As the inaugural series of the DC Universe streaming service, “Titans” is an excellent kick-off that does a lot of hard kicking. Based on DC’s pre-eminent team of adolescent crime-fighters, the “Teen Titans”, the first of DC Universe’s streaming shows takes our heroes into much more adult-oriented territory than they’ve ever encountered before.
While Cartoon Network’s tongue-in-cheek spoof “Teen Titans Go” tickles our collective funny bone, “Titans” hits viewers between the eyes with punishingly brutal fight sequences and enough F-bombs to sit alongside “Blade” and “Logan” in the Hall of Fame of potty-mouthed comic book adventures. And, like so many of the greatest superhero properties before it, “Titans” takes the deconstructionist route in adapting its source material, and gets right to the heart of what makes these enduring characters so great.
Brenton Thwaites leads the way in the role of Dick Grayson, aka the legendary Boy Wonder, “Robin”, while Anna Diop portrays the pyrokinetically-powered Kory Anders, aka “Starfire”. Teagan Croft portrays the supernaturally-gifted Rachel Roth, aka “Raven”, while Ryan Potter assumes the role of the zoological shapeshifter Garfield “Gar” Logan, aka “Beast Boy”. Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly portray Hank Hall and Dawn Granger, two literal love birds turned crime-fighting partners “Hawk and Dove”, while Elliot Knight plays Hank’s old friend Don, and Curran Walters steps into the role of Jason Todd, Dick’s hot-headed successor to the mantle of Robin.
Conor Leslie also appears as Wonder Woman’s young sidekick, Donna Troy aka “Wonder Girl”, while Seamus Driver portrays Rachel’s sinister father Trigon, and Rachel Nichols steps into the role of her mother, Angela Azarath aka “Arella”. Jeff Clarke, Melody Johnson, Jeni Ross, and Logan Thompson also cause plenty of trouble for our heroes as the unhinged “Nuclear Family”. And while Dick’s old mentor, Batman, is largely kept in the shadows with no one “playing” him, per se, stunt veterans Alain Moussi and Maxim Savarias don the cowl of the Dark Knight to bring his renown butt-kicking skills to life for the show!
Detroit Police Detective Dick Grayson has a more colourful history than any of his fellow officers realize. Growing up in a family of circus performers, the murder of Dick’s parents would see him taken in by Gotham City billionaire Bruce Wayne, and trained to fight crime alongside his shadowy alter-ego, Batman. However, Dick would eventually have a bitter falling out with his mentor, leading him to abandon his costumed alter-ego of Robin and begin a new life on the Detroit PD.
However, as Dick is gradually drawn back to his old life of vigilantism and donning his old suit to clean up the streets of Detroit, he finds himself protecting Rachel Roth, a runaway teenager with supernatural abilities. Before long, Dick and Rachel cross paths with a new pair of “meta-humans”, Kory Anders and “Gar” Logan, with Rachel’s pursuers on the hunt for all of them. As Dick attempts to keep the group safe, he seeks out the help of some old associates, Hank Hall and Dawn Granger, while crossing paths with the new younger Robin, Jason Todd, along the way. And despite his best efforts to leave that chapter of his life behind, Dick soon realizes his can’t keep the Robin inside of him from breaking free to fight the good fight.
Whether in the comics or in its various animated adaptations, “Teen Titans” has certainly run the full tonal spectrum encompassed by comic book adaptations. The “Teen Titans” animated series of the early 2000’s positioned itself as a light-hearted anime, while Cartoon Network’s delightfully zany “Teen Titans Go!” (along with its 2018 film adaptation, “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies”) is basically “Powerpuff Girls” with DC characters.
“Titans”, however, goes in the completely opposite direction, rivalling even “Batman Returns” for the title of the most dark, grim DC Comics adaptation ever produced in live-action – and arguably surpassing the various Marvel-Netflix shows for viciously violent action sequences and adult content. Not unlike 2017’s “Logan”, “Titans'” interpretation of Robin presents fans with a battle-hardened warrior with a serious chip on his shoulder, pulled back into his old life simply because his conscience won’t allow him to ignore the fleeing innocent.
With fans being introduced to Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy in their humble beginnings, whilst intermingling with seasoned veterans like Robin, Hawk, and Dove, “Titans” is a rarity in the superhero genre – an origin story cross-pollinated with a tale of heroes emerging out from retirement.
Under the action direction of the great Larnell Stovall, the action sequences in “Titans” are as sharp and finessed as they come. They’re also amongst the most brutal and bloody in recent memory in the comic book genre (between that and the liberal dropping of F-bombs, comparisons with “Logan” are more than valid).
However, the harsh nature of the action is right at the heart of Dick’s and his compatriots’ respective character arcs. The lion’s share of CGI and literal super powers come from Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy, who, despite the dark circumstances each is saddled with navigating, haven’t had the chance to become as jaded and cynical as Dick. The trio ultimately inject some innocence into the story, though none are above dishing out some pain themselves. (Beast Boy’s animal of choice to morph into is a tiger. Where do you think that leads?) Dick is the Titan who’s both a lot more used to fighting his way out of these circumstances, and the one most desperate to get out.
While the details of his falling out with Batman are relatively vague, Dick has clearly come to loathe the man he becomes when he dons the suit. The stunning alley fight that kicks off the first episode fully displays the psychological shift he undergoes in costume, especially in some nice callbacks to “The Raid 2”, and DC fans will no doubt delight at his wielding of his trademark weapons, the bo staff and “R”-shaped shuriken, throughout the season.
Dick’s team-up battles with Hawk and Dove only ramp up the intensity of the show’s martial arts action, with one unlucky henchman falling victim to a very “Robocop”-inspired dosage of pain. Hawk and Dove’s story actually sort of operates as its own show within the larger series, and the strength of their fight sequences along with the chemistry of Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly makes theirs some of the season’s strongest episodes.
The introduction of Jason Todd also gives way to action scenes that are at once thrilling and horrifying as Dick sees his successor to the mantle of Robin relish in utterly gleeful sadism against his opponents. The final episode, aptly titled “Dick Grayson”, ends the season on a major cliffhanger, with Dick finally forced to confront his old mentor. Never has Batman been as outright vilified as in “Titans”, with the Dark Knight using his Batarangs more like Wolverine’s adamantium claws against an invading SWAT team, only for the entire ordeal to be revealed for what it truly is. “Titans” is the kind of show that was clearly made with a second season already a foregone conclusion, and it’s impossible not to obsess over where the series heads next after season one has wrapped.
Though certainly not for the squeamish, “Titans” is a consistently engaging deconstruction of its source material with excellent action sequences whilst packing some surprisingly hefty emotional power. Brenton Thwaites is superb in a radically different portrayal of Robin, one akin to “The Dark Knight Returns” told through Dick Grayson’s eyes, while the episodes focused on Hawk and Dove will likely make you pine for a spin-off series focused on their adventures. It’s a much darker turn for the Teen Titans than we’ve ever seen before, but as the opening salvo for the DC Universe streaming shows, “Titans” gives an exciting and impressing sense of things to come!
- Although the DC Universe streaming series operates in their own separate continuity, Alain Moussi also served as Jai Courtney’s stunt double in the 2016 DC Extended Universe film, “Suicide Squad”. Alain has also done stunt work on other superhero properties, including “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, “X-Men: Apocalypse”, the CW Shows “Arrow” and “Supergirl”, and the 2019 superhero films “Shazam!” and “Dark Phoenix”.
- Alan Ritchson previously portrayed another DC superhero, Arthur Curry aka Aquaman in the long-running Superman series “Smallville”, along with voicing the character in the 2008 animated film “Justice League: The New Frontier”. Ritchson also portrayed Raphael in 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and its 2016 sequel, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”.
- “Titans” marks the live-action debut of Jason Todd, along with being the first live-action adaptation featuring two Robins.
- Ryan Potter is a practitioner of White Tiger Kung Fu, and is the stepson of famed stunt coordinator James Lew.
- “Titans” was originally announced to air on TNT in 2014, though the plans were ultimately scrapped in 2016 before being revived for the DC Universe streaming platform.
- “F**k Batman!” – Robin (when a Detroit criminal asks where Batman is.)
- “Guess we had different ideas on how to do the job.” – Robin (explaining his falling out with Batman.)
Film Rating: 8/10
“Titans” is currently available on the DC Universe streaming service in North America. International viewers can also catch it now on Netflix until DC Universe is launched internationally.
What are your impressions of “Titans: Season 1”? What are your thoughts on the film’s full-on, brutal martial arts action and the darker portrayal of the Teen Titans? Let us know in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram. (Join the Titans of the FUniverse by hurling yourself onto the latest news, Top 10’s,, exclusives, and you can subscribe for videos too!)