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ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: April 4th, 2017 - Digital; April 18th, 2017 - Blu-ray, DVD

Synopsis: Led by Starfire, the Teen Titans – Beast Boy, Raven, Blue Beetle, Robin and the just-returned Nightwing – have built a cohesive team in their never-ending battle against evil; but their newest teammate, the mysterious and powerful Terra, may be altering that dynamic. Meanwhile, an ancient evil, Brother Blood, has awakened, and familiar foe Deathstroke is lurking in the shadows – both waiting to pounce. Ultimately, the Teen Titans will need to battle their enemies and their own doubts to unite and overcome the malicious forces around them in this twisting tale of intrigue, adventure and deception.

Christina Ricci (Zelda, Sleepy Hollow, The Addams Family) and the late Miguel Ferrer (NCIS: Los Angeles, RoboCop, Crossing Jordan) join the already established Teen Titans voice cast as Terra and Deathstroke, respectively. Returning Titans actors include Sean Maher (Firefly/Serenity, Batman: Bad Blood) as Nightwing, Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) as Raven, Jake T. Austin (Wizards of Waverly Place, The Fosters) as Blue Beetle, Brandon Soo Hoo (Tropic Thunder, From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series) as Beast Boy, Kari Wahlgren (Phineas and Ferb, Legion of Superheroes) as Starfire, and Stuart Allan (Batman vs. Robin, Batman: Bad Blood) as Robin/Damian. Gregg Henry (Scandal, The Killing, Payback) voices the villainous Brother Blood. The voice cast also includes Maria Canals-Barrera (Wizards of Waverly Place) as Jaime’s mother, Meg Foster (They Live) as Mother Mayhem, Crispin Freeman (Justice League Action, Batman: Arkham games) as Speedy, Masasa Moyo (Young Justice) as Bumblebee, David Zayas (Gotham, Dexter) as Jaime’s father, Jason Spisak (Young Justice) as Kid Flash, and Kevin Smith (Clerks, Geeking Out) as … himself.

Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is directed by Sam Liu (Batman: The Killing Joke) from a screenplay by Ernie Altbacker (Justice League Dark). Sam Register is Executive Producer; James Tucker (Batman Bad Blood, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders) is Supervising Producer; and Alan Burnett (Justice League vs. Teen Titans) is co-Producer.



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Teen Titans: The Judas Contract Feature Review
By James Harvey

Fans have been waiting years to see the classic The New Teen Titans storyline "The Judas Contract" adapted into an animated feature and, thankfully, Warner Bros. Animation delivers a satisfying take on the beloved comic storyline. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract uses the source material to form its own take on the famed 1980s game-changer, and it's a solid addition to the ongoing DC Universe Animated Original Movie line, though not without a couple missteps. That said, fans who have been clamoring for an animated Teen Titans movie will definitely get a thrill in seeing the teenaged superhero team back in action.

Roughly a year following the events of Justice League vs. Teen Titans, Our teen heroes find themselves dealing with a host of relationship problems as they attempt to stop the threat of Brother Blood, a cult leader with aspirations of world domination. Blue Beetle is trying to connect to his family while also trying to control with the alien scarab on his back. Nightwing and Starfire adjust to the former Boy Wonder's return to the team, and the new dynamic that creates, while also pushing their relationship ahead. Terra, the newest addition to the team (she joined shortly after the events of Justice League vs. Teen Titans), struggles with her past while trying to accept her place on the team. Add in Deathstroke's own part of the story, along with a mini-arc for Damian, and, yes, the film can seem a little full, but to writer Ernie Altbacker's credit, he's able to weave and maneuver all these story threads with ease (and still finds plenty of time to work in a fair share of action beats).

Of course, as comic readers know, there's some pretty dark stuff below the surface when it comes to Terra and her story and, to the film's credit, it doesn't shy away. There's a few pretty intense and even disturbing flashbacks to her childhood, painting a picture of someone who is far more damaged than she realizes. To keep this as spoiler free as possible, her troubled background leads her to make some extremely questionable choices in present day as the Titans learn the full scope of Blood's plans, and how Deathstroke is intertwined.

Nightwing, Starfire, Robin and Terra get the thrust of the film's attention, with enemies Deathstroke and Brother Blood getting a solid amount of screentime to build them as credible threats. While some may find Deathstroke's want for revenge and recognition a disservice to the character's comic roots, as a highly-skilled mercenary loner with a carefully crafted rep, it actually works perfectly with the character's previous appearance in Son of Batman and feels natural (even consider how both Young Justice and Beware the Batman greatly revised the character's backstory there, too). Nightwing and Starfire have a nice subplot as the two opt to take their relationship to the next level and move in together. It's handled really well and the couple's interactions actually result in some of the film's funniest moments. Damian's role ends up being larger than one would expect, though understandable so given his relationship with Deathstroke (and the latter's role in the movie). They have some unfinished business from Son of Batman to tackle and it all comes to a head here. Much like with Justice League vs. Teen Titans, the film gives Damian some closure in respect to his complicated past, further pushing along his story-arc.

It's worth noting that the voice work for Terra and Deathstroke is terrific. The entire cast is solid, as it seems like everyone is settling comfortably into their roles, but these two stand out. Christina Ricci perfectly captures the conflicted, brash, defiant personality of Terra. Ricci has a great handle on the character, and you sense the confusion, frustration and anger just bubbling below Terra's surface. Ricci gets a couple moments to really cut loose during the film's climax, as the Titans find themselves facing the culmination of Blood's plans, and she just crushes it. The late Miguel Ferrer is pitch-perfect as Deathstroke here, bringing the right amount of tough guy bravado, smarminess and aggravation to the role. Ferrer gets some really excellent moments with Robin, Nightwing and Terra that allow him, as an actor, to just really wallow in how terrible of a person Slade is. There's one moment in particular, where Deathstroke is taunting a captured Damian, that highlights the film's sharp writing and Ferrer's incredible talent.

Unfortunately, there's so much going on that some characters do get a little short-changed. Despite a few quieter moments, and a budding relationship with Terra, Beast Boy is never really able to break out of the 'team jokester' mold. And even though she has a few moments that are somewhat critical to the film's plot, Raven role in the movie ends up being pretty small overall. While the film is likely counting on viewers remembering the group's dynamics from last year's Justice League vs Teen Titans, or at least have a passing familiarity to them from other interpretations in the media, some of our heroes come off as rather one note, though that's understandable given the size of the cast. Brother Blood doesn't go through any real character development in the movie, but he's built up enough so the final showdown between him and the Titans is quite satisfying.

Concerning the film's voice talent, aside from the previously mentioned Ricci and Ferrer, the entire cast pulls out solid work, nicely fitting their respective roles. Sean Maher and Kari Walhgren have great chemistry as Nightwing and Starfire, and work off each other really well. Taissa Farmiga seems to have comfortably settled into the role of Raven, sounding more natural here than she did in Justice League vs. Teen Titans. Stuart Allan continues to own the role of Damian, selling the character's rough, arrogant shell (which actually masks caring, thoughtful person beneath). It also sounds like Allan's voice is getting a little deeper, too. And while Brother Blood is a little light in terms of development, Gregg Henry is able to really breathe some life into the character. Voice and casting director Wes Gleason has pulled together a fantastic cast and elicits some really enjoyable performances.

The animation quality for Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is solid, even with the budgetary limitations. Some of the action scenes do get a little rough but, overall, each tussle is fun, well choreographed and energetic. The movie is able to mix things up nicely by giving each major action sequence a unique setting. There's the flashback at the start of the movie featuring the original team rescuing Starfire, the assorted showdowns with the team and Brother Blood's minions, one corker of a fight between Deathstroke and Robin and, of course, the big climactic boss battle at the end. And the pacing is just right, too, with the back and forth between quiet moments and action scenes feeling organic and natural. The action scenes never drag on, nor do the quiet character moments ever feel dull, a testament to Sam Liu's solid directing.

For those familiar with the original The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract comic storyline, the movie does make a fair amount of changes as it adapts the story to the DC Universe Animated Original Movie continuity. Deathstroke is drastically different, for example, understandably so given the killer's League of Assassin's background in the animated continuity, though the core themes of relationships and betrayal remain intact. It's impossible for the film to slavishly develop everything from the original storyline, but the changes they made to adapt it to this animated movie, I find, do work. Plus, it even manages to throw in a few wonderful surprises that could catch even the most devoted DC Comics fan off guard. The film also retains the team's strong core dynamic, resulting in a group of heroes I'm hoping we'll get to see again in future animated movie.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract works as both an accessible adventure for new viewers and a solid adaption for long-time fans to take in and enjoy. The animation is solid, the script is good and the action is executed superbly, and all that is tied together nicely with another stellar score by Frederick Weidmann. Much like with Justice League Dark earlier this year, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract helps to build out the continuity of the DC Universe Animated Original Movie titles, this time by showing us more of the Teen Titan's world (something long overdue). This is their adventure - away from the Batman or the Justice League - and the creative team here picked the right story to remind us just how great these characters are. Whether you know the source material or not, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is worthwhile spin that just might surprise you. Highly Recommended!

[ Continue on to the Teen Titans: The Judas Contract Blu-ray review ]

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