Danger in the Ink

Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo

As I've noted in my reviews of the various Teen Titans Go! reviews (see: Series, To the Movies, vs. Teen Titans, See Space Jam, Mayhem in the Multiverse), the Teen TitansStarted in The Brave and the Bold back in 1964, the Teen Titans were a supergroup formed of the younger sidekicks of the more famous heroes in the DC Comics line. Over the years the team has been reformed, rebooted, and relaunched, but always with that basic premise in place. are a super team that has managed to get a surprisingly large and devoted following, pushing them into the upper echelons of pop-culture superheroes. They may even have enough popularity (give their shows, movies, and cross-media) to even be bigger than the Justice LeagueThe premiere team at DC Comics, their version of the Avengers (which actually came before the Avengers and, really, has existed in some fomr since the early 1940s), the Justice League is the team-up to end all team-ups, featuring some of the most popular, and longest running, characters in all of comics history (and also Booster Gold).. Maybe.

That all, of course, came about because of the Teen Titans TV show that started in 2003. Pitched as a kind of spin-off, but not really, of the Bruce Timm-led DC Animated Universe (think Batman: The Animated Series, The Adventures of Superman, Justice League Unlimited, et al). That show -- featuring Robin, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg as the set lineup -- ran for five seasons and 65 episodes and it's fans were rabid, so much so that when a spin-off / sequel series was announced with the same cast and characters, the fans hated it because it wasn't the same show (although many did eventually come around). They wanted their Teen Titans and they wanted them just the way they had been.

Interestingly, between the main series and it's spin-off, Teen Titans Go!, there was a movie that was produced to act as a kind of series finale. Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo was a direct-to-video film set directly in the main show's continuity (back when the series actually cared about continuity), sending the heroes off on an adventure to Tokyo (of course). It doesn't really tie into any of the plot lines that had been going on, instead putting the characters in a new city, with new heroes and new villains to deal with, and... well, it wasn't exactly well liked by the fans either. Some called it an average entry for the franchise, an okay direct-to-video release. It was hardly the big, epic conclusion fans likely wanted, but... it does feel very on brand for Teen Titans, especially when you take their whole, current media franchise into account.

The movie opens with the Titans -- Scott Menville as Robin, Hynden Walch Starfire, Tara Strong as Raven, Greg Cipes as Beast Boy, Khary Payton as Cyborg -- as they chase down a flying ninja colored bright pink and bright blue. This garishly colored villain is very powerful, causing the team all kinds of trouble all across their city. They're eventually able to take him down, but not before he does serious damage to Titan's Tower, leaving it a hollowed out version of itself. It's a hard blow for these young heroes.

Interrogating the ninja, they find out he was sent by Japanese super villain Brushogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). This means the heroes have to go on a road trip over to Japan to find this Brushogun and bring him to justice. Only one small problem: the people of Tokyo say that Brushogun is a myth. The head of the police task force set to deal with super villain threats, Commander Uehara Daizo (Keone Young), tells the heroes that they wasted their trip and should go home, but Robin has his doubts. The brightly-decorated ninja came from somewhere and Robin will stop at nothing to figure out what's really going on.

While I haven't watched a ton of the 2003 Teen Titans I did catch a few episodes and... well, I thought it was okay. Not a bad show, but it lacked something from the main DCAU. It was brighter and more colorful, which I don't mind, but the stories also weren't that engaging for me. I think part of my issue was that Robin looked and acted like the Robin from Batman: The Animated Series, but he wasn't the same character. Continuity being what it was, this show was purposefully set in its own universe and I struggled to connect with the show because of it. Thus I watched a few episodes and then wandered away in search of other content to consume.

That does put me in a weird place with this movie as it's meant to tie into that show even if it was released as a stand-alone product. I would bet if you had great affection for this characters then this movie might have entertained you. Without that, though, and coming in as a newcomer, I was honestly bored by the movie. This film, which is light on plot and is really just an excuse for a bunch of airless action sequences, barely held my attention as a sat silently through its leaden 75 minute runtime.

I think the film does a great disservice to its story and characters by moving the action out of the Titans' home town. By removing them from their familiar environs and away from all the characters they know it puts the heroes in the weird position of trying to figure out what the hell to do now that they're all the way around the world. They don't know anyone, they don't have a connection to anyone or anything going on. They just exist, against Japanese city backdrops, going through the motions of being heroes.

Connection is important because, without it, the heroes can basically do whatever they want without consequences. They're already vigilantes to begin with so who is going to yell at them if they damage a bunch of buildings trying to take down a monstrous kaiju (a thing that absolutely happens in this movie). No one. They don't know anyone here so there's no one they can care about to come yelling at them about damage done and lessons not learned. They can't care so we don' care, and that just worsens the issue.

By also putting in a completely different cast of characters, the film has to waste a bunch of time on setup and exposition. We spend a lot of time with the Japanese task force as we have their organization explained to us. There's time spent explaining the villains, explaining the city, explaining the world. All of this could have been avoided by not moving the characters to Japan and, instead, having them fight a villain they (and we) already knew. Think how cool it would have been if the heroes had to stay home to fight the Injustice League, or the Brotherhood of Doom, or one of any number of evil villain teams that we already know and could get invested in. That would have worked so much better.

It doesn't help that the villain used here, Brushogun, doesn't exist in comics. This was his first (and so far only) appearance. That means, of course, that even viewers that knew DC lore would have been at a loss to get invested in this character. A deep-cut character rewards viewers in the know and makes them feel like they're in on a secret. A new guy created just for a seemingly one-off adventure (as this was) has none of that. He's there to be introduced and defeated like any other generic villain of the week. It doesn't work, especially not in the context of a film meant to be a series finale.

And, frankly, the tone of this film is all over the place. Sometimes it's bright and trippy and has humor not that difference from successor Go!. Other times it's overly dark and seems to want to brood harder than Batman on the anniversary of the day his parents died. It lingers on plot points that don't matter, like the whole team of Japanese super villain fighters (most of whom never get fleshed out as characters), and other times it rushes through big plot matters just to get back to action and antics. I never knows the right time to slow down and actually focus on the story, leading to a film that whips by while still feeling like an absolute slog.

If this was the only part of Teen Titans I'd ever watched I would wonder what all the hype was about. This is a middling, mediocre film that should have just been released as a few episodes in the middle of the series before being largely forgotten. As a direct-to-video sequel and conclusion for the series this is a giant misstep. It's a bad film, plain and simple. The fans would be better off just moving into Go! and forgetting this exists at all.