It took more than two decades and a big-screen adaptation/semi-sequel/standalone feature for Nicolas Cage, the world’s biggest Superman fan (he named his firstborn Kal-El), he finally got the chance to slip into the Big Blue Boy Scout’s tights, albeit in cartoon form. Cage’s Superman only plays a minor, tangential role in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, but it’s the clearest example of co-directors Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail’s mega-meta-take on a superhero genre (DC Edition) in need of the occasional takedown or skewering. Nothing’s sacred to Horvath and Michail, not Superman, not Batman, not Wonder Woman (DC’s Holy Trinity), and definitely not the (Pre) Teen Titans who lend their name to Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and provide moviegoers, young and old alike, with an almost infinite supply of verbal jokes, physical gags, and everything in between (including periodic, self-aware musical numbers).
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The Robin (voiced by Scott Menville) we meet in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies isn’t exactly a boy wonder. Robin might be the nominal team leader, but he’s also a champion-level whining, constantly complaining about the lack of respect the Teen Titans – and by extension, Robin – constantly receive from other superheroes, including the Justice League. Of course, it doesn’t help that the Teen Titans, Robin, the green-skinned, shape-shifting Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), the half-boy, half-machine Cyborg (Khary Payton), grimdark Goth princess Raven (Tara Strong), and the irrationally exuberant alien Starfire (Hynden Walch), can’t take themselves, let alone a big-city battle with the kaiju-sized Balloon Man (Greg Davies), seriously. They break into song, their first of many, before they’ve actually defeated Balloon Man, forcing the Justice League to swoop in and save the day and/or the city too.
But with every A-, B-, and C-List superhero getting their own movie, courtesy of filmmaker Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell), Robin hits on the idea that his own superhero movie = instant respect in the superhero community. He also reluctantly learns that a superhero isn’t a superhero without an arch-nemesis to call his frenemy (as true in comics as in the reel world), finally getting one in the teal-and-orange form of Slade / Deathstroke (Will Arnett). Like any supervillain, Slade has a dream (i.e., world domination) and a plan (unspoiled here, but involving his skills as a master manipulator, not unlike The Incredibles 2’s Screenslaver). In the Teen Titans universe, though, everything’s ripe for a comedic send-up, including Slade’s resemblance to Marvel’s popular Deadpool character. Horvath and Michail “cross streams” (i.e., mix and match superhero universes), up to and including … a completely gratuitous, self-serving Stan Lee cameo in cartoon form (voiced by Stan Lee).
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies operates simultaneously on multiple levels, as a kid-oriented, big-screen adaptation of the popular, ongoing Cartoon Network series (hello, also goodbye, to fart and poop jokes), as a superhero team-up story about saving the world from the excesses of pop culture, and as a fearless, knowing, self-aware meta-comedy that leaves no superhero convention free of finger-pointing spoofing, all done up in anime-inspired, brightly colorful, two-dimensional animation. Horvath and Michail weave any number of brilliant gags, from the increasingly insulting (to Robin) Batman-related superhero movies, to Raven’s super-special, dimension-opening power (handy more often not), semi-obscure DC references like the Challengers of the Unknown (they get an invite to a superhero movie premiere, the Teen Titans don’t), songs with titles like “Go!” (hip-hop flavored intro), “My Superhero Movie” (with Special Effects), an “Upbeat Inspirational Song about Life,” and “Check This Out” (a hilarious Lion King parody), to a near-brilliant, extended Back to the Future riff that attempts to undo the origin stories of key DC superheroes. Between The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie, and now Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, it might be time to acknowledge that Warner Bros. does superhero parody better than straight-up, self-serious superhero movies (i.e., the now apparently defunct Snyderverse).