The last two years have been momentous for fans of the long running series, Dragon Ball. Last year, the series managed to re-ignite interest with a big budget feature film, Battle of Gods, that also happened to be totally worth watching. This year, the series was revived on television with all new episodes, and also launched a second major film that scored megabucks at the box office despite an extremely stingy screening schedule. Seriously, it seems that you had to pretty much luck into a viewing, which I fortunately managed to do. Has the franchise lived up to all of the hype? Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ is entertaining and gives fans back their favorite villain, but fails to break any new ground or to move the story forward in any meaningful way.
Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ (2015)
Several years have passed since Goku and his band of warriors protected Earth from the god of destruction. Having gained the admiration of the deity, Goku and Vegeta are summoned to the celestial realm to hone their powers under the tutelage of the mightiest fighters in the universe. This absence allows minions of the defeated (and obliterated!) evil warlord Frieza to sneak onto Earth and steal the Dragon Balls, objects of power that grant any wish to those who control them. Using the wish, they revive their fallen leader and place him in a regeneration tank to completely heal. Frieza, realizing that he is not strong enough to conquer Earth and defeat Goku, reveals that he is so powerful that he had never needed to train previously…and that by training just a little he will reach god-like power and finally overcome the Z warriors who protect the planet.
Months pass and Frieza arrives on Earth, leading a tremendous army of space marauders and sporting a ridiculous amount of power. With Goku and Vegeta still away training, it seems that nothing can stand in his way…
Battle of Gods was a provocative and novel milestone in the series, revealing a larger multiverse of fighters who are even stronger than the mighty Goku, introducing a meaningful pantheon that helps to shape the lore of the DBZ universe, and having amazing fights that are fun to watch even though *gasp* the heroes prevail through teamwork instead of the brute strength of just Goku. It widened the scope of the series, provided new allies and enemies, and set the property onto strong footing after the disastrous Dragon Ball Grand Tour series seriously injured the franchise’s reputation.
Resurrection ‘F’ does none of those things, unfortunately, instead homing in like a laser on tried and true moments from the DBZ series. The choice of Frieza is puzzling from one perspective yet totally explicable from another: he’s way too weak to really be any challenge to these newly god-powered heroes, yet he’s such a fan favorite you can see why he is brought back for another round. Many consider the Frieza saga from DBZ the best and most iconic story arc in the whole decades long run of the show, so it’s no surprise that creator/director Akira Toriyama has gone back to the well so blatantly, especially since this movie is basically a promo for the revived television series.
Dragon Ball Z: The Episode…The Movie!
Resurrection ‘F’ feels like an episode from the series on steroids instead of a stand alone movie. That is both a great and troubling thing. The movie moves quickly, which is wonderful since the show is notorious for dragging its feet and taking 10 episodes to tell a story that would easily fit into one or two. It may, in fact, move too quickly, as the story seems extremely thin and is essentially regurgitating a tired canard of the series: after a defeat, the loser is inexplicably brought back, slightly powered up, and allowed to fight (and lose) again. And again. And again. This is what, the sixth time they’ve had to fight a previously dead villain (and two of those were already Frieza!) The fights themselves are fast and furious, once again a relief considering how prolonged every single fight in the series was. Much like the episodes, everyone gets a chance to fight, but the only meaningful action is Goku versus whatever villain they are facing. Its a shame, especially since the film introduces Jaco the Galactic Patrolman, a fun and interesting new character who isn’t super powered like crazy.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
This film will appeal to hard-core fans of the series, and few else. Dragon Ball has always brazenly flaunted how it can repeat the same plot over and over without upsetting its fans. This outing is pure DBZ by the numbers, offering nothing new. It’s a calculated appeal to the die-hards, from the choice of villain to the flogging of Goku as the only character who gets to do anything meaningful, and the arbitrary creation of new power levels just so the film feels like it has some kind of stakes. The world building and team building from Battle of Gods is ignored almost totally. It’s sad that the rebirth of Dragon Ball couldn’t even last two movies before reverting straight back to the same old formula that the show milked for more than a decade. It’s big dumb fun like the series at its best, but it’s certainly not an encouraging sign for how much creativity Toriyama is willing to inject into his franchise going forwards.