(Insert your own poop or fart joke to the title)
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. With the avalanche of superhero movies and TV shows and comics and graphic novels and web comics and action figures and collectible busts and mugs and video games there has to be some pushback.
This same atmosphere skyrocketed Deadpool’s first movie to the moon and back, even with an R-rating. It’s like when you binge-watch a TV show and need to discuss it with a friend or co-worker that has binged the same show. This movie is out to talk to you about (and mostly poke fun at) our super-saturated situation. From beginning to end, Teen Titans GO! To the Movies is ready to take jabs at any and all comic book movies and references. DC takes it on the chin, as you would expect; but they make almost as many Marvel movie references.
The humor is interesting. For every smart remark that might be ignored by the younger crowd the animation and music was meant to attract, there is a butt joke. Be prepared to wait for the potty humor to pass. The wait is worth it: he meta-humor is dialed up to Deadpool levels. The voice actors are their silliest best with another great turn by Will Arnett this time as Deathstroke instead of Batman. And although it’s a PG rating, there is violence. Just imagine the red splatters of more indulgent affairs pushed just outside the frame. So be prepared for the kids and adults to both find enjoyment out of a viewing together, but I think the adult geeks will actually find the film funnier and more shocking than the kids.
It’s amazing this film turned out so well, and that it actually managed to get me to the theater to see it. “New Teen Titans” is a recent entry in a long line of Titans comics that dates back to the 60’s where they just kept swapping out sidekicks from different DC properties to tell different stories. In “New Teen Titans,” Cyborg, Raven, Starfire, and Beastboy (aka Changeling) were added to the roster and became a fan-favorite grouping. That spawned an animated series on Cartoon Network simply called Teen Titans that borrowed heavily from that storyline. It was praised by fans for its serious tone mixed with light-hearted moments, but was unceremoniously canceled after 5 seasons. A takeover by Mattel at the time may have been part of the reason, but the replacement Teen Titans GO! had a chunkier, more simplistic art style and completely silly, slap-stick tone, and were not received well by fans of the previous show. I personally have seen neither series but I would pick up and watch a full season of the Teen Titans series before I would sit through an entire episode of Teen Titans GO!.
So how did they entice me to go see this, and why should anyone else? Well, I explained the latter already in the first couple paragraphs. The former was the work of a good trailer that looked like it was different from what I had seen of the Teen Titans GO! television program. Thankfully, the trailer was not deceptive in that regard and I laughed to the point of tears a few times.
SPOILERS and Thematic Discussion to Follow
The plot is used to great effect in conveying problems in the commercialization of heroism in our culture. Did you see that video of the little boy who helps get dogs adopted from animal shelters? Did you see how Dr. Phil counseled that young woman who thought she was Eminem’s daughter? Did you see how PewDiePie raised money for Charity: Water? Is it even heroic if no one is watching?
Let’s not discount heroic and charitable acts on the small or grand scale. They are what this hurting world needs, and getting to see that in a video clip here or read about in an article there can help to ease our anxiety about the problems swirling around us. There are actually good people out there trying to make the world a better place.
But what if all the heroes were too distracted to actually save anything? What if they were too busy reenacting their heroic acts and signing autographs to get around to actually continuing their “hero work”? It’s a real trap for those get a taste of publicity or notoriety. A little pat on the back feels really good and can lead to an addiction. A need to not only do the good work, but be seen doing it and acknowledged for doing it. How many times have we seen a hero of one type or another fall from grace? Was it because they lost the battle they were fighting publicly or was it the inner battle that dragged them off the pedestal we put them on?
If someone is pouring their life into curing cancer and don’t manage to do it that’s one thing. But if they quit researching to sell books about how they tried to cure cancer and shoot a movie based on the book that may leave a bad taste in your mouth. Charitable organizations have been accused of similar things. How much of the money you pay for that pink ribbon magnet goes to doctors and research, and how much goes to the CEO that picked the shade of pink and what factory to manufacture them? Are these companies just in the spotlight because of their arch nemesis, like Robin believes he needs?
But rest assured, for every Dr. Oz trying to sell another shoddy pseudo-health product instead of actually helping anyone, there are many good-hearted doctors out there trying to raise the awareness of the masses about how to live healthier lives, but just aren’t on daytime television every day.
It brings to mind the call in the Bible to “not let your left hand know what your right is doing” (Matthew 6:3), speaking about a very similar situation. There were people in the Jewish community that would make sure to only do charitable works when everyone was watching. The passage goes on to tell us that there are greater rewards to be dispersed if we don’t wait to aid the needy for only when trumpets call attention to our good works.
And that’s not even the whole story. Slade is only distracting the heroes so he can then brainwash everyone with his D.O.O.M.S.D.A.Y. device streaming service and control the world with mindlessness. A common trope and theme at this point, but just updating it with the more modern streaming service label and very real threat: be careful not to be swayed by what Netflix tells you to do or think…you get it. Doubly true if Dr. Oz gets picked up by them. Really, this is the whole point of Reel World Theology: “entertainment is not mindless”.
Then there is Robin’s pursuit of stardom as a “real” hero. His pride in being the founding member of a team leads him to crave the spotlight other heroes get. Yet he misses the fact that, although Hollywood may value a utility belt more than him, his friends have already given him a more valuable bit of attention and fame. They considered him their leader and star while Hollywood was pushing away the same team he was proud of creating. Of course, that was because Hollywood was secretly the same person he chose as his arch nemesis, but he didn’t know that.
Desires, goals and aspirations can be good things, but as with everything in life they can turn out to be your worst enemy if you let them. Robin would have taken away Slade’s ability to win, if temporarily, if he had only stuck by his friends. Then Slade wouldn’t have been able to trick him into getting that perfect “plot device” (makes me laugh every time) from their hideout.
The Bible also values friends: in Ecclesiates 4:9-12, it talks about all sorts of things companions are good for including picking each other back up—perhaps if a light falls on your head—and how they get a good return on their labor—like maybe a group project to make a short movie that will un-brainwash your friend.
Deep topics to mull over hidden inside a movie that makes a joke about pooping in a prop toilet 4 times in a row. And I just have to say, the death scenes in the time-travel montage were stone-cold dark in a shocking way. I laughed until I cried because of how callous they treated killing Aquaman with soda can rings and pushing the Waynes back into crime alley, but wow. I was more shocked by that violence than anything I saw in Deadpool. And hopefully all the parents were ready to answer their children’s questions about where babies come from. Definitely one of my new favorite last lines in a movie.
Any other topics I didn’t explore enough? Any I completely left out? Do you think less of me now that I confessed to laughing at cold-blooded murder in a children’s film? Let me know in the comments below.
You can also check out a little booklet I wrote about Deadpool (not Deathstroke), and hear what Mikey, Mark and I had to say about Deadpool 2 on the Reel World Theology podcast. Or read my review of Deadpool 2.
Sorry, Deathstroke and the Teen Titans haven’t really had that many movies, but if they are released in the future you can bet we’ll be talking about them right here at Reel World Theology.
(Insert your own poop or fart joke to the title)