Surprisingly clever and consistently entertaining, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a real surprise and an affectionate send-up of the superhero zeitgeist.
Well, this is a pleasant surprise. Perhaps it won’t be quite as pleasant or surprising to those of you who had any actual idea what Teen Titans Go! was before seeing this film, but it had completely passed me by. From what I can work out from Teen Titans Go! To the Movies itself and cursory post-movie, pre-review googling, it’s adapted from a popular Cartoon Network show that is pitched pretty squarely at really young children, but for some reason operates on a self-referential meta level that appeals primarily to much older fans of DC and comic book properties in general. Which is weird, when you think about it.
But the film’s odd place in the broader popular-culture notwithstanding, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a really smart and funny examination of its own existence, and a pacey, balanced family film that alternately mocks and embraces the superhero saturation at the modern box office. It’s profoundly weird and operates at a rattling, joke-a-second pace that some viewers will find absolutely intolerable, and the more straightforward send-up bits are interspersed with song parodies that almost all go on too long, but the relentlessly goofy energy was enough to win me over immediately and keep me entertained throughout.
The plot, such as it is, concerns the Teen Titans – Robin (Scott Menville), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Raven (Tara Strong), Cyborg (Khary Payton) and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes) – realising that they’re a team not particularly worthy of a blockbuster movie. After seeing that Warner Bros. have plans to rework every aspect of the Batman mythos into a feature-film except for his dutiful sidekick, Robin and the rest of the Titans set out to convince a famous director (Kristen Bell) that they’re worthy of investment.
To do that they’ll need an arch-nemesis, which in this case is Deathstroke (Will Arnett), although throughout Teen Titans Go! To the Movies he’s repeatedly referred to by his real name, Slade, thanks to an absurd running gag about how fun it is to say. There’ll also be time for a brilliant send-up of Back to the Future which sees the Titans interfering in the origin stories of DC’s most popular stalwarts – “Golly, thanks for taking me to the movies in this dangerous neighbourhood, dad!” – and, of course, an evil conspiracy that threatens the world which can only be thwarted by singing funny songs and making nudge-nudge-wink-wink references to other comic book movies.
Needless to say, then, there are Martha jokes, Green Lantern gags, several direct references to Deadpool, Stan Lee cameos, and the obligatory trite realisations that you should appreciate what you have rather than wishing for more. But while Teen Titans Go! To the Movies doesn’t break new ground even within the deconstructionist sub-category of superhero films, it really isn’t trying to. It’s a colourful, affectionate look at comic-book minutiae and its role in contemporary culture, but it’s also meant for an audience that are too young for Deadpool 2 and might for the first time be realising that it’s perfectly okay – and probably healthy – to take the piss out of things you enjoy.
In that sense, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies isn’t just a pleasant surprise, but also a public service.