Titans (2018)

A bold, dark new take on the team for mature audiences, Titans is an addictive Netflix-like binge w/ chilled mise-en-scene, near-perfect castings (except Starfire), R-tone, & indie crowd-pleasers like Hawk & Dove, Wonder Girl, & Doom Patrol. 9.1/10.

Plot Synopsis: A team of young superheroes led by Dick Grayson as Nightwing (formerly Batman’s first Robin), Raven, Starfire, and Beast Boy, form to combat a rising evil hiding in plain sight.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Official CLC Review

A bold, dark new take on DC’s iconic teen team redesigned for a decidedly-mature audience, Titans is an addictive Netflix-like binge with strong characterization, action, and chemistry. I’ll admit, I was worried when I first saw the Comic Con trailer: looked rushed, questionably-cast, and too uncharacteristically-dark for the iconic show-Teen Titans of Cartoon Network pop culture fame. However, I, and everyone who doubted this show, was wrong (as a perfect reminder of why you NEVER judge a show or movie off one trailer).

There are so many things Titans gets right and even does uniquely for the first time in DC’s long history. First, the castings are nearly PERFECT, led by the absolutely phenomenal, sensational Brandon Thwaites’ Nightwing. His performance is nuanced, range-ful, and gets the character of Robin/Nightwing down to an absolute T from the comics – with jaw-droppingly gorgeous fight scenes in adult-Gotham’y brutality and choreographing and a damaged psyche from years of vigilantism and Batman-siding. Beyond that, almost every single casting (and their writing/characterization) is perfection and show clear and impressive understanding of the characters by the showrunners: Teagan Croft is an incredible darkness-haunted Rachel/Raven who shows impressive duality going from innocent girl to demon at the flip of the switch sometimes, Ryan Potter steals the show as the hilarious and diversity/Asian-bonus Beast Boy (with surprisingly strong CGI in animal-morphing), and all of the other cameo characters are literal perfection in casting from the smug and cocky Curran Walters’ Jason Todd with brilliant writing of his shakiness that could lead to a mind-blowing Red Hood arc down the line, Conor Leslie’s iconic and powerful Donna Troy that just exudes feminine class and is sublimely reminiscent of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman all the way down to looks and movements, (will get to Anna Diop’s Starfire later but the part is played well), Alan Ritchson & Minka Kelly’s depth-filled Hawk and Dove, and all of the celebratorily-weird and zany Doom Patrol that has brought serious hype (deservedly so) for their show from the comic book community.

It is a true comic book fan’s dream to see all these iconic indie characters with amazing stories and history just waiting to be told on the big (or silver) screen finally start to see the light of day. And this show is (near-entirely) to thank for that, in essence setting up a shared universe of characters who could all warrant their own series and might get them, just like Arrow did with the Flash cameoing on the show first and by accident becoming so hyped due to the perfection of casting/portrayal that it started arguably the biggest superhero show of All-Time and an entire Billion-$-A-Year universe at the CW currently in its 8th-year with countless spinoffs and crossovers I would be ecstatic if this show could eventually join one day. The writing and plotting for each character is exactly what I had hoped for and expected with Greg Berlanti and Geoff Johns at helm, juggling all these characters and their complex and potentially daunting arcs brilliantly weaving them coherently to create a team-feel made up of the sum of its strong parts.

The action and tone of Titans is absolutely sublime, and a perfect palate-extender from its brother DCTV-universe at the CW deciding here (and having the freedom to since it’s a streaming service not having to deal with mainstream television laws/restrictions) to go completely dark and adult in theme. The show can get even brutal and sinister at times, a little much and not for everyone but amazing if you’re a fan of dark and serious cinema like I am. The fight scenes are thrilling in their swift pacing, character movements and strength/powers, and placing with exceptional fight choreography on par with the best I’ve ever seen in a superhero show. The romance and humor are also not given second-fiddle here with some strong matches teased and strongly-executed/built over time like Raven/Beast Boy, Hawk and Dove, and (hopefully) Nightwing/Donna Troy since they all just have so much chemistry and plenty of sophisticated (not Marvel-y/silly) humor worked in as well especially towards the end of the season.

Finally, the cinematography and camerawork/grating is unreal. Chilled in mise-en-scene with a high-budget-feeling crispness and definition unseen so far to this level in DCTV, and some serious attention to classically set-up shots and cinematography inventively filmed (especially during fight scenes with everything from revolving shots to overhead ones), Titans is one of the most beautiful shows to look at. And lastly, all the uncountable DC Easter Eggs undetectable to anyone but huge fans they feel like an homage to/aimed at, from Konstatin Kovar to Superboy and Krypto (post-credits scene FTW!!).

Now, there are some flaws, the biggest of them being a singular one: Starfire. I cannot for the life of me understand why they decided to go so POC/SJW here, and why they did so when there was a much easier solution to that that would’ve still worked in canon. The showrunners (likely from top-down forcing from WB to look progressive and appeal to millennials) decided to cast African-American actress Anna Diop as Starfire, which, though she tries and is fine acting-wise, simply doesn’t work. Besides the fact that it feels like forced diversity which is never a hot idea in a TV series, she looks absolutely NOTHING like Starfire. Starfire is an orange alien with a purple space-y suit who, if anything, has had the facial/visual characteristics of someone Spanish back from her comics introduction nearly 40 years ago. Which is exactly what they did in Injustice 2 as well when the game decided to bring her into near-live action with a look that just screamed ‘YES’ by the comic book community, and is real (unforced) diversity that would’ve given representation to another (arguabl just as if not more) excluded group in modern cinema so I cannot understand why they didn’t just do that. She is legit dressed like a stripper with what looks like a weave/wig for half the season, and it is WRONG and more than insulting to fans of her especially with such a huge part in the season and every episode in her self-discovery arc (that gets the writing and characterization perfect too which is even more maddening due to its possible perfection with the right casting..)

Beyond that unforgiveable flaw in casting, there is some other minor transgressions. First, the season finale. *Spoiler* While I love the decision to bring Batman into the mix and have a Bruce-Gone-Dark angle portraying him as a villain in need of stopping, this should NOT have been the season finale. Season finales are supposed to tie up everything from the season into a nice bow with a definitive sense of finality, epic fight with the big bad, and, especially in a team series, showcase the team’s development and working together. Titans, while a good regular episode, is not that, and should have been Titans vs. Trigon (with perhaps the Robin vision for half the episode max and maybe included him becoming Titans with the same equally intriguing final evil cliffhanger for S2) for at least half the episode or more. Beyond that, some of the CGI towards the back-half of the season is spotty but overlookable, and again the tone can get grisly at times but nothing major if you know and like what you’re getting yourself into.

Overall, despite a simply-bad choice/casting in Starfire and mixed finale execution, Titans is a sublime new superhero TV series with a decidedly mature theme and target audience. Its chilled cinematography, attention to detail in characterization utilizing its near-PERFECT castings and crowd-pleasing indie comic book characters praisingly finally getting to see the life of day like Doom Patrol/Hawk&Dove/Donna Troy, and fight/action scenes are a true treat and elevate to the heights of DC’s fortified TV empire as one of the best series, perhaps ever. Bring on season 2.

Overall Rating: 9.1/10

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