Led by Starfire, the Teen Titans – Beast Boy, Raven, Blue Beetle, Robin and the just-returned Nightwing – have built a cohesive team in their never-ending battle against evil; but their newest teammate, the mysterious and powerful Terra, may be altering that dynamic. Meanwhile, an ancient evil, Brother Blood, has awakened, and familiar foe Deathstroke is lurking in the shadows – both waiting to pounce. Ultimately, the Teen Titans will need to battle their enemies and their own doubts to unite and overcome the malicious forces around them in this twisting tale of intrigue, adventure and deception.
I can't say that I've seen all of the home video releases in the DC Animated Universe, but I've seen most of them, and the vast majority have, sadly, been a disappointment – at least in terms of storytelling. After the rather average Justice League Dark and the major disappointment that was The Killing Joke, I've learned to dial my expectations way down for these DC movies. But now along comes Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, a presentation that really impressed me with how strong the story was – and continued to be throughout the very end of the movie. I don't know if this is the best animated title we've seen from DC, but it's certainly the tops in terms of characterization. This movie made me care about the characters involved, and I don't know if any other prior DC title (including, sadly, their live-action movies) has done that.
The plot of The Judas Contract is based on an old 80's comic book story by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, which – as you might guess – featured a somewhat earlier and different team of Teen Titans than we see here. I've never read the original comic story, so I can't comment much beyond that, nor can I really comment on how many other changes may have been made to this story. From what I can gather, however, the basic premise pretty much remains the same, as does the character who betrays our heroes (whom I'm not going to reveal in this review, despite the fact that the identity isn't hard to guess or shown so late in the movie that it might be considered a "spoiler" – still, why take any of the fun out of this title?).
The movie starts with a short flashback scene (five years in the past) in which Dick Grayson's Robin and the rest of the Teen Titans (which include The Flash, among others) first encounter the character of Starfire (voiced by Kari Wahlgren). The movie then jumps ahead to the present, where Grayson has now taken on his Nightwing persona (and is voiced by Sean Maher), and the "new" Robin on the Titans is Bruce Wayne's son, Damian (voiced by Stuart Allen). Making up the rest of the team are Beast Boy (voiced by Brandon Soo Hoo), who has the ability to turn into any animal he wants; Terra (voiced by Christina Ricci), who has the ability to manipulate the earth (move rocks, cause earthquakes, etc.); Blue Beetle (voiced by Jake T. Austin), who has a powerful scarab parasite attached to his back with a mind of its own; and Raven (voiced by Taissa Farmiga), who is a powerful telepath and who has her demon father inside of a diamond-shaped jewel placed on her forehead (we were previously introduced to this character in the DC release of Justice League vs. Teen Titans).
The plot revolves around the Titans trying to infiltrate and stop a villainous cult that worship under Brother Blood (voiced by Gregg Henry), who has developed a machine that will transfer the power of multiple human beings into a single person. Naturally, Brother Blood's idea is to capture all the other Titans and use the machine to obtain all their powers. To get to the Titans, he's contracted the services of Slade Wilson (aka Deathstroke, and voiced by Miguel Ferrer, in one of his final performances) who has, in turn, a traitor already in place as a member of the Titan team.
As noted earlier, while the "Judas" in the team won't be hard to figure out (even if you're not a major comic book follower, half the team are familiar enough characters that they can be immediately ruled out), what's impressive about The Judas Contract is the time it takes to delve into both the background and personal angst of each one of these heroes. Blue Beetle has a family who loves him, but may never see him again because of his parasite problems. Terra is an orphan who was rejected by her family because of her powers. Beast Boy pretends to be happy-go-lucky, but wonders if anyone will really love him. And, of course, we already know from prior DC titles about Damian Wayne's background and issues. Add to that the budding romance between Nightwing and Starfire, and this movie gives us plenty to be interested in, even aside from Brother Blood's nefarious plot.
If there's one small criticism I have about The Judas Contract, it's in how it needlessly goes after a PG-13 rating when it really didn't need to (and also presents a problem for parents, who otherwise would have a really good movie to show their youngsters). There's some profanity in the movie that seems thrown in for no other reason than to get the edgier rating, as well as some sexual innuendo between Nightwing and Starfire that also isn't necessary. A few violent gunshot sequences (including at least one head shot) are also added in. All this is really a shame, since it really doesn't add much appeal to older viewers and keeps this movie's otherwise well-made storyline away from preteens.
The above complaint aside, though, I really enjoyed The Judas Contract and am giving it a high recommendation. If you've never checked out a DC animated release, this might be a great one to start with. Despite not featuring Superman, Wonder Woman, or (thankfully, as he's been wedged into almost every other release) Batman, this is a highly re-watchable movie that restores my faith in what the folks over at DC can provide fans in their superhero movies. The guys working on the live-action films would serve themselves well by taking a look at The Judas Contract.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract doesn't betray fans with this Limited-Edition Gift Set. The Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD is packed inside a larger cardboard box (with matching artwork) that includes a Blue Beetle action figure from Gentle Giant, Ltd. The Limited-Edition set is numbered out of a possible 60,000 copies (this reviewer got 184, in case you're curious). As for the keepcase itself, it's one of those Elite eco-friendly ones and houses the 50GB Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy. A slightly embossed slipcover slides overtop of the case.
Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with a trailer for a special commemorative edition of the previously released (in 2009) animated Wonder Woman title as well as a trailer for the upcoming 2017 live-action Wonder Woman feature film. Oddly, the DVD flip-flops the order of the trailers. The main menu on both discs is the standard Warners' design, with the box cover image and menu selections across the bottom of the screen.
In addition to this gift set release, a standard combo pack release is also available. There's also a steelbook version of this release available exclusively at Target, although this time around there are no other retailer exclusives for this DC Animated release.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio using an AVC MPEG-4 codec. The animation style here falls in line with prior DC/Warner Bros. releases, and suffers the same problem as all of them: namely, noticeable banding. Other than that though, this is a pretty decent presentation. Lines are relatively smooth throughout, meaning no major problems with jagged edges of the animated image, although the discerning eye will pick up on a few here and there. Black levels are decent, but not quite inky deep – there's still a slight murkiness to darker sequences, which is also in line with prior DC releases. Noise, however, isn't a problem here, and the brighter scenes (like those that take place in Teen Titan headquarters) are wonderfully sharp and colorful.
The bottom line is an image that is pretty comparable and on par with the most recent DC animated titles. Fans and collectors of those titles can expect pretty much more of the same here. It's a solid transfer.
The featured track is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one and, again, like my review of the video quality, frequent viewers of DC titles know what to expect here. The audio is always one of the more entertaining part of these animated DC movies, and once again listeners/viewers get lots of surround use with a good dose of LFE (subwoofer) action to boot. There's some impressive low-end rumblings and explosions throughout, while dialogue remains clear and distinct. Directionality is also a highlight of this track, as the surrounds are used to provide the audience with an immersive feel to the proceedings. While this release may contain a little less action than we'd typically see in a DC animated release (although there's still plenty to be found), this track doesn't disappoint and I didn't note any glitches – it's a well-rendered presentation.
In addition to the lossless English track, Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are available in French, German, Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), and Portuguese. Subtitles are an option in English SDH, French, German SDH, Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), and Portuguese.
A Sneak Peek at Batman and Harley Quinn (HD 9:08) – Given the popularity of these two DC characters, is it any surprise they're getting an animated movie that features them both? Here's a preview of the next title in the DC Animated Universe, featuring comments from DC Creative Director of Animation Mike Carlin, Executive Producer Bruce Timm, Voice Director Wes Gleason, and Co-Screenwriter Jim Krieg. For those wondering, this upcoming title looks like it's going to follow both the look and style of Batman: The Animated Series. And oh, if Harley Quinn wasn't enough, Poison Ivy's going to be in this one too.
A Sneak Peek at Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (HD 7:48) – Since this title was released back in 2009, this is hardly a sneak peek, but here's the promotional video for that title.
A Sneak Peek at Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (HD 10:39) – Another "sneak peek" featurette that's no longer a preview, as this title was released in 2013.
Teen Titans, "Terra" (HD 21:42) – An episode from the second season of the Teen Titans animated TV series.
Teen Titans, "Titans Rising" (HD 21:56) – Another episode from the second season of the Teen Titans animated TV series.
Trailers – Trailers for the DC All Access mobile app (HD 1:16), Justice League Dark (HD 1:50), The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-Wrestlemania (HD 1:58), and the Injustice 2 videogame (HD 2:09).
Finally! The folks at DC Animation have given us a superhero movie where the characterization is just as important as the action. The result is a movie that's really well written and makes us care about these heroes rather than just giving us an hour and a half of animated violence. As a result, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract has become one of my favorite DC Animated Universe titles to date, and one that's Highly Recommended.