Based on the Cartoon Network series, this “Teen Titans” has a certain meta quality, since the character of Robin (voiced by Scott Menville) is smarting over his sidekick status and determined to gain credibility by having a movie made about him, even if that comes at the expense of his pals Cyborg, Beast Boy, Raven and Starfire.
Alas, nobody seems interested in bringing his exploits to theaters, despite the proliferation of superhero fare. That leads to plenty of jokes about movies past and present — from the 1970s “Superman” to “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” — as well as an assortment of more scatological gags, in keeping with the TV show’s cheeky, juvenile tone.
Kids in the preview audience, notably, seemed to respond best to the fart and poop jokes, while it fell to their parents (the ones with comic-book/movie knowledge, anyway) to laugh at a representation of Marlon Brando in “Superman,” lampooning “Batman v. Superman” or an incongruous cameo by Marvel patriarch Stan Lee.
Similarly, anyone familiar with the DC universe will chuckle seeing the Challengers of the Unknown on screen, right before a theater full of superheroes is told, “It doesn’t matter how obscure you are. You’re all getting a movie!”
That sense of playfulness, however, largely underscores the existing gap between Marvel and DC, despite Warner Bros.’s efforts to accelerate its production of DC titles, and its one conspicuous breakthrough with “Wonder Woman.”
For the most part, Warner Bros.’ greatest DC creative successes have been in television — with series like “The Flash” and “Arrow” — and direct-to-DVD animation. The latest example of the latter, “The Death of Superman,” is due in August, covering material that overlaps the live-action “Batman v. Superman,” but which proves more satisfying in virtually every respect except for Gal Gadot’s debut as Wonder Woman.
Given the success that Marvel has enjoyed under Disney, it’s understandable that DC and Warner Bros. (like CNN, part of WarnerMedia) would be experiencing a bit of envy, and a sense of urgency to catch up.
The bottom line, though, is that the company needs to turn out more hit movies in order to have the heft to satirize them, which makes the “Teen Titans” stunt of borrowing Stan Lee even more conspicuous in reminding a comics-savvy audience that DC still has some tall buildings left to leap, and it won’t be accomplished in a single bound.
“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” premieres July 27. It’s rated PG.
“The Death of Superman” is available on Blu-ray/DVD beginning Aug. 7.