Fans of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies know that Teen Titans: The Judas Contract was originally announced as the intended third feature from the line. Then it all just disappeared for no apparent reason and remained dormant until the credits stinger of 2016’s Justice League vs. Teen Titans. Now that it’s here, there’s something faintly quixotic about the whole thing. After all, did you ever think that that not only would they adapt this material, but do so as a direct sequel?
Justice League vs. Teen Titans grafted newer materials to an older story, an infamous squaring off of the Titans against Trigon, and crafted something that felt misshapen. A similar problem occurs here. We have to reintroduce Nightwing to the group dynamic, discover Terra’s entire personality and background, add in Brother Blood, Mother Blood, Deathstroke, and remember how it all ties back to Son of Batman. In the end, the classic story falls apart as Brother Blood, Mother Blood, Jericho, and several others character essential to the narrative are reduced to mere specters, cameos, or completely written out.
Where exactly does that leave The Judas Contract? Well, in a strange spot. Without a build-up of Terra across a different film she comes across a bit limp here. Her ultimate betrayal should sting and hurt more than it does. No fault of Christina Ricci’s solid voice work, but 80-some minutes is not enough time to really develop the nuances of her arch as a character, nor any of the myriad of other plot elements running about in the background.
For all of the removals, compression of the material, and necessary edits, they left in the queasy romance subplot between Deathstroke and Terra. Objectionable enough in the comics, even worse seeing it play out in animated form. I’d have gladly dropped that particular thread for a richer approach to Deathstroke and his rivalry with the Titans, Robin and Nightwing in particular. He feels too petulant and entitled here where he should feel battle-scarred and forged in the darkest parts of hell. Still Miguel Ferrer, no stranger to these films and in his last screen appearance here, is terrific with the material that he’s given.
There’s still plenty to be excited about here. While DC can’t seem to grasp its romances or female characters in large part with these films, they do manage to make entertaining action sequences. Same goes here, with the final confrontation between the three warring factions being the obvious highlight. Even better is the real sense of comradery and friendship on display here. Damian Wayne goes out of his way to try and connect with Terra, and their damaged souls could almost have a moment of real human connection if The Judas Contract wasn’t a tragedy lying in wait. These films have found a way of leveling off into a pleasant 80-minute piece of entertainment, even if they are deeply flawed.