"Teen Titans: the Judas Contract" is a quasi followup to the animated crossover, "Teen Titans vs Justice League". Though I was lukewarm at best with the latter, I've found "Judas" (directed by trusty Sam Liu, and adapted by Ernie "Justice League Dark" Altbacker from the George Perez/Marv Wolfman miniseries) to be an edgier, more complex endeavor.
"Judas" deals with betrayal, as its subtitle implies, with its selling-out theme laced by a veritable, religious allegorical vibe. In this instance the devilish twist stems from established, teen member, Terra, an terrain-manipulating mutant, who isn't all she appears to be, as Damian Wayne, our current Robin, soon realizes. (Those who know Terra's history, however, will rapidly recognize what's in store, but then one could argue that the gal's persistent, smart-ass remarks signal the proverbial writing on the wall.)
The young Wayne, though abrasive in previous DC/WB animated movies, is more relaxed in this instance, but no less determined. I must say that at long last I've come to like this Robin, which is surprising, considering how much he rubbed me the wrong way in his previous "Son of Batman" outings. For what it's worth, though, Dick Grayson's Nightwing also makes an appearance, to ensure the youngster stays in check.
Not to give too much away, it should suffice to say that Terra is linked to Sam Wilson/Deathstroke (vocalized by the late, great Miguel Ferrer, in his final animated feature), who's been recruited by the film's primary villain, a false-prophet named Brother Blood, in hopes of bringing the Titans down. We also learn that Blood and his partner, Mother Mayhem, are hoping to establish Hell on Earth by corralling the insidious minions of H.I.V.E., plus any vapid passerby they might mentally manipulate. Still, with this unholy allegiance riding high off its mad ambitions, why not shoot the works and go straight for the higher-echelon Justice League? Well, it's better to take baby steps, I guess...
That's not to say the Titans (at least in this presentation) are some throwaway, wannabe superhero league. Beyond the cool, calculating Wayne/Robin and the wayward Terra, its dynamic members include Beast Boy; Blue Beetle; Bumblebee; Kid Flash; Raven; Speedy; and Starfire (mostly referred to by her Koriand'r label in this adventure). Each participant is tougher and more focused than in previous incarnations (and yep, that includes the comic scene).
Be warned: There's a smattering of romance in the proceedings (or is it more insinuated lust?) between Nightwing and Starfire, as well as Deathstroke and Terra, and then Beast Boy and Terra, but only to invigorate a few fleeting scenes. In fact, the amorous elements are restrained enough to make one desire more, proving that action-adventure mush works best when served in tease and never full form.
To lighten the tension (sexual or otherwise), there's a neat Kevin Smith cameo for the geeks, which adds just the right whimsical touch to cap things off. On the other hand, Blood's earlier placed, dry-humored take on the mainstream media is commendable to a fault. Should we be admiring any aspect of such an infuriating bad guy? The additive seems calculated to make a sly, political statement, but in the flow of the film, momentarily backfires, even if it otherwise blends with the character's "mixing truth with lies" agenda.
The climax is exciting (but has any DC/WB animated flick dropped the ball in that regard?), with considerable high-flying kicking and punching: never enough, though, to knock one's socks off, but it all serves its purpose and well flavors the character-developed build-up. The reveal of the film's betrayal, which turns out to be double-edged, is handled with care and consideration, making the film's finale bittersweet, and that's a-okay.
If more Titan movies can expand upon this basic formula, the series may finally find itself on an ideal course. After all, our young heroes aren't run-of-the-mill millennials and shouldn't be plagued by moments of pretentious, prolonged bonding (like the insipid dance contest we witnessed in their last outing). Our revered Titans merely need conviction, purpose and plan, and as long as films like "Judas" keep surfacing, the team's adventures should be welcomed and long lived.