The Lego Batman Movie, last year’s extended riff on the Dark Knight’s legacy, got a lot of laughs out of poking fun at Batman’s goofier villains and the many movies about him. At its core, however, it was still just a very weird superhero movie. Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, on the other hand, is more of an absurd genre parody that happens to be about superheroes, like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story but with more capes and only slightly less singing.
Based on Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go! cartoon, which has been infuriating comic book fans who take things too seriously since 2013, To The Movies establishes its tone within the first five seconds: The dramatic DC Entertainment logo that opens movies like Justice League is replaced with a cartoon version, followed by a riff on the original Marvel Studios logo that swaps in art from old Teen Titans comics. Go To The Movies is for kids who like bright colors and wacky humor, certainly, but it’s also targeted directly at the sort of superhero nerd who would catch a reference like that.
The movie opens with a giant balloon monster attacking a city, a confrontation that begins to go off the rails when he mistakes the Titans for the Justice League and then—after noticing that they keep cracking jokes—the Guardians Of The Galaxy. As the Titans break into a rap about their identities, the real Justice League (voiced by Lil Yachty, Halsey, and Nicolas Cage) shows up and saves the day while on its way to the premiere of the latest Batman movie. The Titans sneak into the event, but Robin (Scott Menville) walks away heartbroken after sitting through the trailers and realizing that the Batmobile is getting a solo spin-off movie before he is.
The rest of the Titans—Raven (Tara Strong), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Starfire (Hynden Walch), and Cyborg (Khary Payton)—convince Robin to go to Hollywood and ask a big-time director (Kristen Bell) to give him a movie, kicking off the real plot and setting up what may be the greatest, most gleefully unsubtle Stan Lee cameo of all time. The Titans need a nemesis in order to get a movie, though, which is where Slade (Will Arnett, doing a slight variation on his Lego Batman voice) comes in. The Titans keep mistaking him for Deadpool, which makes sense because his supervillain alter ego, Deathstroke, was a blatant inspiration for the Marvel character. He’s the perfect wacky foil for the team: a mercenary who manages to outwit them with simple illusions and a family-friendly take on the Joker’s “pencil trick” from The Dark Knight.
Slade’s ultimate goal is to take over the world using mind-controlling superhero movies, but this isn’t some Watchmen-like deconstruction of the genre. Nobody’s going to walk away wondering if superhero movies are anything but awesome, and while that means To The Movies misses an opportunity to rip genre conventions apart like Walk Hard did, the Titans are at their best when they’re just pushing jokes as hard as they can. One extended diversion involves the heroes deciding that it’d be easier for them to get a movie if there were no other superheroes, so they go back in time to undo every backstory. When that inevitably doesn’t work out the way they intended, the Titans have to restore everyone’s tragic origin, making this the only time in the long cinematic history of Thomas and Martha Wayne being murdered that the moment is played as a joke.
The greatest strength of Go To The Movies is that it respects the kids in the audience enough to let gags like that land without undercutting how absurd they are. There’s a musical number with Lisa Frank-inspired visuals and a singing tiger (played by Michael Bolton) that ends with the Titans hitting the tiger with their car. There’s also an impressive Lion King homage that has the Flash eating grass and various Green Lanterns running like gazelles. It never hits the anti-humor heights of the TV show, which had one episode that was entirely dedicated to learning about how renting property works, but it’s just an unfortunate reality of the industry that a movie like this has to have a real plot and can’t be all references to Superman having a mustache.
Go To The Movies ends with Robin trying to make a meaningful speech about what he learned, but as the Justice League says when they cut him off, this is the kind of movie where everyone just wants to watch the credits and go home. It’s a good joke that plays with just how little we expect from the average superhero movie. Maybe Teen Titans Go! To The Movies would be even better if that wasn’t so very true.