Superhero movies have become such reliable cash cows, it’s no surprise that Hollywood often delights in tipping them over. I’m thinking of recent action-comedies like the not-so-serious “Lego Batman Movie,” the ultra-snarky “Deadpool” and “Deadpool 2,” and now the insouciantly amusing “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” — all of which devote themselves to deflating the genre’s biggest egos, sending up its worst clichés and injecting all manner of silly, regressive humor.
Whatever you call it — pop-cultural postmodernism, the spoofer-heroes’ revenge, Avengers reflux disease — this brand of meta-mockery has become a pretty lucrative business. Take that as a warning sign; even subversion can calcify into formula. In the name of thumbing its nose at its own blockbuster properties, Hollywood is more than capable of replacing one form of genre fatigue with another.
The deft and daffy animated comedy “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” doesn’t entirely escape this problem, but then it doesn’t really have to. Much like the popular TV series “Teen Titans Go!” (itself adapted from the DC Comics property created in 1964 by Bob Haney and Bruno Premiani), it’s a cheeky diversion aimed primarily at a younger audience. Whether that makes it more forgivable or more pernicious is up to you to decide.
Either way, the movie is a genially ridiculous, meta-to-the-max adventure that follows five superhero wannabes looking for respect in all the wrong places — none more wrong, it turns out, than the Warner Bros. studio backlot. As every comic-book crime fighter knows, getting your own movie is a surefire sign that you’ve arrived, and after years of serving as Batman’s sidekick, off-screen but never on, young Robin (voiced with an expert whine by Scott Menville) is ready to star in a film of his own.
But no one, least of all top superhero-movie director Jade Wilson (a sharp Kristen Bell), wants to make a film about Robin. (Adding insult to injury, the studio has already greenlit a series of feature spinoffs starring Alfred, the Batmobile and even Batman’s utility belt.)
Joining Robin in superhero loserdom are his four fellow Teen Titans, among them the brawny, cybernetically souped-up Cyborg (Khary Payton) and Starfire (Hynden Walch), who shoots energy bolts from her hands and eyes. Rounding out the quintet are the green-skinned Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), who can shapeshift into any animal, and the purple-hooded demi-demon Raven (Tara Strong), whose most remarkable superpower — the ability to suck large groups of people into a black-hole-like dimension — also supplies one of the better running gags.
Gags are all that the movie really has going for it, and for at least an hour of its 92-minute running time, they fly by quickly enough. “Green Lantern” — remember “Green Lantern”? — comes in for some punishment. Nicolas Cage voices Superman, which will tickle his fans and devotees of ’90s failed-pop-culture lore. The token bad guy, Slade (Will Arnett), is singled out for his more-than-passing resemblance to Deadpool. Legendary Marvel Comics figurehead Stan Lee makes an off-brand cameo. There’s a pretty good fart joke somewhere in there, too.
Directed by Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail (from a screenplay by Horvath and Michael Jelenic), “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is loud, cheery and fairly relentless in its assault on your rib cage. The pleasingly rudimentary visual design, all bright colors and madly expressive eyebrows, is no more and no less than what the material requires. Meanwhile, the story beats you’d expect from a more straight-faced treatment — the villainous plot, the climactic showdown, zap-zap, pow-pow — are delivered so fully, you almost forget that they’re being skewered. Maybe that’s the point, even if it makes you suspect the biggest joke is on the audience.
‘Teen Titans Go! To the Movies’
Rating: PG, for rude humor
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: In general release