Fans waited a long time for “Teen Titans: The Judas Contract” to be released. An adaptation was planned as the third film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series, after “Superman: Doomsday” (2007) and “Justice League: The New Frontier” (2008) but it was eventually shelved. Thankfully, Warner Bros. Animation finally delivered on the 1984 story featured in “Tales of the Teen Titans” issues #42–44, and “Teen Titans Annual” #3, by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez.
This movie served as a sequel to 2016’s “Justice League vs. Teen Titans,” and focused on the team building a rapport in the field, while still growing as a family in the Titans tower. It centered around new member, Terra, in a very emotional and duplicitous tale. With that in mind, CBR decided to look at a few things that worked for the film, as well as what didn’t.
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for “Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.”
15. WORKED: A SENSE OF FAMILY
The Titans’ depiction here reminded us that they were a family. Apart from Terra, you could see Beast Boy trying to help Blue Beetle through tough times, and even Starfire and Nightwing took an interest. As leaders, they cared a lot, even throwing an eye on Raven after her issues with her demonic dad, Trigon. The highlight was seeing them together as one, especially at the end when Terra betrayed them. They didn’t write her off and still considered her one of theirs.
The moment which encapsulated togetherness the most was when they celebrated her one-year anniversary with the team, with snacks, cake and a dance-off. All of the snapshots showed fun times, and the one in the film’s final shot displaying Terra smiling with them, really hit home hard because they all understood and forgave her actions. They knew she had been through a lot, was preyed upon by Deathstroke and eventually manipulated into betrayal. That sense of empathy goes a long way and it was clear they felt a huge loss when they dug her out and mourned her.
14. DIDN’T WORK: TERRA’S LACK OF CHARACTER
This story hinged on Terra (a young teen able to control the ground) betraying the Titans as a mole for Deathstroke, who was cashing in a contract to kill the youngsters. However, given that this is the first time she’s introduced, it’s hard for us to connect with her Judas syndrome. Her villainous turn felt rushed, as most of her time (bar some romantic moments with Beast Boy) was spent brooding and hating on her teammates.
She should have been introduced before in the prequel against the Justice League to give us enough time to understand her. Even if it was her appearing in “Young Justice,” audience members unfamiliar with the character would have gotten a sense of who she was and why she wanted to betray the team. Instead, Terra’s backstabbing came off as an underdeveloped plot tool. She had an intriguing backstory but it was relegated to flashbacks and she failed to resonate when she turned on the heroes.
13. WORKED: BLUE BEETLE’S HUMANITY
In the movie, we saw Jaime Reyes really going through the emotional wringer as his scarab (alien-tech which gave him his powers) wasn’t keen on human interaction outside of the Titans. This drove a wedge between him and his father, and coupled with constantly being away from his family to train as a superhero, it started to take a toll on him. We saw him aggressively training and also pulling away from his teammates as the hero schtick now seemed to be a burden.
It was endearing watching him going back to his hometown to feed the homeless so that he could still connect to his past and the grassroots of where he came from. This was a nice angle of humanity and to see it with such a young superhero was heartwarming. This sense of family he had embedded within him was also transposed to the Titans, bringing it full-circle that they were more than just crimefighters.
12. DIDN’T WORK: DEATHSTROKE’S MOTIVATION
Deathstroke is usually a calculating menace, striking when you can’t see, and always 10 steps ahead. However, apart from using Terra to infiltrate the Titans, he just came off as a petty thug. He didn’t possess the genius or sinister vibe that the comic storyline had, and when his reasoning was revealed here, it fell flat. He took the Titans contract from Brother Blood because he wanted revenge on Damian for defeating him in the “Son of Batman” film.
Damian robbed him of taking over the League of Assassins as Ra’s Al Ghul’s successor, and quite frankly, this was nothing more than juvenile retribution, especially when Deathstroke took a liking to torturing the boy. With Deathstroke, it’s either about the money or something that goes beyond personal vendetta. In the books, he came after the team because he lost his son, Grant Wilson, but here, this retcon was forced to tie into animated continuity and landed as surprisingly underwhelming.
11. WORKED: NO REDEMPTION FOR TERRA
It was refreshing to see the filmmakers following through and not offer Terra any redemption. Instead, they stayed true, killing her off. Anything otherwise would have run hollow for the character and the story. After Deathstroke captured the Titans, they were going to be drained of their powers to power up Brother Blood, but he was one Titan short (as Nightwing wasn’t captured), so Deathstroke offered up a heartbroken Terra. After the team managed to escape Blood’s clutches, she went berserk and tried to kill her employer.
It ended with her bringing down the entire base, seemingly killing the villainous Slade Wilson in the process. However, when Beast Boy tried to rescue her, she was sunk in shame and brought the roof down on her head. He eventually recovered her from the rubble in the aftermath, and she died in his arms. It was a lesson of trust, a tough one of love (especially for Beast Boy), but more so, it was a big one in terms of family, as the Titans still honored her as one of their own, despite everything.
10. DIDN’T WORK: CONTINUITY CONFUSION
It gets a tad confusing at times with DC’s animated continuity. We know the movies are all synced up now as part of a big cohesive universe, but here, when the Titans first encountered Starfire, we saw the team in what appeared to be a very “Young Justice”-esque role. It boasted Wally West (as Kid Flash) who was voiced by Jason Spisak, Roy Harper (as Red Arrow) voiced by Crispin Freeman, and Bumblebee, voiced by Masasa Moyo — all three voiced these characters on “Young Justice.”
So, have the Titans confirmed as a pre-“Young Justice” team? Or a spinoff? This wasn’t clarified and that could mean that there’s also potential for another like-minded series. We wouldn’t want to see things get muddled down in a continuity war, like what Fox did for its X-Men universe. DC should be a bit more clear here as to how things stack up in terms of the Titans’ origins, especially with a third season of “Young Justice” in the works.
9. WORKED: DEATH & RAMIFICATIONS
Apart from Terra’s death, which can be seen as deserving, since she nearly killed off the entire team, it seemed that Deathstroke finally met his end too. This made sense given that Damian spared his life in “Son of Batman.” It was also a relief seeing Brother Blood pass on, but it’s the manner in which it happened that shocked us. Emaciated after Raven used her dark mysticism on him, Mother Mayhem planted a few bullets in him to end his suffering.
This was her modus operandi as she was quite extremist, and watching her cradle him as Terra brought the building down on them was poetic, as they were all about that cult life and transcending beyond humanity. It showed her love amid all her wicked ways. Everyone got their comeuppance in this movie, even the fanatics of H.I.V.E., who Deathstroke killed in trying to escape. It showed that no matter who you were, there were repercussions for trying to adopt a path of injustice.
8. DIDN’T WORK: LANGUAGE
If they wanted to make this an R-rated feature, then they should have. There was certainly a lot to back the cause. While the violence made sense (because it was basically Deathstroke deploying terrorist tactics) the profanity was chucked in just for the sake of having it present. There’s always a sense of levity to the Titans but when you have Nightwing, Damian and Blue Beetle trying to curse, the situations better call for it, and in a lot of these scenes, they didn’t.
When Deathstroke made his Dick Grayson puns, and also shot his mouth off with Damian, it felt right up his alley and within character, but when the Titans did it, no one ever felt organic with their words. We get that they’re teens and may want to get a bit cheeky and rude, but it needs to be within context and not like a bunch of kids trying way too hard to be overly snarky, as that would end up forcing the adult theme.
7. WORKED: BROTHER BLOOD AND H.I.V.E.
Brother Blood and H.I.V.E. haven’t always been the most prominent of villains, but here they came off as breaths of fresh air, finally getting time in the limelight. Blood, backed by Mother Mayhem, led religious fanatics, extremists and clearly had no boundaries on how to go about molding H.I.V.E. as a cult. This cult really felt ominous and creepy, but it’s the leaders that really painted them as evil, improving on what we saw on “Arrow.”
Blood was all about using his money to secure the Titans to absorb their powers, as he was intent on building his empire through supernatural means. The way he treated the media who opposed him and showed no respect for the heroes also shaped him as a dictator and true megalomaniac. Mayhem was also smartly portrayed as a cultist, loyal to the end, reminding fans of the extremism in the real world today. She was a blind follower, as was H.I.V.E., who were all ready to go down to the very end for what they believed in.
6. DIDN’T WORK: THE HUMOR
A lot of work needed to be done on the script’s humor. The Titans, as we’ve always seen in their depictions in various cartoons, have a sense of fun and comedy to them, but here, a balance wasn’t struck because they were made to be a bit more mature. Or at least, that’s what the creative team tried to achieve. It got skewed with too many juvenile jokes, which gave the impression they weren’t teens, but kindergarten kids, thus diluting the film as a whole.
Even when Beast Boy tried to court Terra with comedy, it came off as annoying and not as cute as say, when Dick harassed Damian about changing his Robin gear and taking a bath. Not all the jokes were annoying but the writing team appeared to have penned something gritty, then realized they needed some one-liners to make folks laugh, and then just layered them on. The humor didn’t feel natural to the plot or the characters at key intervals.
5. WORKED: MATURE TONE
DC’s animated movies keep pushing the envelope with each release and here, it’s no exception with the mature tone they throw at you. There’s a lot of blood, gore and violence in “The Judas Contract,” and it’s no surprise as it revolved around Deathstroke, who was trying to take the Titans down. In the scene where Terra is being tortured as a child, we see her tied to a jeep and dragged about, before being held at gunpoint. Things get even grimier when Deathstroke rescues her by beheading her tormentor.
Deathstroke also constantly pumped bullets into the opposition, and he brutally beat up Robin (Damian Wayne) in an interrogation. Even Brother Blood gets in on the act by hanging a reporter to death who questioned his H.I.V.E. organization as a front for a cult, while also bathing in his blood. His assistant, Mother Mayhem, is also trigger-happy, with one brutal scene where she shoots who appears to be Jericho (Deathstroke’s son) in his head. These scenes definitely crafted a fast-paced story where the stakes were very high.
4. DIDN’T WORK: OVER-SEXUALIZATION
DC’s animated movies are really overdoing it with the over-sexualization of their female characters. Here, we saw Dick and Starfire really playing up their bedroom antics, even in the field of battle. When they mentioned their endeavors in front the Titans, it was pretty much a facepalm moment. There’s a place and time for everything, but here, the sexual connotations were forced down our throats.
Shockingly, they also kept the plot from the books, where Terra kept trying to sleep with Deathstroke. Given her age and demeanor as such a small girl, it was super creepy. The lolita vibe didn’t work at all and it’s not going to be comfortable for parents to chaperone their teens to this scene. After the debacle with the Batgirl and Batman relationship in “The Killing Joke’s” adaptation, and the upcoming Harley Quinn short, which sees in her in several over-sexualized scenes with Nightwing, one has to wonder why DC’s females are being objectified like this.
3. WORKED: NEW FACES
This film cleverly expanded the borders of DC’s animated film universe by opening the door to new characters, directly and indirectly. With Deathstroke seemingly dead at the hands of Terra, maybe his kids, Grant and Rose, can pop up in the future as the Ravagers, looking to avenge his death. Of course, chances are he will show up with them, but we’re also waiting to see if the Jericho-esque character featured really is his son, as the post-credits showed the boy waking from the dead with green eyes after Mayhem shot him. This is indicative of his powers of possession, so our fingers are crossed.
In the climax, we also saw Donna Troy introduced with the Titans so hopefully we get to see her wonderful origins as someone who’s always up there with contenders to take over the mantle of Wonder Woman. Wonder Girl has already been seen in “Young Justice,” so it’ll be interesting how they chart Donna’s course moving forward.
2. DIDN’T WORK: FIGHT SEQUENCES
These fight sequences felt bland and didn’t build on anything that came before in the other animated films or series. DC seems to be set in this one style and it’s a very disconcerting point as we’ve come to expect better. It’s odd because while the animation was slicker and integrated hints of anime, the fight choreography and overall action sequences came off as stagnant. Nothing was separate from what we saw in previous animated materials with the Justice League, Bat-family or street-level fighters, such as Green Arrow or Catwoman kicking butt.
To avoid going stale, one example that could be looked at would be “Batman: Gotham Knight,” which incorporated many styles visually but in terms of fighting, was super versatile. When you look at the evolution of combat in anime such as “Naruto,” there’s no reason why these movies can’t follow a similar evolution. Faltering on this aspect takes away from the action and excitement that DC’s animated efforts wowed us with years ago.
1. WORKED: DEVIATION FROM THE SOURCE
It’s not an easy task shifting up comic lore and knocking it out of the park, but this film did just that. The roster the Titans used was one example, with Damian utilized (fueling Deathstroke’s revenge) and Blue Beetle (who modern cartoon fans connect with more). Cyborg was omitted as he’s currently with the Justice League, so it made sense how things were switched up. Also, the way Brother Blood and H.I.V.E. were adapted as an extremist cult hit the right marks given our current sociopolitical climate.
The comic event saw Dick debut as Nightwing, but here he was already established having been crucial to the animated universe in films prior, and it definitely worked as a counterbalance to Deathstroke. Another smart change was making Terra a metahuman as opposed to someone who was experimented on because it continued to show that there were superpowered individuals all over the world, with folks like Slade waiting to exploit them. The lolita angle with her could have been cut but other than that, “The Judas Contract” was a fresh, updated and contemporary spin on a story over three decades old.
Let us know in the comments what worked or didn’t work for you in “Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.”
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