Eammon Jacobs reviews Titans season 1…
While it originally arrived episode by episode on the DC Universe app in the U.S. – the first season of Titans has finally arrived on Netflix for the rest of the world to see. It follows Dick Grayson, who’s left his role as Batman’s sidekick behind, choosing to become a police detective instead. Once he comes across a young girl who is hunted at every turn by mysterious forces, he steps up and starts to embrace vigilante life once again. This is not like the happy-go-lucky animated Teen Titans series some fans may remember from the early 2000’s, but dark, grungy and brooding.
For a show and a main character that wants to be so detached from Batman, he acts an awful lot like the caped crusader. Obviously he’s spent years under his tutelage by this point, so he’s picked up plenty of his traits along the way. But the reason we’re given right from the start is that Dick/Robin didn’t agree with Batman’s violent tactics, yet what does he do within the first episode? Brutally beats down a group of thugs, even crunching the neck of one unfortunate criminal with his boot. Sure, it’s entertaining, but it feels more in line with The Punisher than it does the Boy Wonder. Even some of the story elements are incredibly dark; child abuse, torture, addiction and murder all play their part throughout the series. At least Robin’s costume looks great? It would be easy to see him alongside Ben Affleck’s Batman. The R on his chest acting like a throwing knife was a nice touch.
Once the series begins to establish other characters, it spends a fleeting moment with them before quickly diverting in an opposite direction to introduce us to more characters. No sooner have we met Rachel Roth/Raven in the first episode, are we whisked away to meet two other vigilantes (Hawk and Dove) in the second. Titans feels extremely disjointed as it aims to translate unique comic book stories in a gritty fashion, while also not knowing how to spend a healthy amount of time with each character. For Robin, Raven and Starfire, they at least have their own character arcs that develop them to resemble their comic counterparts a little more closely. Although it is bold in fully embracing the weirder side of the DC Universe with demons from other dimensions and Starfire’s alien origins, Titans struggles to keep an entertaining pace running through each episode. Instead optioning to repeat itself continuously in different settings; team up, run, hide out, run, regroup, go hide again. It feels lazy.
There are fleeting moments of genuine intrigue that don’t quite fit into the main narrative, but they do manage to entertain. One episode that introduces another comic book team, the Doom Patrol, is intended to spin the characters off into their own series debuting later this year. The weird and eclectic group of heroes here should not work in any sense, but the episode works brilliantly as a stand-alone story. Equally, when Dick Grayson leaves the team to re-connect with an old friend, Donna Troy A.K.A. Wonder Girl, their seems to be genuine chemistry between the two. Something hard to find in the show as a whole.
While there is a light sprinkling of humour throughout the 11 episode season thanks to Garfield Logan A.K.A. Beast Boy, it’s largely a dark series that attempts to be something similar to the Marvel Netflix shows. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the entertainment value that those individual characters have. While Brenton Thwaites does give a good performance as Dick Grayson, he could lighten up a bit. Maybe try and embrace another vigilante persona a little more, Nightwing anybody? At least the performances from the majority of the cast are spot on, it’s the writing and the editing of the season that is the clear problem here.
It also seems like a mistake to include a character that can shapeshift into a Tiger, then only use him a handful of times with laughable CGI. It would’ve been better to include less episodes in the season and spend more of the budget on making Beast Boy’s transformations look more believable and give him more to literally chew on. It’s strange, since they can clearly do super powered special effects well. Anna Diop as Starfire literally lights up when using her flame powers. Her skin and her bright red hair all light up in a fiery glow when she’s literally roasting villains, but apparently a green Tiger is too much to ask for.
Overall, Titans is a disappointing live-action debut from the DC Universe app. There are brief moments throughout that could’ve redeemed it, but it feels directionless far too often. Whether their next live action offering, Doom Patrol, can remedy this remains to be seen.