burnett is also co-Producer. Sam Register is Executive Producer.

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Justice League vs. Teen Titans Feature Review
By James Harvey

The Justice League brings the Teen Titans to the DC Universe Animated Original Universe continuity with a fun, light adventure that, while enjoyable, falls a little short. An uneven pace and a somewhat disappointing climactic battle hamper what otherwise is a fine introduction to DC’s biggest teen super hero group. Thankfully, the Titans come off strong enough that the film’s faults are easy to overlook.

Despite the film being called Justice League vs. Teen Titans, the smackdown between DC's two biggest superteams is short and mired by mind control, making it a bit of a stretch to call this a real "vs." affair. And, despite the film's cold open, this is decidedly a "Teen Titans" movie, with the young heroes thrust into the spotlight for the majority of the film's duration (though actually, it could be argued that the film's true spotlight falls on Damian and Raven). Still, taking all of that into consideration, this film does deliver quite of fun, with our teen heroes coming off as pretty interesting, and the story, while lacking, allows for some great character moments and impressive animation.

That said, the opening sequence with the Justice League taking on a group of bad guys in the ruins of their new Hall of Justice is a spectacular set piece. Not only does it show a clear progression in these film's continuity, but it sets up the threat for the rest of the movie. This section also reestablishes Damian Wayne as a problematic side-kick which, while that basically propels the rest of the movie, does feel a shade stunted. It felt like the character was finally making some strides forward after the events of Batman: Bad Blood, but he seems to be falling into old habits here. While it justifies his character heading over to the Titans, it only results in Damian having to retrace some of his old character arcs from Batman vs. Robin and Batman: Bad Blood, though the film does manage to give him some closure with an actually surprising reappearance of an adversary during the film's climactic battle.

And while the Titans are clearly the main stars of the film, the movie does enough to justify Justice League's name in the title credits. The superteam find themselves in a difficult spot as they fall prey to Trigon, a massive demonic entity that also happens to be Raven's father. Superman's struggle against Trigon's influence leads to some of the film's best moments, including a rather tense scene of him trying to expel the demon by smashing his head against a wall. Sounds weird, yes, but the scene is pretty unnerving and adds a really ominous, damned feel to Trigon's impending arrival.

Actually, Justice League vs Teen Titans gives Superman a lot of really great moments. Even before getting possessed by Trigon, he's a pretty central figure to the Justuce League's subplot. His relationship with Wonder Woman propels some of the action beats and moments, allowing for some really satisfying and great moments between the two. There feels like actual progression here - for both Superman and Wonder Woman - and it's unexpected given the massive cast of the movie. Some viewers aren't keen on the pairing - understandably so - but we all know it's not permanent, so why not enjoy this interesting status shift in the meantime? It's been handled well by the animated titles so far.

From there on in, unfortunately, the film is pretty by-the-books. We're introduced to the Teen Titans and, for the most part, it's a solid team, though other characters get more focus than others. Damian, Raven and Stafire understandably get most of the focus, resulting in Beast Boy and Blue Bettle getting a bit shortchanged. However, those two characters don't really have an arc in this movie, acting instead more as supporting characters for the film, adding the odd joke or comment when needed and providing a couple great action beats. Cyborg gets a bit more a focus this time around two, as he finds himself somewhat torn between the Justice League, where he's the youngest member, and the Teen Titans, a group where he can finally relate to characters closer to his age. It's an interesting idea and one that sets up the possibility of both teams coming together down the road for further adventures, and also gives Cyborg some interesting character development.

The films main villain, Trigon, fills the adversarial role nicely, but doesn't do much more than provide a walking target for both teams during the climactic battle. He's a shade undercooked, but the film amps up the character's unruly, hellish behavior and backstory to add a couple devious layers to what's basically a pretty generic role.

Justice League vs. Teen Titans is a good movie that, unfortunately, is more middle-of-the-road than exceptional. It never really rises above the material to offer anything new. However, there is one part in particular where the film grinds to a half for nearly eight minutes - the amusement park scene. While it offers some nice moments of camaraderie between our young heroes, the scene drags on just a little too long. It's great to see the Titans attempt to bond and get to know each other, but it overstays its welcome, moving the action from a montage of assorted mischief to a Dance-Dance Revolution showdown between Beast Boy and Blue Beetle (and eventually Damian) that just goes on a shade too long. The movie eventually shifts to Raven and a small fight between some of Trigon’s minions, just outside of the amusement park, and the film’s pace picks right back up.

In terms of voice work (the full listing can be found in the synopsis above), there are a couple weak links in an overall solid cast. Farmiga as Raven unfortunately comes across a little flat and lifeless, and what sounds like a great turn by Bernthal as Trigon seems lost amidst some post-production vocal effects. Allan's work as Damian continues to improve, and he's able to find a great balance between endearing and annoying here. While not as good as his work in Batman: Bad Blood, he's really doing an excellent job in the role. The voice work for the remainder of the Titans is nicely handled, too, nicely mixing a tone of teenage entitlement with their honest drive to save the world. For the Justice League, O'Connell seems to come across more and more like 'classic' Superman, sounding warm and confident during a handful of his quieter scenes. Dawson does a nice job as Wonder Woman continues to learn more about man's world, coming off as experienced but curious to her surroundings. The rest of League sounds excellent, with the voice actors sounding more comfortable and lived-in to their characters. It's a massive cast that voice director Wes Gleason is able to balance successfully for the most part.

While the films story may not break any mold, the story and screenplay by Bryan Q. Miller (with help from Alan Burnett) deserves a bit of a nod for nicely capturing the youthful aspects of the Titans. There are a few moments here, in terms of some of the dialogue and character interaction, that is reminiscent of the fantastic short-lived Batgirl comic he wrote before DC Comics' recent The New 52 revamp. Sam Liu's directing remains as solid as ever, bringing a straightforward approach to the film's action, but adding a enough flare to keep them from getting stale. While the final battle against Trigon at the film's climax was a bit of a letdown, it was still visually riveting to watch and well directed. There are a few moments where Liu is able to nicely sell just how outmatched our heroes are against Trigon in terms of scale and raw power. Lastly, Frederick Weidmann's score work remains as on-point as usual, reliable and complimentary to the film's mood.

What's also noteworthy is how this film really tones down the unnecessary edginess and violence that has plagued these film's since the line was semi-rebooted a couple years ago. There's no excessive blood and guts or language. There's plenty of action, yes, but it's nice to not see blood shower across the screen during each action sequence. Again, hopefully it's a sign that the creative team is realizing that blood, guts and sentence after sentence of expletives does not make for an edgy or more 'adult' animated movie.

Ultimately, Justice League vs. Teen Titans is never really able to rise up and become an out-and-out success. Instead it kinda putters around and winds up an average, if enjoyable, affair. There are some really meaningful moments here for the cast - Superman, Damian and Raven specifically - but the impact is lessened since its wrapped in a film that isn't able to really take off completely. In fact, there are times when the movie feels like an after-thought, that's just getting made simply because it has to. Now, the cast and crew here clearly love these characters and exploring this world, but there's just something lacking. It's unfortunate since Justice League vs. Teen Titans actually introduces a whole new team of heroes into the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line, opening up the possibilities for more appearances in the future. And, with the end credit teaser, having another Teen Titans-focused animated feature would be sublime.

Justice League vs. Teen Titans still brings some notable aspects to the table - namely a sense of a larger world to the DC Universe Animated Original Universe canon and new possibilities. It's a direction that I hope these films continue to explore in the future. It also seems like this movie is finally starting to develop the characters in a more balanced way, ditching the the unnecessary angst and edginess for more idyllic and inspiring superheroics. The younger Titans may have some issues to work out, but the Justice League seems to finally be functioning as an actual team comprised of true heroes. While the story may flatten some of the film's impact, it's still something that fans - especially those who miss seeing Teen Titans and Young Justice gracing the small screen - will likely still get a lot out of (getting to see Blue Beetle again is really fantastic). It's definitely a film that comes Recommended, though owning or renting it may depend on how much viewers get out of the story and characters. While this isn't the most riveting of animated films, Justice League vs. Teen Titans shows lots of promise and features enough key moments to make it worthwhile.

[ Continue on to the Justice League vs. Teen Titans Blu-ray review ]

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