Let me be frank, I have no business talking about the DC universe.
Not wanting to compare apples and grenades, but the criticism and discourse surrounding the comic books and their televisual and cinematic outings is unlike any other fandom due to it, well, being on opposite ends of both the quality spectrum, and that of its own adaptation. The question most eternal that concerned creators ponder: Do I create a comic book movie, or a movie based on a comic book?
Television wise, DC has concentrated on that second option. And since Arrow first debuted back in 2012, the combined camp and melodrama of the Arrowverse, shows like The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow have resulted in a viewing experience that most people seem happy with. Prequel-series Gotham, despite playing its own game, has also enjoyed a high level of success. I myself tapped out after the first season of the Flash as I had other things to do, but I give credit where credit is due.
Point being. DC television, and I include the animated contingent, has found stability where DC films have not. The movies are still stalling over tone commitments and the public reactions, ranging from basic indifference to internet fury, now possess a direct influence on the finished products that we get. Look what happened to the Academy award-winning Suicide Squad.
So when Dick Grayson aka Robin appeared in the Comic Con trailer for Titans muttering the words “F*ck Batman”, the world was deafened by a unified groan. But it seems that DC stood their ground, and the show is now available to watch on Netflix.
And boy, does it have problems.
Grayson, played by Brenton Thwaites, lives as a cop in Detroit, years after he parted ways with the Caped Crusader on not-so-good sentiments. While on the job, he encounters a young girl with black and blue hair named Rachel (played by Teagan Croft). She is running from a strange and malevolent force, one that both pursues and inhibits her body and mind. Now on the run together, they come across red-haired amnesiac Kory Anders (Anna Diop), who seems to possess the fiery power of the sun. And Garfield Logan (Ryan Potter), a green-haired (gotta love this colour motif) youngster who possesses a wild side like none other, and who can transform into different animals at will. Meanwhile, a darkness threatens to engulf their world and others, and it is up to the team to come together and save it, even if that threat may originate from within them.
At first glance, Titans has some things going for it. It has excellent cinematography and colour mixing that, though perhaps dulled at times, amounts to a show that elevates it above the Arrowverse and even Gotham in depicting a more epic and sinister atmosphere. You can feel that this is a world wherein terrible things happen. It also sounds like a darker world. Kevin Kiner and Clint Mansell’s musical score makes extensive use of low-flying swoops and ambient pauses to establish a mood of mystery and uncertainty.
These production aspects feed into the greater assertion of Titans being a horror-filled escapade. There is graphic violence, torture, and death in this series, and it does not tiptoe around the more intense moments of being a crime fighter or, in Rachel’s case, a supernatural being of demonic origins. One of my favorite elements is a family of assassins who are sent to dispatch our heroes with extreme prejudice, and their completely pleasant nature is an intense signal that something very bloody and violent is about to go down.
While this is all well and good, the production is held back by some questionable visual effects, particularly when it comes to CGI deployed in favour of actual stunt work. While there is more money to be seen on screen than the other DC projects, this shortcoming can be very distracting.
Story wise, the show suffers from pacing and a misplaced use of time, and that’s a shame because there is some good storytelling taking place. Dick Grayson and his backstory is by leaps and bounds the most interesting and engaging element. Exploring how one walks away from a life of crime fighting not because you wanted to do something else or some other incendiary incident, but because you start to over-indulge in the power that it gifts you. While his f-bombing the Bat comes across in that moment as forced, the rest of the writing hoists him up to face and directly speaks to the temptations that he lives with.
But here’s the problem. Dick Grayson’s arc is not the main focus of the plot, and it shouldn’t amount to it. The overall narrative is adequate in terms of how origin stories go, but the central conflict of trying to stop an evil force from destroying the world through a young girl does not effectively tie into what Grayson eventually becomes. I will wager that this was meant to be paid off in the twelfth episode that we never got or the second season, but regardless he is given far too much screen time in the eleven episodes and it sidelines many other elements.
In fact, the series has no problem sidelining its own plot. An entire episode is dedicated to establishing the Doom Patrol, from which Beast Boy joins the travelling group, and then another episode on the backstory of two characters who are not even present at the finale, which also feels like a setup for Season Two. The result is that the headline story does not present itself as big enough to not warrant this big world that it has access to. And when it does make use of the world it has been given, specifically in the final episode, it squanders it with a cliche’ and overused storytelling technique, forgoing a climax in its own situation.
Despite excellent performances and good writing, minimal attention is given to the rest of the Titans. Rachel comes across as more of a plot device than a character, meanwhile Beast Boy, the most interesting person in the series in my opinion, is given very little to do. Starfire, played most entertainingly by Anna Diop, benefits from an interesting dynamic with Robin, but it amounts to nothing by season end and it is unsatisfying.
Unsatisfying should not be a word used to describe a project like Titans, for all the money and effort thrown into its production. Its foundation is cracked and cannot be fixed without a continuation, and a plot that lacks focus to do these characters and the source material justice.
Last Updated: January 14, 2019