My first encounter with the iconic Teen Titans: The Judas Contract comic arc came in 2004. In fact the Cartoon Network animated series was my first experience of the teenage superheroes. To say I was thrilled when DC announced this feature animated film retelling the story was an understatement. The cartoon series had also dealt with The Judas Contract; albeit with a PG tone.
The Judas Contract follows on from the events of Justice League vs. Teen Titans. The team has remained the same with a lineup of Robin, Beast Boy, Starfire, Raven, Blue Beetle with Nightwing dropping in and a newcomer Terra joining the ranks. The film opens five years in the past, the Titans encounter a young Starfire evading capture and jump to her rescue. We jump back to the present and the team, now led by Starfire join Nightwing on a mission to take down a terrorist cult operating in a warehouse. We learn that the violent cult are led by Brother Blood who is intent on capturing the young heroes and draining them of their powers.
To achieve this the fanatic hires Deathstroke to capture and deliver the Titans. As their plans come to fruition, the Titans find themselves in the midst of a traitor and in more danger than ever before.
I don’t want to spoil the story or reveal for anyone. Needless to say if you’ve read the comics or watched the cartoon, you’ll know what to expect. Just don’t expect it to live up to those memories.
The film continues to blend humour with action and drama. Team interactions and awkward teen moments are written well with Beast Boy delivering some zing one-liners. There is no shortage of action either. The team training sessions show off just how much their skills have developed and while the final encounter could have been a bit longer, it certainly pulls out all the stops as the Titans engage an overpowered Brother Blood.
There is a decent roster of actors with the cast from the first movie returning to reprise their roles. Christina Ricci lends her voice to Terra, bringing a real sense of vulnerability to the character on par with that of the performance delivered by Ashley Johnson in the cartoon series. Miguel Ferrer took on the role of Slade/Deathstroke, one of his last roles before passing away earlier this year, his surly tones emanate through Deathstroke and he feels comfortable in the role. Brother Blood is a pretty forgettable character despite being the villain. Opening with strong start where we find him literally bathing in the blood of someone who crossed him, he quickly spirals into a pretty weak and unimpressive super powered ‘God’.
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is 80 minutes long. That’s 80 minutes to cram in a hell of a lot of story and character development. You get a decent bit of entertainment in that short 80 minutes and for those new to the story, it might be enough. For everyone else (myself included) it’s just not enough and feels like a watered down rendition of a classic. I had thought comparing a single feature film against a cartoon season would be pretty unfair but really the same story is told in the cartoon series in a fairly similar amount of time. The treatment of the characters and the decision to focus on just one relationship gave the series more to work with.
The Judas Contract had to cut out a lot to make it work within the timeframe. Why it chose to open with an unnecessary flashback is still confusing? Starfire’s meeting the Titans has no bearing on the actual plot! In fact the film loses it’s focus a few times. The theme of family permeates throughout. Blue Beetle struggles to find commonality with his father, Raven and her own father issues. That’s not to mention Robin and his grandfather. All of this is meant to act as a means of showing that despite their differences, the Titans share a lot of the same experiences or rather it’s meant to. It just comes across as clumsy; the film would have been better served by focusing on just one or two characters, taking a leaf from the pages of the animated series.
I cried when the second season of Teen Titans wrapped up their version of the comic book arc. The story had an impact on the team for the remainder of the series, in particular Beast Boy. The team behind the show delivered an emotional story chock full of action without sacrificing a whole pile. I’m sad to say the feature film doesn’t quite manage to achieve the same.
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is meant to be a jumping on point for new DC Comics fans. It does the job. However, it does so at the expense of some great story telling.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!