3 stars (out of 4)
Guess who’s here to save the summer from the comedy doldrums? Hint: It ain’t The Equalizer 2. The answer is . . . five wisecracking animated superheroes named Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven and Beast Boy. They call themselves the Teen Titans. And their very funny first feature, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, made me laugh out aloud more times than I care to admit.
Let me set the scene. I attended a screening with all the excitement of a Monday morning visit to the DMV. Based on the in-depth tutorial given to me by 10-year-old nephew — a fanatic of the long-running DC Entertainment TV series on the Cartoon Network — I was certain I was going to be hit with 90 minutes of juvenile fart jokes and boink-pow-wham super-zany! adventures. The polished joy of The Incredibles 2 seemed a distant dream. I plopped down in a corner seat and clutched my phone for dear life in my tote, fully prepped to scroll through all my social media feeds the moment the flick started to grate. It didn’t. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is fresh, musical, clever, gleeful and mischievous enough to delight audiences of all ages. Is there anything more refreshing in life than a pleasant surprise?
The Titans all have nifty powers. But no matter what they do, they’re regarded as the pathetic JV team in the D.C. superhero universe. As in, what creepy villain do they have to defeat to get their own movie? They were left out of Justice League. They weren’t even invited to the fancy world premiere of the new Batman film, titled Batman Again. “You don’t save anyone!” Superman (Man in Steel super-fan Nicolas Cage, natch), implores to the whiny group. That’s not truuuue. Pipes up one Titan, “We went to dinner and saved room for dessert!”
De facto leader Robin (Greg Cipes), Batman’s longtime disrespected sidekick, is determined to get his Titans some much-needed big screen action. He and the group goes to Hollywood with a few ideas up their costumed sleeves and even more songs in their hearts. For example, what if there were no Batman? Then they’d hog the spotlight, right? With the help of time-traveling Cyborg (Khary Payton), they go back to the past to make sure that Mr. and Mrs. Wayne and young Bruce never walk down that dangerous dark alley. No good. Sorry, Mrs. Wayne! Mind you, I’m only revealing about 8 percent of the jokes. And 0 percent of the soundtrack. Though you can probably guess which ‘80s song accompanies that sequence.
The solution? Pull a dangerous rescue job to prove their worth. Conveniently, a Super-Villain (Will Arnett) has just revealed he has maniacal plan to take over the Earth.
The cheeky humor is its secret weapon. Much like the various Lego movies, Teen Titans is smart enough to know that audiences have burned out on the regular comic-book mainstays. Our beloved Wonder Woman (Halsey) isn’t immune. Neither are the rival Marvel superheroes, as one Deadpool throw-away aside fully encapsulates what’s amiss with the just-released sequel. A running Stan Lee gag is killer. And, just for good measure, kids get to learn that scrappy teamwork will always win out.
Consider this movie a wake-up call: Comic-book adaptations, for the most part, are supposed to be goofy fun — even if that means, sigh, the occasional fart joke. Nice job, kiddos.
Teen Titans Go! to the Movies is in theaters on Friday, July 27.
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