Picked up a copy of Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, DC’s latest direct-to-video animated feature. I have fond memories of watching the 2003 Titans series on Cartoon Network with my brother, so I’d hoped sharing this new interpretation with him would, at the very least, be a nice nostalgia trip. Sadly, this adaptation of Marv Wolfman’s classic comic book storyline collapses under its own weight.
The movie isn’t entirely without merit, especially for longtime fans of the source material. Compelling characterization has been this property’s greatest strength since the 1980s, and to their credit, the filmmakers attempt to give each team member a distinct arc. Starfire, for example, questions her role as the group’s leader when her comrades begin turning to the more experienced Nightwing for guidance. Blue Beetle, meanwhile, struggles to enjoy a somewhat normal life despite sharing his body and mind with a bloodthirsty alien war machine. Unfortunately, whereas writers like Wolfman and David Slack (story editor on the ‘03 series) always tied such internal and interpersonal conflicts into the larger narrative, the creators behind Judas Contract never weave their disparate plot threads into a cohesive whole, resulting in a lack of meaningful resolution. Even the titular traitor’s sense of guilt over her role in the Titans’ impending downfall emerges far too late to pack any real emotional punch.
As if it wasn’t cluttered enough, Judas Contract wastes even more of its precious 85-minute running time (remember, the original story spanned approximately twenty issues) on gratuitous cameos and obligatory callbacks to Son of Batman and Justice League vs. Teen Titans, the previous entires in DC’s loose straight-to-video canon. The end product is very much like the company’s recent live-action efforts: occasionally enjoyable to true aficionados and elevated by a handful of solid performances (Christina Ricci as the conflicted Terra, the late Miguel Ferrer as the nefarious Deathstroke), but ultimately too overstuffed to be fully satisfying. With a tighter focus, it could have been a decent self-contained film; as it stands, it feels like another cog in a soulless machine built to sell T-shirts and set up sequels.
God help me, I’ll probably buy those, too.
[Originally written April 18, 2017.]