The Teen Titans are not good superheroes. This, above all else, seems to be the central conceit of the new DC/Warner Bros film Teen Titans Go! to the Movies. The Teen Titans might be fun or exciting or transgressive, but they lack the cache that all good superheroes have. They just aren’t good superheroes. But they could be.
The plot of the film is straightforward. The Teen Titans live in a Universe that exists somewhere between the live action DC movie universe and our own. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and all their super friends exist. And they all have their movies. Superhero movies have entirely taken over. There are even plans for movies about Alfred, The Batmobile, and the Utility Belt. But the Teen Titans never get their own red carpet moment.
Early in the film, Superman explains that the reason that the Teen Titans are on the cinematic blacklist is simple. They’re silly goofballs and not good superheroes. They spend all their time busting sweet rhymes or making fart jokes when they should be stopping bad guys. They don’t even have a menacing arch nemesis like Lex Luthor, Sinestro, or the Rainbow Raider.
The first act of the movie consists of Teen Titans Go! style capers. Twelve-minute vignettes in which our heroes try and prove themselves worthy of a movie, only to fail. But when Robin and the gang stumble into a fight with the one-eyed mercenary Slade, they find themselves with an arch nemesis and more cultural cache than they can imagine.
Slade has disguised himself as Jade Wilson, a famous filmmaker who busies herself with the production of as many DC superhero movies as possible. Slade’s ultimate plan is to embed secret mind control programming into these movies. Then, he will compile all the films onto a single streaming service which he will beam out to every phone, tablet, computer, and TV on the planet. Once he controls the mind of every DC fan on Earth, he will use them to steal everything he wanted Beginning, one imagines, with the Snyder Cut.
But in all seriousness, this animated children’s movie about teenage superheroes who like to make fart jokes is the most scathing criticism of Warner Bros. and DC that I’ve ever heard. One image writer/director Aaron Horvath, and his Cartoon Network team, painstakingly repeating their Sisyphean pitch for a fun DC movie. Meanwhile, all around them, grimdark green lights are pinging on for any yahoo whose ever glimpsed a comic book. Then, one day, impossibly, they hear rumors of a Titans series on the DC streaming service. And the words “Fuck Batman.” It’s the sort of pressure cooker that creates a perfect diamond.
Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is not the movie that its titular characters want you to see. They would love nothing more to be the starts of the upcoming Titans series on DC Universe. But unfortunately for them if not for us, they are trapped in a different DC universe. One where heroes can smile, tell jokes, and enjoy being heroic. The sweet, sweet world of animated DC movies.