Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Director: Sam Liu
Writer: Ernie Altbacker
Producer: James Tucker
Stars: Stuart Allen, Jake T. Austin, Taissa Farmiga, Sean Maher, Christina Ricci, Brandon Soo Hoo, Kari Wahlgren, Miguel Ferrer, Gregg Henry, Meg Foster, Kevin Smith, David Zayas
The Teen Titans discover they have a traitor in their midst while battling a team-up between Deathstroke and Brother Blood.
Deathstroke and Brother Blood each have a bird to kill in the form of the Teen Titans. And they’re teaming up to do it with a one-stone plan that has Deathstroke capturing his enemies to use in a machine that will give Brother Blood their powers.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the comic book arc that “Teen Titans: The Judas Contract” is based on, the name ‘Judas’ should be fair warning that Deathstroke’s plot requires someone on the team to turn traitor. When not battling bad guys, the Titans are immersed in their own individual dramas, including Blue Beetle’s estrangement from his parents, Beast Boy’s crush on Terra, and the tension that moving in together brings to Nightwing and Starfire, on top of being former and current team leaders. Now everyone’s interpersonal allegiances are to be tested like never before when one of their own joins the other side, aiming to take down the Teen Titans once and for all.
The familiar fit of distinct WB Animation energizes “Teen Titans: The Judas Contract” with Saturday morning style. Lithe lines are lean, clean, in keeping with the contemporary DCAU look, and colorfully keep the rhythm flowing with finesse.
I might be projecting, but an almost imperceptible anime hint appears to hide at some edges. Such glimpses are occasionally seen in the way expressive eyes open and shake in step with a widening mouth, or the slight silhouette of ‘Golgo 13’ in Dick Grayson’s gait. Whether I’m imagining origins for these nuances or not, the level of liveliness communicated by deceptively simple illustrations is tiptop terrific.
Substance-wise, “Teen Titans: The Judas Contract” almost has what it takes to build a bridge for younger “Teen Titans Go” and “Young Justice” fans ready to graduate into more mature material. Disappointingly, the film’s PG-13 frame is forcefully fitted instead of narratively necessary.
Played-for-laughs innuendo about Nightwing’s sexual stamina should sail over a smaller set’s heads. But dialogue could excise its uses of “sh*t” and “assh*le” for instance, to be family friendly without sacrificing fierceness.
A particularly uncomfortable bit comes when one of the teens dons a see-through negligee and, having basically been brainwashed, submits herself to a much older man. Even for an adult audience, tone here lacks taste. The same beat can be easily hit without sexually charging the scenario.
Limiting age appropriate appeal is made more curious by how deep the film delves into personal problems plaguing Titans Tower. “The Judas Contract” factors issues such as broken parental bonds, feeling outcast, and conflicts that come with cohabitation. Some threads have more resolution than others, though integration with action is seamless enough that drama doesn’t drag. There is a lot of relatable character development happening here, which is why it is a shame that preteens are theoretically precluded from accessing the content by a rating the movie doesn’t need to have.
Aside from the villains’ primary plan not coming fully into focus until late in the film, leaving antagonizing evil to be vaguely defined for much of the movie, storylines are satisfying. Diversity in characterizations, be it Damian Wayne Robin’s entitled arrogance or Beast Boy’s buoyant enthusiasm, puts personality into every subplot.
Raven is the only nonessential Titan who doesn’t receive a significant side story. It turns out to be for the best though. Despite Taissa Farmiga’s live-action acting talent, her flat voice work as Raven is noticeably out of step.
Christina Ricci, on the other hand, gives Terra all the granularity she requires to tumble through her tumultuous emotional arc. The late Miguel Ferrer oozes gravelly gravitas into Deathstroke. Stuart Allen’s nasally twang befits Damian Wayne’s insolence without being annoying. Farmiga’s inexperience rendering her the sole weak link, vocal work is by and large on the mark.
Other dings against “Teen Titans: The Judas Contract” are of the nitpick variety. Beast Boy’s social media obsession already feels dated. Kevin Smith’s cameo comes across as pointless pandering. Nothing negative is offensive enough to turn a thumb downward, though “The Judas Contract” could stand to be better buttoned up across a few boards.
Regardless of pimples putting small blemishes on its skin, “Teen Titans: The Judas Contract” is a solidly entertaining animated adventure mixing topical teen melodrama into its action. I only wish someone with a single-digit age could better enjoy the experience, if not for a collective two minutes of “adult” material that could have been massaged with the mainstream in mind.
Review Score: 75