If there was one lesson to be learnt from this DC Universe TV series, it is that one should never judge a TV show or a movie by trailers.
Titans, based on the superhero team of the same name in DC Comics, was marketed in a tacky way, and the infamous “F*** Batman” line spoken by Robin in the trailer attracted more attention than anything else about the show. That may have been what the marketing and promotion team wanted, but I doubt the writers were happy about that.
Looking at the ineptly edited trailer, it seemed as if DC had not learnt anything from the failures of recent so-called self-serious dark and gritty films like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad and was going with a dour tone again.
Well, Titans is not terribly different in terms of look and feel, but it is not buried in misery and balances the darkness with humour and some good character work to craft a surprisingly engaging superhero TV series. It is, simply put, better than it has any business being.
Developed by Akiva Goldsman, Greg Berlanti and DC Comics veteran Geoff Johns, this series does superhero team-up stuff better than both the Justice League in DCEU (DC Extended Universe) and The Defenders in Marvel-Netflix universe.
The main characters are your usual suspects — Dick Grayson / Robin, Koriand’r / Kory Anders / Starfire, Rachel Roth / Raven, Garfield Logan / Beast Boy. Cyborg is not here, and he is strangely a part of another DC Universe series, Doom Patrol, a spinoff of the series. Note that these characters apart from Robin are not called by their comic-book identities in the show, at least till now.
The casting is on point, and it is the biggest reason why the show is so entertaining. Brenton Thwaites is an excellent Robin, the former protege of Batman, with whom he has had a falling out, the reason for which is revealed piecemeal over the season. We do not see Bruce Wayne, but Dick’s relationship with him remains crucial to his character and affects his motivations right until the finale. He tries hard to not do it the way Batman does it — by giving in to all the anger and darkness.
It is not very original, but Titans has executed it well. The “F*** Batman” scene, which comes in the first episode itself, is less scandalous than you think and the words are said more in irritation than shallow bravado.
Anna Diop plays Starfire. Her casting caused some controversy as the character belongs to an extra-terrestrial race and is golden-skinned while Diop is an African-American. But then, Titans is not exactly trying to be comic-accurate. Also, Diop is an absolute delight in the role. Her character, Kory, is the most self-assured of the lot even though she has reasons aplenty to be the exact opposite (for one, she does not have any idea as to who she is). She learns about her true purpose much later in the show.
Teagan Croft plays the most intriguing character of the comic-book team (Raven) and it is written well. The mystery of her provenance, to the comic-book readers at least, is not a mystery at all, but there are enough surprising twists related to her. The character is also the most developed after Robin, and it drives most of the plot. Her struggle with the dark force inside her is the very reason the team comes into being.
Beast Boy gets the short end of the stick. Actor Ryan Potter, does his best to give the character a distinctive personality, but it remains the most underwritten character of the lot. His character motivations are also pretty murky. He is living a mostly comfy life with the Doom Patrol, until he decides to abruptly leave with the Titans for no other reason than he sees kinship in Rachel.
As you can probably tell, these are not your typical friendly Teen Titans. Sure, they become friendly enough to each other later in the season, but anybody who comes in their way is dispatched to his maker in a really gory way. Indeed, the series is excessively bloody. The first fight scene in which Robin, takes on a bunch of thugs, has him breaking bones with sickening crunching sounds and dragging a dude’s face across broken glass. The Titans leave a bunch of broken bodies every time they come across their foes. At times, it can get too much even for somebody like me who has a high threshold for violence in films and TV shows.
If you can get past that, however, Titans is a good and entertaining beginning to the DC Universe and a welcome departure from The CW’s DC shows.