The long awaited streaming service from DC has finally arrived. DC Universe has become the premiere hub for films, television series’ and DC’s legendary comics but in just under ten days, the service will play host to its very first original project, Titans. The series, which is based on DC’s Teen Titans, has received its fair share of excitement and concern since its debut announcement. From praise for the costumes and casting to the lackluster first trailer, Titans has an immense weight on its shoulders as it looks to kick off DC’s entry into the streaming game. With the review embargo finally being lifted, Talkies Network can finally share that Titans is a middle-of-the-road series that starts off incredibly awkward but manages to improve every step of the way.
Titans follows young heroes from across the DC Universe as they come of age and find belonging in a gritty take on the classic Teen Titans franchise. Dick Grayson and Rachel Roth, a special young girl possessed by a strange darkness, get embroiled in a conspiracy that could bring Hell on Earth. Joining them along the way are the hot-headed Starfire and lovable Beast Boy. Together they become a surrogate family and team of heroes.
I should stress that this initial review is based on only three episodes out of an eleven episode first season. So while it may be difficult to fully form an opinion on the show, these are my thoughts on how the series kicks off.
Titans is a series that definitely strives to be its own thing. It does so by doing everything and anything it can to remove itself from the legacy created by the animated Teen Titans series. This is not entirely a bad thing, but it does hurt the show. somewhat. Case in point, the grittiness of the series. As a viewer who does enjoy darker takes on classic characters, it was jarring sometimes to see what kind of world is created here. Superheroes curse — a lot. The violence is abundant, with Robin on the streets breaking bones while Hawk and Dove come close to eviscerating criminals. Unlike films such as Logan, or Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the world of Titans is dark for the sake of being dark. Whereas the films above give context and purpose for the bleak worlds our heroes live in, Titans tries to achieve an edgy feel that does not feel earned. This was very clear in the first episode that was — unfortunately — the weakest of the three. The edginess of the show never really goes away, but is less apparent in episodes two and three.
Where Titans series greatly improves is in its second and third episode. Both episodes significantly expand this new DC world as we learn more about each character. We begin to see what led the each of the ‘Titans’ down their respective paths. Dick is much darker than previous incarnations of the character. A year has gone by since he has been Batman’s sidekick, but Dick Grayson is still on the street as Robin, only this time he is putting people down with more violent methods. It is only after he meets Raven that we see why Dick – to an extent – has adopted a more brutal style. Raven is an incredibly interesting character as she evolves from mysterious outcast to a scared, but violent hero. Similar to Starfire, Raven does not know what truly lies within her and is desperate to discover where her powers come from.
Starfire is my favourite part of the show. While Titans is mainly centered on Robin (for now), Starfire is the one with the most intriguing storyline. A powerful being with no memory of who she is, Starfire (also called Kory), hunts for clues to who she was before the series began. This brings her in contact with Raven, who apparently holds the key Starfire desires. She is the most fleshed out and complex character and her meeting with Robin and Raven is a major standout moment in these first three episodes.
Beast Boy unfortunately takes a massive back seat in the first three episodes. Showing up once in episode one and briefly in episode three, Garfield Logan so far plays no role in the story. Hopefully this will change as he eventually meets the growing group of heroes, but for now DC’s resident animal shapeshifter is an afterthought.
The performances in Titans range from average in episode one to solid/great by the end of episode three. Brenton Thwaites gives a good performance as the edgier Dick Grayson/Robin. A dead ringer for Robin’s look, Thwaites is able to work with very questionable dialogue in episode one while absolutely owning the role in episodes two and three. There’s clearly a massive internal struggle for Robin and Thwaites sells it nicely. Anna Diop is the series’ breakout actress because she is terrific as Starfire. As the show’s resident fish-out-of-water, Diop channels a more mature Starfire, bringing tenacity and boldness to the role. She does not deserve all the hatred and anger social media has thrown at her. Similarly to Thwaites, Teagan Croft as Raven suffers from a muddled story in episode one but her portrayal in episodes two and three will bring the viewer right back into the fold. This is someone who is so incredibly scared of her unchecked power and the pain it causes and Croft conveys this wonderfully even if it is still a bit clunky. There is not much to say about Ryan Potter as Beast Boy yet so I will reserve any thoughts on that performance until more episodes are released.
Visually, Titans is a mixed bag as well. The series has some of the best cinematography and fight choreography for a superhero series. The punches were hard-hitting, the battles against low-life criminals were fast paced and nicely edited and it was always good to see the heroes work in tandem to take down enemies in their way. One moment in particular, where Robin was fighting alongside Hawk and Dove was incredibly brutal, but also entertaining and exhilarating. On the other hand, Titans’ visual effects were what you would expect for a superhero show. More in line with probably Agents of SHIELD or The Gifted, the VFX done for the more fantastical sequences were simply fine but, as these were rougher cuts of the episodes, I should say that they could improve on them by the October 12 release date.
The music for Titans is also incredibly jarring. Running with the distinction through edginess concept, Titans opts to use a more electronic based score… for certain moments. For others, it makes use of a more traditional sounding superhero score. While having two distinct sounds can elevate a series above the norm, in Titans the music feels entirely off with the rest of the show and never hones in on one cohesive sound. When thinking of great scores of the past, the music may shift but always has a unique and unified tone. With Titans, it sounded like two composers competing for the job or main composer with DC still deciding on what to go with.
Titans is show that, above all else, has me interested in the future. A very rocky start in episode one luckily led to two much stronger episodes that will definitely keep the viewer interested going forward. It is the characters that make this show as Robin, Raven and Starfire all have exciting plot threads to dabble with over the course of the next eight episodes. I hope the show can find its footing because there is a stirring story to tell here. Overall, Titans is off to a rough but hopeful start.
Rating – 6.7/10
Titans premieres on DC Universe and Netflix on October 12, 2018