Regardless of how you may feel about DC’s recent big screen outings, it’s a commonly known fact that DC has excelled in bringing their characters to life on the small screen. Personally, I’ve invested a lot of time in Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow (whilst still hoping to catch up on Supergirl and Black Lightning) and although they may be showing signs of going stale, I still love them.
With Titans opening DC’s dedicated streaming service and supposedly being given quite a large budget, there were high expectations for the superhero show. Getting straight to the point, Titans is not good; a hot mess one might say, and for so many reasons. Luckily there are a few redeeming qualities that kept me watching.
In case you don’t know, Titans is based on the comic book superhero team of the same name (or as Teen Titans or New Teen Titans). In the comics, they have an ever-revolving roster of members, with a few of the most popular making their live action debuts in the new TV Series.
Starting out strong, the pilot episode is fairly compelling and does a good job of setting the tone for the rest of the show. The core three characters are introduced here and for the most part they are set up with good characterisation and a lot of potential for interesting arcs. We also get a brief look at each of the character’s abilities or capabilities in Robin’s case and just overall it feels like a moderately strong pilot episode. The first half of the season does waver in quality from episode to episode, with episode 4, titled ‘Doom Patrol‘ being the standout of the whole season. However from episode 7 onwards, the series just seems to spiral out of control, delaying cliff-hanger resolutions, filling episodes with dream sequences and hallucinations, and just taking every chance to slow down any and all momentum.
Over the course of the season, we are introduced to a lot of characters, which does become a problem. The show becomes bogged down with introducing each new person whilst also feeling the need to give literally everyone a backstory, which in most cases is highly unnecessary and causes major issues with pacing.
Out of the huge roster of characters introduced, only the main four felt essential to the plot, with everyone else just used as either fan service or to pad out the story across eleven episodes. Dick Grayson, played by Brenton Thwaites, is a compelling protagonist here and acts as an anchor for the show, which is why his backstory (which stretches out across the entire season through flashbacks) feels the most natural, even if, like the show as a whole, his path meanders to no end. Anna Diop as Kory Anders/Starfire gives a fantastic performance despite not being given great material in the earlier episodes. Ryan Potter also seems to put his all into the character of Gar/Beast Boy and creates a very charismatic, three-dimensional character although is severely underused across the season.
Unfortunately, the weak link in the core team is Raven, played by 14-year old Teagan Croft. It’s a strange decision to depict Raven in her early to mid-teens, especially in the context of the show. It comes across as if they plotted out the overarching story in which she was the main focus, but then didn’t know what to do with her outside of that; except the overarching story only takes up about 20% of the season so Raven is a spare part for the rest. The special effects used to portray her powers are good, and they utilise the split nature of the character quite well, but the performance and character development just isn’t there.
Side note: the not-so-subtle ‘hints’ of a romantic relationship between Raven and Beast Boy becomes extremely creepy when you realise that the actors are fourteen and twenty-three years old respectively. Not cool.
Without going into too much detail, the other characters are just superfluous, especially Hawk and Dove, who for some reason get two whole episodes dedicated to them. Aside from characters, everything else is just as mixed.
The costume design is incredible, with the superhero costumes being top tier and looking very expensive, especially Robin’s amazing outfit. The fight choreography is okay at times but sloppy at others, with ‘quick cut editing’ clearly used in an attempt to make it look smoother, but oftentimes failing. Unfortunately, the worst technical part is the CGI which, for a show with Titans’ rumoured budget, is shocking. Even the much cheaper CW Arrowverse shows have produced far better CGI than the examples shown here in Titans. The only saving grace is Beast Boy’s transformation sequence which is surprisingly well rendered.
When the series was initially announced, it was reported to feature a twelve-episode first season, but upon release, that episode count was reduced to eleven. From the various interviews with the creators, it appears that the twelfth episode was shot but ultimately held back to open the second season, which I soon discovered was a terrible story choice. With a stretched-out plot that runs completely off-course for episodes at a time, the show really had to nail that finale, but it left me feeling unsatisfied and really does feel like the action just halts midway through. There is a clear difference between a cliff-hanger ending and an unfinished episode, and Titans definitely ends on the latter.
There is so much more that I could dive into about the first season of Titans, such as the many odd uses of profanity or the gratuitous violence, but I’m trying not to be too negative. It has already been renewed for a second season, which I know I will end up watching, so all we can do is hope that they learn from their mistakes. If you’re a fan of the DC characters and/or superhero tales, then I do think it is worth giving a shot. There is a lot of potential in Titans which I truly hope comes to fruition in its sophomore season, but for now, I’m going to watch The Gifted to remind myself what a well-crafted superhero show looks like.
Jordan Duguid | ★★
The full first season of Titans is available now on Netflix.