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Review: “Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods” Your Wish Will Not Be Granted

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Dragon Ball Z Battle of Gods

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of GodsNothing can keep a good Saiyan down. Majin Buu has been defeated, Goku’s alive, and all is right in the world. That’s a very boring scenario for warriors, and a birthday party for good friends is still not a fight; eating cake and playing bingo doesn’t get the blood pumping. Thankfully, the God of Destruction, Beerus, has awoken, and he’s itching to test his mettle against the latest and greatest the universe has to offer. Seventeen years since the last movie, Dragon Ball Z has returned to feature films with an all-new adventure, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. Franchise creator Akira Toriyama crafted this story, but can even his involvement make the franchise fresh again, or will even the power of a Super Saiyan God be insufficient to kill the boredom the characters and fans may be facing?

There’s been a lot of build up to this movie. It’s been over a decade since Dragon Ball Z got a theatrical release. The sequel series, Dragon Ball GT, is both largely derided and never got a proper theatrical film. Dragon Ball Z Kai has been refreshing the series for new audiences, but only a handful of shorts and specials have kept the franchise imbued with new stories (all of which would have been ideal extras on this release). Right before the final handful of Dragon Ball Z episodes, there was a time skip of about seven years. This timeskip gives creators a whole bunch of wiggle room to feature new stories without messing with continuity, which is where we find ourselves at the start of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods.

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of GodsDragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods really does follow a basic plot: Goku finds out about Beerus, an ultimate power that he has never faced. After a quick spat he finds himself immensely overpowered. Bored, Beerus travels to Earth for entertainment, but after a misunderstanding or two, he’s decides to destroy the Earth. Goku and the others must unlock a new power to save the day. The movie is notable, plot-wise, for introducing two new concepts. The first is that of a Super Saiyan God form, the red-haired and slim Goku that appears for too little of the movie and equalizes the two in battle. While visually interesting, it’s too forgettable for an “ultimate” power up that offers nothing more than pure power as an upgrade: no new techniques, poses, or anything that would distinguish it visually in the black-and-white comics that the franchise originates from.

The second involves a throw-away line at the end, suggesting that there are 12 dimensions; that Beerus is the God of Destruction of the 7th (where our stories take place); and that despite his power, he is not the strongest god in the 7th universe, let alone all 12. Dragon Ball will have another movie coming out in April 2015, and having Goku explore the twelve dimensions would be a way to feature new stories without invalidating the ones that came after. In fact, Battle of Gods works fine as an introduction to them. You have a new concept pitched, a reintroduction of the characters, and even a new visual to set them apart. If Dragon Ball was “Goku’s Martial Arts,” Dragon Ball Z was “Goku vs. Aliens,” and Dragon Ball GT was “Goku vs. The Universe,” then a new series of stories could be “Goku vs. Dimensions”.

As a standalone movie, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is okay. As a standalone Dragon Ball Z movie, it’s weak.

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of GodsOne of the greatest faults of the movie is that all the fights just end arbitrarily, not as a result of a definitive victory. For much of the movie, Beerus is largely untouchable, and even when someone fights him on even ground, the fight only ends when he decides. Much of Dragon Ball Z was “finding a challenge, training to overcome it, and finally saving the day,” while this movie (on an admittedly sped-up timetable) is “find an obstacle, get defeated by it, luck into an even ground, and hold your own until your opponent decides he’s done having fun”.

Another issue with the movie is that it’s high on humor, a facet that was a strength of Dragon Ball, but an oddity and rarity in Dragon Ball Z (and an outright Frankensteinian concept in GT, which tried to merge both schools of thought). This isn’t particularly a problem, since Toriyama’s humor can be amazing at times. However, it feels a bit shoehorned into this movie. When Goku assumes that Bulma is the great threat headed their way, it’s in-character and laughable. In contrast, Vegeta doing a bingo dance to appease Beerus is cringe-worthy (appropriately), and the ongoing antics of Emperor Pilaf, Shu, and Mai (returned to childlike forms off-screen and seeking to regain their adulthood), are a weak subplot that runs through much of the story. When you title a movie Battle of Gods, we definitely want more Battling and Gods than “Goofy Kids Act Like They’re Dating” humor.

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of GodsTwo extras on the Blu-ray were recorded during the production of the English-language track. Behind The Scenes: Battle of Voice Actors and The Voices of Dragon Ball Z: Unveiled seem to cover a bit of duplicate ground. The former splices nearly ten minutes of continuous footage from the movie with video of actors recording the dialogue. It’s an interesting concept, and it’s an intriguing idea if this could be provided as an alternate way to watch the whole movie. The latter is…well, it’s much of the same. Instead of a continuous scene, you have the voice cast going over the footage. For around 20 minutes, they practice lines, do second takes, goof off, and otherwise show us what a day in the recording booth is like. It’s a fun little extra that you’ll watch once, and it’s creation and inclusion is commendable when you’re not likely to get many “made for the US audience” extras on Japanese animated theatrical movies, other than the standard trailer assortment and textless ending (both of which are also included here). Regarding “theatrical,” the set comes with both the theatrically-released version of the movie, alongside an “uncut” version. While “uncut” (especially with regards to this franchise) would generally imply more violence and some comedic nudity, it’s 2014. This franchise isn’t airing at 5 PM on Toonami or featured on VHS at Blockbuster. Dragon Ball Z was never the most gruesome or titillating franchise, and the uncut version just offers more incidental scenes, some more jokes, and nearly 20 minutes of new visuals. If you’re going to watch the movie, just go straight to the uncut one. Like many others, this reviewer passed on the theatrical copy, especially once the uncut underwhelmed.

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is a movie that’s worth your watch if you’re a Dragon Ball Z fan, but don’t expect too much out of it. If you’re a fan of the earlier series’ humor, you might find a bit more enjoyment, and if the franchise continues down this new path, this will invariably be required viewing to restart the quest. As a standalone movie, it’s just like seeing a major boxing match ending on a technical when you want someone going home on a stretcher. The only thing laid out this round is the movie itself.

NOTE: Images in this review are taken from the DVD.