Titans Season 1 Review
DC goes darker.
Hitting Netflix full throttle, the Teen Titans franchise drops the 'Teen' to go adult for this surprisingly brutal new DC TV show.DC's Gotham was a lot darker than fans were initially expecting, ditching Nolan's much more realistic Batman universe in favour of the Burton-esque playground, ripe with colourful but twisted creations; a veritable monster's ball of cartoon creatures brought to often bloody life, complete with plenty of deaths, several dismemberments and even some eye gouging to boot. But, as with Burton, there was a playful undertone beneath which kept the carnival teetering somewhat magically on the knife-edge between the camp playfulness of the 60s TV show and the more twisted moments Burton himself engineered, only here dialled up to 11.
Coming to its crescendo finale this year, DC have invested in yet another live-action Batman-universe creation (as they wait to get their Alfred: Origins show, Pennyworth, off the ground, and continue to build Ruby "John Wick 2" Rose's Batgirl series into their Arrow/Flash/Supergirl/Legends universe), tackling the unlikely candidate of the Teen Titans.
Whilst the Teen Titans worked tremendously as an animated product, competing not only with their parental Superman and Batman animated TV shows, but also the Justice League show itself, the concept of a live action incarnation must have sounded warning bells - did we really need another teen offering? And then they dropped the 'teen'...
Titans tears through the lives of these misfits, grounding the vigilante underworld in blood and grime, bruises and scars.
When a mysterious assassin comes for her, telekinetically gifted but darkly troubled young girl Rachel Roth goes on the run, with visions of a circus tragedy drawing him to Detroit Detective Grayson, a tough but equally troubled individual who moonlights as Batman's former partner, the first Robin. Meanwhile a young girl whose passport says Kory Anders wakes up from a car accident with no memory and gun-toting gangsters in hot pursuit, realising that she too has great powers that she was previously unaware of.
As Grayson and his young ward attempt to figure out her dark gift, their paths cross with Kory Anders and a fourth player - Gar Logan - a young man who can shape-shift into an animal, finding themselves wrapped up in a sinister conspiracy and chased by a 'family' of deadly assassins, prompting them to team up and fight back.
Titans takes no prisoners right from the outset. Its introduction of Robin alone showcases some brutal punishment by the dark hero previously brought to life with much more colourful interpretations. Here he scrapes heads across brickwork and glass, almost beating his assailants to death. Setting the tone for what to expect, the series doesn't let up, proving arguably the darkest of any of the DC adaptations so far as it tears through the lives of these misfits, grounding the vigilante underworld in blood and grime, bruises and scars.
It's a completely different creation from anything that has gone before, without the wise-cracks, or the colourful comic book frivolity - without much to drag you out of the gloom and the gutter - instead relying upon rich and meticulous character creation to offer up a foundation to its brutal exploits. And it works superbly.
Titans is so good that it makes you wish that Suicide Squad could have been done with this kind of mature tone, replete with more swearing and violence than any other DC production to date.
Slow-burning both Robin's origins, and his reasons for leaving Batman; Kory Anders' former life and what happened to give the powers that make her Starfire; Logan and the disease that created Beast Boy; and - perhaps most centrally - Rachel and the dark inner demons that see her become Raven, the character arcs draw you in and hook you instantly, building across the season as the show expands the comic-book universe and takes it in some dark directions.
Brenton Thwaites makes for a suitably broody Dick Grayson, coming a long way from his Home and Away origins, whilst 24: Legacy's Anna Diop is a striking Starfire, Ryan Potter a peppy Beast Boy and the 14 year old newcomer Teagan Croft holds her own against her elders as the tormented Raven.
Familiar faces (or masks) loiter in the shadows, whilst a number of other superheroes pop in and out with a modicum of frequency. Smallville's own Aquaman, Alan Ritchson and Friday Night Lights regular Minka Kelly (rocking that platinum blonde hair) get an early introduction as Hawk and Dove, and it's unsurprising that the Doom Patrol characters already have their own spin-off.
Indeed Titans is so good that it makes you wish that Suicide Squad could have been done with this kind of mature tone, replete with more swearing and violence than any other DC production to date. Although Disney appear to be drawing back all of their more grown-up Marvel content from Netflix (the upcoming Punisher sophomore season will be one of the last), undoubtedly to create more family-friendly fare on their own channel, DC appears to be going darker and more weighty, making this a fine replacement on the streaming giant's international front.
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