TITANS Advance Review: “An Underwhelming, But Salvageable, Launch For DC Universe’s First Original Series”

TITANS Advance Review: “An Underwhelming, But Salvageable, Launch For DC Universe’s First Original Series”

Throw out everything you’ve ever known about the Teen Titans, because DC's Titans is unlike any previous incarnation of the fan-favorite superhero squad - and that may or may not always be a good thing.

Throw out everything you’ve ever known about the Teen Titans, because the DC Universe’s upcoming Titans series, which premieres this Friday, October 12, is unlike any previous incarnation of the fan-favorite superhero squad - and that may or may not always be a good thing.

*The following review contains mild spoilers from the first three episodes of season one.*

The series picks up with our four heroes in very different places across the globe: Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) has left Gotham and now lives in Detroit (not Blüdhaven) where he works as a cop; Rachel Roth (Teagan Croft) lives with her “mother” and has been having troubling visions; 
Koriand’r (Anna Diop) wakes up all the way in Austria on her own separate mission; and Gar Logan (Ryan Potter) is a petty thief in Ohio.

Following a tragedy, the four find themselves on a collision course with one another and while they don’t all exactly team-up before the end of the third hour, it does seem likely that the burgeoning streaming service is saving that destiny-altering moment for the following installment, which will air sometime this fall. The overarching plot is a bit of a mystery, but based on the context clues, it doesn't seem to be as complicated as the show would have you believe.

Of the episodes I was sent to preview, the premiere is by far the weakest of the bunch, suffering from significant tonal shifts throughout that repeatedly interrupt the natural flow. At times, it actually felt like watching four very different shows in the span of one hour. Robin’s scenes have a very gritty, grounded feel while Raven’s are more occult and supernatural in nature. Then there’s Starfire, whose amnesiac scenes seem ripped directly from the pages of a Jason Bourne-
esque spy thriller. Beast Boy is barely a factor thus far, only appearing in two relatively light-hearted scenes spread across three episodes, so it remains to be seen what the show has planned for him.

In another world, this show could probably serve as a proper spinoff series to FOX's Gotham as it does share a similar depressing tone with reluctant, borderline resigned, heroes stuck in a world with over-the-top villains.

Raven is at the center of all the action and essentially serves as the catalyst that sets everything else in motion. Her part is very Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (or maybe more accurately, Eddie Brock/Venom) in nature as she juggles two very different sides of her personality, one of which is trying to be a normal teenager while the other is basically the devil incarnate. Teagan Croft is also the youngest member of the cast and it does occasionally feel like a few of her scenes get overshadowed by some of her more experienced co-stars. That's not to say she isn't good, she just doesn't make the same lasting impression as both Robin and Starfire do upon their introductions. It's something that can definitely be rectified moving forward and based on where the series is heading next, it shouldn't be a surprise to see her take center stage sooner rather than later. 

The premiere isn't particularly action-heavy aside from Robin's "[frick] Batman" fight that was revealed in the initial teaser trailer and unfortunately, there isn't much more to that fight sequence outside of what you've already seen. It had the potential to be a strong introduction for the team's future leader, but too many quick edits ruin the scene's intended effect and it instead serves as a showcase for the gratuitous violence and excessive bloodshed to come, which will remind you that this is definitely no CW show. Robin straight up beats this gang to a pulp without breaking a sweat, and then takes an extra thirty seconds or so to continue his beatdown of the already downed gang leader (in slow motion) and while it was undoubtedly deserved, was it really necessary for a hero of his caliber?

Starfire is sort of an enigma and unless you have at least some knowledge of her backstory, she may be a bit perplexing in her introductory scenes as not only is she
 amnesiac, she's also on a completely different mission in a completely different country, that conveniently ends up connecting back to the main Raven-centric storyline. Luckily, Anna Diop is exceptional in the role and is a truly captivating watch, nearly stealing every scene she's in, especially in episode three when she gets comfortable with unleashing her fiery powers.

The series begins to course correct in episode two as they wisely shift the focus over to Robin and Raven, who find themselves being hunted by a very bizarre and very deadly family of cultists. The motivations of these evildoers are murky at best, but it's not exactly difficult for DC fans to decipher which evil entity they've most likeley sworn their allegiance to. Here we also meet both Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and Dove (Minka Kelly), who are a welcome addition to the cast and bring with them a unique element that helps viewers further explore the mindsets of seasoned superheroes. 

The pair, who get to shine in two of the show's better fight sequences, were former friends of the Boy Wonder before his mean streak took over and the relationship is far from repaired, but they're all forced to put their issues aside for a day when Dick resurfaces in their lives with an urgent mission. I won't get into spoiler territory, but the reunion essentially serves as the beginning of a deeper character study into Dick Grayson and what regrets may have ultimately driven him to break ties with the Batman. The following hour contains even more backstory as we revisit a young Dick and his first encounters with Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth (Yes, they have a faceless presence of sorts).

Thwaites was easily my favorite part of the series. Despite the character's flaws and seeming loss of hope, his Robin remains a compelling watch and is a character I'm very interested in seeing more of. This Robin was once a hero that was relaxed and maybe a little carefree who just enjoyed being a superhero and helping people and now, in the present-day timeline, it seems he's transitioned into a more unforgiving, ruthless vigilante that sees his Robin mantle as more of an obligation than an honor. Thwaites differentiates both parts pretty well and it should be interesting to see whether we'll get more peeks at his past life throughout the course of the season.

As for the ensemble as a whole, Brenton Thwaites, Anna Diop, Teagan Croft, and Ryan Potter are all well cast in their roles as the four heroes with Thwaites and Diop being the clear standouts. Alan Ritchson, who previously played Aquaman on Smallville, injects some much-needed life into the series with his trademark charm and arguably almost feels like the only person that knows he's in a superhero series. Minka Kelly is also very good and counterbalances Ritchson's ruggedness with a tender sweetness, although don't let her looks fool you, she's also quite the badass and should be an easy fan-favorite along with her partner. 

All in all, Titans is an underwhelming, but salvageable, launch for the DC Universe's first original series. Outside of the characters, the series shares few similarities with both the comics on which its based and the wildly popular television series from the early 2000s. It's a completely original take on the heroes and that's perfectly fine if the storytelling is focused and engaging, but based on the first few episodes, that doesn't seem like it'll always be the case - but it may take more than a few episodes before the show finds its footing. 

Fortunately, all hope is not lost with the series since once our principal heroes do eventually cross paths, even if it is very briefly at first, the show begins to improve drastically as the chemistry between each Titan sizzles onscreen. Each member of the foursome manages to counterbalance the other to form what could be another potentially exciting superhero team for comic book movie fans to enjoy this fall.
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