I have been experiencing superhero fatigue as of late. Between Marvel's entertaining but dense schedule of films, DC's trickle of mostly terrible films, and the barrage of TV series, I am exhausted. Yet I have been waiting all year for Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, based on the Cartoon Network cartoon. Frankly, this is the superhero movie we need right now. It is lighthearted yet sincere; it is funny but not mean-spirited; and the focus is less on beating the bad guy, and more on achieving your dreams.
I have no problem admitting that I am a huge fan of Teen Titans Go!, and I don't even have children. The TV series has always had smart — if silly — writing, and the movie is no different. The film is loaded with awesome Easter eggs, everything from a storefront called The ROR Shack to a sign welcoming you to Jump City, with the tag, "It's Safer Than Gotham!," to a poster for a movie called Batman vs. Joker: Yawn of Justice. Another movie poster sends Detective Chimp to look for Superman's mustache. A prank call to Superman warns him that Lois Lane is in danger of falling victim to Gene Hackman's real estate scheme. The animals that are perched outside Titans Tower (which change every season) are seen hanging around. It is a feast for the eyes.
Some of the best jokes in the film are subtle, but not quite "Easter egg" levels of subtle. When the Titans meet up with Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern at the start of the film, Superman raves about his dozens of feature films; Wonder Woman remarks that it took a while, but she got hers; and Green Lantern says that there was a Green Lantern movie, albeit with a different Green Lantern, but "we don't talk about that."
When the Titans decide to go back in time to prevent the tragedies that created the superheroes we know and love, this includes tossing a six-pack ring into the ocean to "catch" Aquaman, and turning a quartet of turtles away from a puddle of ooze. They prevent young Bruce Wayne and his parents from walking down the crime-ridden alley, then when they return to re-instigate the tragedies, they direct the Waynes down that alley and notably, give Martha Wayne her pearl necklace.
My favorite scene blatantly makes fun of Batman vs. Superman, in which Batman and Superman are about to fight - when they realize their moms are both named Martha and they hug it out. Then they realize their fathers have different names, and the fight is back on.
Pretty much every DC character has a cameo in this film. The usual suspects are there (Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash) as well as secondary and tertiary characters like Swamp Thing, Jonah Hex, Krypto the Superdog, Vixen, Martian Manhunter, and Black Lightning, just to name a few. Characters that appeared in the TV series, like Sticky Joe, Kid Flash, Aqualad, and the Wonder Twins had cameos in the film. (I didn't catch Wally T hanging out in the crowd scenes, but I will look for him during my next viewing.)
Challengers of the Unknown was a major recurring joke through the film. I had to look them up when I got home, a group of four men who were the only survivors of a plane crash. The fact that they and Batman's utility belt got movies before Robin got one makes their obscurity all the better.
Speaking of cameos... Stan Lee had one! Yes, he is the king of Marvel, and the movie jokes about it, teasing him for appearing in the "wrong" movie universe. But Stan Lee loves his cameos, and he makes the most of it. While most of the jokes are DC/Warner Bros. focused, Marvel doesn't escape scrutiny. The film opens with what appears to be the Marvel Productions comic book flip (as seen at the start of all the Marvel films), but it is only a pelican reading a comic book. The Titans are initially mistaken for the Guardians of the Galaxy, and when they run out of snacks, Superman suggests they go steal the snacks from the Spider-Man set.
I have always found Teen Titans Go! to be rather inclusive. Out of a group of five, there is one white male (Robin); one green dude (Beast Boy); one guy who is half African-American, half machine (Cyborg); one alien princess (Starfire); and one half-human, half-demon girl (Raven). Like with the TV show, Raven and Starfire are never relegated to being sidekicks, or caretakers of the group. What I like best about this is that Starfire and Raven's gender is never an issue, one way or another (although there were a couple episodes of the TV series where the girls prove they are better than the boys). They are equal members of the team.
Another interesting show of equality is the fact that the character Jade Wilson is billed as the foremost director of superhero movies is a woman. (Well, kind of. I don't want to spoil it for you, but it's a kid's film; it's not hard to figure out who Jade Wilson's alter-ego is.) It would be nice if other, live-action DC films were directed by women (you know, aside from the one that is about women), but it does hint at the gender bias in the industry.
The film includes a cast consisting entirely of superheroes, but fighting crime was not the main focus. In fact, there was very little fighting in this film. The focus was far less about the Teen Titans fighting a villain, and more about following your dreams. Robin desperately wants to be a superhero, not a sidekick, and he believes the only way to do that is to have his own movie. Not a bad thought process, considering the saturation of superheroes at the box office. But the story is about Robin - and the other Titans - doing whatever it takes to get a movie. Sometimes that is going "Back to the Future - I mean, the past!" and sometimes it means betraying your friends. But everyone learns their lesson, and everyone goes back to being friends. Plus, there is an unusually optimistic 1980s throwback musical number called "Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life." It is weird, yet somehow it works.
There are so many in-jokes, Easter eggs, and references, you simply cannot absorb them all in a single viewing. After watching the film, I left the theater with a happy, peaceful feeling. I cannot remember the last movie that gave me that feeling, and I cannot wait to see it again.