Superhero movies have developed into an industry unto themselves, an economic force that rivals the GDP of some small nation-states. Studios, audiences and critics all seem to take them very, very seriously. The creative team behind Teen Titans Go! To the Movies does not share that particular affliction. In what amounts to a feature-length episode of the Cartoon Network animated series from whence it sprang, TTG!TTM squarely takes aim at the obsessive culture of superhero fandom, Hollywood excess, convoluted comic book continuities, ’90s nostalgia and the proliferation of streaming media and screen addiction, all while keeping your kids relatively quiet for an hour and a half. Is it good? Not particularly — but who needs grimacing fascists in spandex when you’ve got malignant narcissism and fart jokes? So many fart jokes.
Credit is due to screenwriters Michael Jelenik and Aaron Horvath for at least attempting to knock the superhero subgenre down a few pegs and for padding the story with plenty of in-jokes for comic book nerds in the bargain. Some of those jokes are particularly deep cuts, undoubtedly included exclusively for the die-hard fans of the DC universe. But there are plenty of references that will resonate with neophytes as well, and there’s a profusion of singing to keep the kids distracted while their parents laugh at throwaway lines about everything from the 2011 Green Lantern flop to Back to the Future. While the musical numbers proved particularly grating in my estimation, where else can you hear Nicholas Cage, voicing Superman, say the words “explosive diarrhea”?
Even Cage’s inclusion is an in-joke — a reference to Tim Burton and Kevin Smith’s aborted film Superman Lives, for those unfamiliar with their Cageiana — but the references go so much further. From superficial examples such as a “Stan Lee” cameo to more in-depth jabs like Rob Liefeld’s blatant ripoff of DC villain Deathstroke (here referred to as Slade) in his creation of Deadpool, TTG!TTM is a congratulatory cavalcade of conspicuous comic book consumption for the nerd’s nerd among its intended audience.
But just who is that audience? Do people who have sufficiently engorged themselves on sequential art to recognize the “Challengers of the Unknown” even have kids? (I have, and I don’t.) Thus, TTG!TTM skirts a delicate line with nothing approaching delicacy, pandering to the 8-year-olds while critiquing social constructs that will go drastically over their heads. Directors Horvath and Peter Rida Michail have created an unfortunate chimera, seeking to re-create the lo-fi appeal of a comedy that airs in 15-minute segments by blowing it up into a feature-length musical action extravaganza, and the results are less than the sum of its parts.
Still, there’s a niche to be filled with such a timely takedown of the increasingly bloated world of cinematic comic book adaptations. Especially in light of fan response to the company’s gritty live-action Titans series, DC seems particularly in want of some levity. Some of the jokes land, most don’t, but there’s still an offbeat allure to TTG!TTM — and I feel certain that this version of Robin is unlikely to ever say “F— Batman.” It’s hardly required viewing, but at least it’s better than Dawn of Justice.