Titans: Season One Review
To many the phrase ‘dark live-action adaptation’ may induce eyerolling, especially when DC are attached. Before its release, Titans had all the signs of falling into a similar trap to its predecessors (most notably the ‘F**k Batman’ trailer). Thankfully – and surprisingly – fans needn’t have worried.
It isn’t easy to create true to life personalities out of characters which have been mostly depicted in cartoons or in comics. However, due to embracing fundamental storytelling and character development principles, Titans achieves this and then some… for the most part.
The story begins with separate introductions to Dick Grayson and Rachel Roth, both dealing with ongoing predicaments they find themselves in. The show takes its time to show us the struggles of these characters and their backstory before eventually meeting. As the show goes on, we are introduced to the rest of the Titans, Kory Anders and Garfield ‘Gar’ Logan, in similar fashion. We learn that each of the team is struggling with their identity and the show uses this carefully to weave a bond between each of the them, from how they first interact to when they are called upon to support each other. The team unite behind the goal of protecting Rachel from those who seek to use her dark powers, tackling internal and external woes along the way.
The pacing in this first season of Titans play a large role in what makes it a show that will have you rooting for its central characters. The motivation and backstory of each character is never neglected and often ties neatly into the events that are occurring at the time, either through their current actions or discussions with other characters. Whether it’s by having been impacted by similar events or needing to confront similar emotions, the Titans are often reflected in one and other. This provides unique bonds between each of the team members, making the Titans feel like a believable and relatable family unit.
In developing this pseudo-family, Titans manages to make moments that may seem small appear really important. From Dick suiting up again when his new family needs him to a wry smile from an often downtrodden Rachel. Even the appearance of a certain weapon, when another former sidekick is introduced later in the series, feels significant and it’s because the show makes you really care about what happens to these new takes on beloved characters.
Considering Titans position as a superhero show, some may expect more action, but the Marvel Netflix TV shows have showcased that a focus on other areas can mitigate the need for over-the-top fight scenes. However, when the action does happen it’s particularly violent. The violence is quite jarring at first. Initially, it seems like an attempt to stand out and edgier than other shows. The violence does, however, mostly serve a point and this is primarily in relation to Robin(s). Combat is often used to show that Dick is losing control as Robin and going beyond just dishing out justice. Later it is equally used to show his progression in regaining this control as well as showing a contrast between him and Batman’s new Robin, Jason Todd, who has no problem with nonchalantly maiming police officers.
On the whole, Titans is a nice-looking show. Despite the world being mostly grim and gloomy, the look of the characters provide much needed colour (in their outfits and their personalities). Titans definitely gives the impression that it had quite a large budget to utilise, especially compared to Fox’s DC project, Gotham, which makes the whole show seem to take place in three different locations. Even compared to Marvel’s Netflix shows, Titans really gets around in terms of varied and convincing looking locations, from Michigan to the Ukraine. The location hopping really adds to the vibe when the Titans are on the run. However, it’s unclear if this is merely clever planning or if too much was spent in this area, as it certainly lacks in its special effects department. From the outset, there are glaring issues with CGI. More extravagant action looks cartoonish and the representation of Gar in his animal form is particularly off-putting. Even though CGI isn’t a used a ton in the show, it really does stand out when it occurs, taking you out of a world that is otherwise quite grounded in reality visually.
For much of Titans, I was overjoyed. I was excited and eager to get on with talking about show that had shocked me with how much it was able to get me to care about characters which were very different versions to those I’d been familiar with. The show provide an accessible route into enjoying superheroes, with a focus on slow-burn character development without ever making the plot seem slow-moving. Sometime intricate storytelling devices were used but in a way that intrigued rather than confused. Titans assumes no prior knowledge, rarely referring to the characters with their superhero monikers, and doesn’t rely on more typical traits of superhero media like frivolous set pieces. I had pretty low expectations and was then stunned at how good it was – then came the finale.
The finale, along with some aspects of the penultimate episode, are infuriating. The creators’ goal in this episode isn’t entirely indecipherable. The episode is aiming to make a point about the development of one character, but the whole series hasn’t been about one character; it’s been about the familial relationship of the Titans and the trials they’ve had to overcomes. To have the series close in an episode that doesn’t tie up these stories in any meaningful way is beyond agitating. It would have been an amazing moment to see the Titans comes together to tackle a grand foe, if slightly predictable. Avoiding predictability seems to have been what the creators were thinking here, which is somewhat admirable but in doing so they ignored all the basics they’d implemented so well until that point and stamped all over the seeds which had been sewn for a satisfying end.
Titans is a show that embraces simplistic and emotive storytelling to overcome the hang-ups of superhero shows that have gone before. With Titans, DC have finally found a way to deliver on a gritty world which doesn’t feel hollow. Unfortunately, the closing episodes do disappoint but the show provides too much enjoyment elsewhere to be ignored.