Let's be clear: Titans is not the Teen Titans you know.
Premiering October 12 on DC’s new streaming service DC Universal, Titans follows Starfire (Anna Diop), Robin (Brenton Thwaites), Raven (Teagan Croft) and Beast Boy (Ryan Potter) in an origin story chronicling how the superhero team met and discovered their powers. While Cartoon Network’s animated Teen Titans series offers lighthearted fare, this gory, violent, live-action rendition recalls Marvel/Netflix works like The Punisher. So yeah — don’t expect to pull out the Saturday morning cereal with this one.
When DC first released on-set photos of its young superhero streaming series, Titans, Twitter erupted. Black actress Anna Diop’s character Starfire received most of the backlash, when these photos revealed her dressed in a cheap red wig and ratty fur coat. Many fans of the Teen Titans series are now afraid that this live-action version will be a train wreck. While that might be the case, Titans also has the potential to be a well-formed superhero TV show that's enjoyable to watch.
Photo: DC Universe
The writing is hit or miss, and the sets, CGI and everything surrounding production design looks very cheap. Furthermore, Anna Diop isn't the only actor whose costume is trash. From Starfire’s outfit — which hopefully will only serve as a temporary look — to the goggles worn by Dove (Minka Kelly), these costumes make the characters look like they’re going to go cosplay in a closet. However, it would be unreasonable to have expected a Marvel Television budget for a DC streaming show.
Regardless of all this, the dark, character-driven superhero drama mixes in camp and laugh-out-loud moments, letting viewers know the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are also some stellar performances make this show fun to watch. Take Diop’s Starfire, for example. Despite having no dialogue at all for most of the pilot, when Diop gets a chance to shine, she absolutely steals the show.
Starfire — aka Kory Anders, aka Koriand’r — is a powerful woman, who does not remember who she is. All she knows is that she must protect the motherless teen Raven, who is a literal demon. I initially believed that Croft was miscast as the teen demon, since she’s considerably younger than the other Titans, once she gels into the character and alongside Diop as well as Thwaites, it is clear she has the chops to bring the teen angst, sadness and gravitas the role requires.
While Robin’s infamous “f**k Batman” action scene is what's been most talked about from the trailer, Diop’s role of Starfire actually delivers the first, true action scene in episode 2, when she tears apart a diner full of racist misogynists. This moment is really what made Titans catch my attention. Starfire is also the source of most of the comedic moments in the show — which are not few and far between, despite how dark the series can get. Diop kills this role and will definitely become a fan favorite.
Thwaites, on the other hand, is the least interesting in his portrayal of Robin. His delivery that falls flat and monotone during a good amount of the first few episodes. But what Thwaites’ Robin does do well is set the series’ moody tone, especially in how he serves as a perfect foil to Raven’s coming-of-age storyline, in the aftermath of her mother’s death.
Alan Ritchson and Kelly round out the cast as recurring guests with appearances as the vigilante superheroes Hawk and Dove. Kelly's performance in particular does a great job of grounding the show during moments when it needs realism. This is especially obvious this season in the manner it illustrates the real-life consequences that come with being superhero and/or vigilante, as well as when it comes to her motherly instincts with Raven.
Since viewers don’t get to see much of Beast Boy in the first three episodes, it’s hard to make a judgment on this performance, but Potter does his best with what he’s given. I also still don't understand why Cyborg isn't a part of this series, given that the character is almost always associated with this superhero group in the comics and animated efforts. But I'll let that qualm rest until Doom Patrol premieres, which will see The First Purge’s Joivan Wade stepping into the role.
Despite some of its flaws, Titans is a genesis story that makes viewers feel as though they are growing up alongside the main characters. Its ability to connect with audiences in this way means it's a series with promise that shouldn’t be ignored.
If you’re not married to DC canon and you can find your balance after the plot jumps violence — folks getting their heads slammed into car windows or (almost) getting their genitals slashed off — to characters cracking jokes, then Titans is definitely for you.
Source: YouTube | DC
Titans premieres October 12 on DC Universe.