Yes, my friends, while the rest of you were off seeing high flying summer blockbusters with nearly universally positive reviews I took a slightly different approach… and saw one of the very few showings available in my area of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. You know, the first Dragon Ball Z film in 17 years to receive a theatrical release? That particular fact doesn’t really mean anything aside from highlighting the fact that Battle of Gods was, in fact, released theatrically. Depending on your location, you may still have a few days to see it. Let me get this out of the way right now: If you were – or are – a fan of Dragon Ball Z, you should see this movie.
Why? Well, let’s talk about the film a bit.
Events open with the introduction of Lord Beerus, also called Beerus the Destroyer. He’s smarmy and wicked, and he ordered Freeza to destroy the Saiyan world of Vegeta 39 years ago, before taking a nap. Now that he’s awakened, he is surprised to learn of Freeza’s death, and even more surprised to learn that it was at the hands of a Saiyan warrior. Abruptly, he recalls a prophecy he was interested in once about a “Super Saiyan God” (the film’s dialogue itself makes fun of this title. Don’t worry!). These opening scenes also give us a good sense of the tone of the film: Despite the fact that are no doubt headed to some mighty Dragon Ball Z action sequences later, the film is largely comic in tone.
First, our villain pays a visit to King Kai’s planet, where Goku is training. Most of this sequence is played for laughs, and it’s fairly brief, but Beerus does demonstrate to us his power by effortlessly defeating Super Saiyan 3 Goku in two almost delicate blows.
Disappointed by Goku, Beerus and his servitor, Whis, head to Earth to try and find the other remaining Saiyans, and this Super Saiyan God. Upon arriving, they interrupt Bulma’s birthday party. In a pleasant bit of fan service, all of the characters from the series are there. All of the fighters of course, like Piccolo and Tien Shinhan, but also supporting cast like Master Roshi, Mr. Satan, and Videl. The film runs only about 85 minutes, so most of these characters aren’t given a ton to do, but the middle part of the movie takes place primarily at this party. Here’s where things had the potential to really slow down and drag… because despite Lord Beerus arriving and demanding to meet his Super Saiyan God rival, he soon takes a shine to the buffet table instead. In no time, he and Whis are chowing down on Earth delicacies at Bulma’s invitation.
Meanwhile, a subplot involving a character from the original Dragon Ball anime (one whom I had to Google, but I’m sure there are fans who will better appreciate his appearance in the film). He’s there to steal the seven titular Dragon Balls, which Bulma has collected to give away as a prize on her birthday. Everyone should have a friend like her, I guess, because that’s quite the gift.
Lord Beerus eventually gets into a fight with Buu over pudding cups, and things start to head in the direction we always knew they were going to go: Beerus ultimately is here to challenge his new potential rival for fun and for profit, and unless the Super Saiyan God can prove stronger than he, he’s going to destroy the Earth. As you would expect, the lesser fighters all bounce off of him to no great impact, and even the mighty Vegeta is no match for Beerus, even after going berserk. Luckily, Goku arrives to save the day. Some complicated stuff happens that doesn’t really need a full rehashing. Suffice to to say that with the Saiyan characters pool their energy together, they literally transform Goku into a God in order to battle Beerus.
While I personally found a lot of the nonsense in the middle of the film to be very funny, I suspect it won’t play as well later on small screens as it did in what was actually a fairly crowded theater. What will play nicely on any high definition screen are the battle sequences that make up the last part of the film between Beerus and Vegeta and then, of course, between Beerus and Goku. One compliment that I would not pay to the original run of Dragon Ball Z was to its animation quality. Even the very coolest fights in Dragon Ball Z (say, some of the later ones against Perfect Cell) absolutely pale in comparison to what we get here.
Using modern animation techniques like blending some CGI in with the animation, incredible 3-D angles, and modern computer colouring, the battle sequences are awe-inspiring. Instead of endless series of rapid-fire punches and kicks that leave more to the imagination than we actually see, most of the battles play out with clear, decisive movements. Punches and kicks feel real and powerful. Energy blasts were given a little help from the CGI and seemed to crackle on the screen. Even if you found the central part of the movie a total slog (which would be a shame!) it’s probably worth it in the end!
I’ve seen other reviews cite the ending as underwhelming or disappointing, but I actually thought it was very suitable. While it’s true that the appeal of Dragon Ball Z wasn’t it’s complicated characters or sensible plotting, the spirit of the show and the characters is alive and well in this film, and to see the original voice cast return in so many different roles was pretty impressive… not to mention jumping up and down pretty hard on my nostalgia button. I remember when I used to be frustrated every afternoon by this show’s interminable filler episodes on the Cartoon Network. Battle of Gods might have been the way I’ve most enjoyed it since; in a single, digestible chunk that gave me a little of everything that ever made the show appealing.