WEEKEND Movies: Raves for “Mission: Impossible,” but what’s behind all this love for “Teen Titans Go!,” eh?

One of the best “Mission: Impossible” movies opened Thursday night, one more shot at killing Tom Cruise — 57, and still doing many of his own stunts? DAMN! — and big things are expected by Paramount’s accountants.

It earned $6 million last night (IMAX helped) and may set the MI record (north of $60 million for the weekend would do it) and extend Cruise’s box office shelf life by a few more years.

Cast a great villain (Sean Harris) or two (Henry Cavill, or so the trailers tell us), tear up the streets of Paris and blow a lot of stuff up, the people will beat a path to your multiplex door.

titan1“Teen Titans” earned a million last night. Kids need a fresh cartoon every weekend, it’s a proven TV brand, hyped on channels that kids watch. No great surprise there. A $17 million weekend is within reach, maybe a bit generous for a picture that shows so little effort, but kids want what they want.

What did surprise me were the reviews — too much love on Rotten Tomatoes, more than I would have expected even on the more sober and adult Metacritic. 

Whatever you want to say about the works of Disney, Pixar, Sony Animation, Dreamworks, Ghibli or Laika, or even the Lego movies Warners has jump-started its animation division with, there’s a generally accepted notion that the bar has been raised.

We expect sparkling, witty visuals, slam-bang action (“Bugs Bunny Physics,” I call it) and enough smart humor to keep your average parent from staring at his or her phone playing Words with Friends for 80-90 minutes.

And “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” takes a stab at some of those while meekly embracing the anarchy that has been Warner Brothers’ animated comedy style since Porky/Daffy (in their logo) and Bugs held sway.

But it isn’t as funny or smart as the last lame Lego movie, isn’t as witty or antic as its TV predecessor, “Animaniacs.” This incarnation of the DC misfits has been on the tube for 200+ episodes since 2013, and judging from their first feature film in that post-“Power Puff Girls” (anime-inspired) style, that’s where they should stay.

It’s mass production pablum intended for kids and for inattentive “watching” on TV.

Other reviews don’t reflect that. This one gave me a bigger laugh than anything in the movie. And there are plenty more where that came from, delivered by either third or fourth string backup reviewers (NPR and the NY Times are very good to their interns…apparently) for major media outfits, or fanboys enthusing over anything that mocks the origin stories, comic book or sci-fi movie antecedents that the script pounds away at.

Speaking from early-career experience, it is the lot of the third stringer, reviewing fare that the A-list review won’t bother with, to puff up the mediocre in order to justify what one has been entrusted to review (and oneself), to inflate one’s place within the reviewing firmament and play around with style, and to stand apart from the crowd.

Or are they trying to anticipate what kids will love, and missing the mark?

Generational? It’s not like kids raised on the TV show are now reviewing.

“You just don’t get it” might work here, as I am not the target audience. But I “got” the jokes — obvious, telegraphed set-ups, weak tea all the way around.

Well, the rubber-pencil trick I didn’t see coming.

I just didn’t  get much more than a smirk over Nicolas Cage, once cast as “Superman” (never got to play him) voicing The Man of Steel, or Stan Lee making his usual “subtle” cameo — but this time in a DC, not Marvel movie.

Michael Bolton singing the “Upbeat Inspirational Song” is just about funny enough — for a 22 minute (plus commercials) TV cartoon.

Those were the funniest stand-alone moments, the origin story reversal via time travel was the best single idea here (dispensed with far too soon, before Aquaman could asphyxiate on a plastic six-pack ring, etc.).

I skipped the pre-opening screening of “Teen Titans” because it was half-state away theater chosen to show it, caught it on “pre-opening” night with a theater one third full — of fans who paid cash money to see it (most with their kids). The theatrical experience? “The Quiet Place.” Deathly quiet.

I defy any member of this chorus of opinionators to make the point that this is any funnier than “Hotel Transylvania 3,” about 1-27th as amusing or witty as “Incredibles 2.” It isn’t, and if it lingers in any memory past Labor Day, I’ll be shocked SHOCKED.

The bar for big screen animation has been raised. The bar for reviewing it, it seems, has been lowered.

It’s about having standards, boys and girls, and sticking to them. What did you do in Freshman English? “Compare and contrast,” and honestly, would any of these children say this is on a par with the worst Pixar movie (“Monsters University,” “Cars Anything”), or better than any of the “Hotel Transylvania” pictures?

When you have standards, benchmarks, you don’t fall into that “Well, the kids will go and I am going to put myself in their shoes and justify that” trap.  Therein lies the path to mendacious mediocrity, I say.

Want to know why America has a treasonous moron for president? Reality TV and comic book movies, and people scared to point out this crap is dumbing down the culture.

As for me, “I am standing at Thermopylae!”  Or to quote a more popular picture, “None shall pass!” If it’s thinly-scripted cut-rate junk, I’m saying so.


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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