Movie Review: Dragon Ball Super – Broly.
Dragon Ball goes back to the well for an iconic villain, an effort only die hard fans will love.
Time to review another modern Dragon Ball movie. Resurrection of F left us underwhelmed, but Battle of Gods showed they could mix their iconic action and humor into a visually impressive treat. Broly is the third film in the current timeline of Dragon Ball, and it seems to split the middle between the reheated Frieza and the sublime Battle of Gods. For fans of certain bygone elements of Dragon Ball Z, Broly will feel like a love letter. Unfortunately for general audiences and Dragon Ball Super fans, Broly epitomizes the faults of both series.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly (2018 Japan, 2019 US)
The Saiyans are a proud race of warriors and mercenaries living on Planet Vegeta. They have been enslaved by the evil King Cold and his tyrannical son Frieza, forced to subjugate worlds for their galactic empire. When Frieza assumes the throne, he decides to wipe out the Saiyans, fearful of a prophecy that predicts they will give birth to the most powerful fighter in history, the legendary Super Saiyan.
On the eve of destruction, three Saiyans are spared. Goku, a low level child of a common soldier is smuggled off the planet by his parents and sent to grow up on Earth. Prince Vegeta is sent away on a conquest mission by his father, who hopes the youth will grow into the legendary fighter destined to kill Frieza. Broly, child of a minor noble with unpredictable power, is exiled to a hostile hell planet to test his mettle. 40 years later, the three meet again on Earth as a newly resurrected Frieza attempts to pit his rivals against each other in a battle to the death.
From the long intro, you can see that DBS: Broly spends quite a bit of time on backstory. Since DB Super began, certain older stories fell out of canon, exiling popular characters like Broly. This movie is a bit of a corrective and gift to old fans, brining back popular elements, tweaked to fit the current timeline. King Cold, Goku’s dad Bardok, and the overpowered baddie Broly are all brought in out of the cold. Ahem.
The film’s primary goal appears to be fanservice. Many plot points, lines of dialogues, and iconic images are littered around the place. Many of them are reworked to fit the narrative, but a few are obviously just dropped in because fans miss them. The film really doesn’t need to take up five minutes showing me Fat Gogeta, but it was kind of fun that they did.
Old Wine, New Wine Skins.
The problem with DBS: Broly is that the older elements being reworked don’t work in the current format of the series. The extreme levels Vegeta and Goku have attained make most of the old characters insignificant compared to them. Even Frieza, a fan favorite welded back into the story clunkily, feels like an also-ran in a movie where he has more screen time than Goku. Other fan favorites like Trunks and Piccolo are sprinkled in via cameos that practically scream “too weak to appear in this film, but you keep asking for them.” Sorry, fans of Mr. Piccolo, he ain’t getting a fight scene and is instead just comic filler.
The problem with Dragon Ball Super is that the studio is faced with an impossible bind. The need for “bigger, better, louder” spectacles have meant that the heroes are now grossly overpowered. The need to appease fans of the extended roster means they have to find a way to make weak characters relevant. The two don’t match. You either get watered down heroes or inflated threats, both of which feel forced and fake.
Most of the above concerns fans. How is Broly as a movie?
Underwhelming, with a few spots of brilliance.
The animation varies wildly. The opening hour is on par with Resurrection of F, which is to say polished but not spectacular. The subplots involving secondary characters feels like they contracted out to another department and borders on horrendous. The battle sequences hit some really high notes: Vegeta’s transformations have gorgeous visual effects, and Goku and Broly’s fight literally breaks time and space, leading to some inventive CG effects like in Battle of Gods. Sadly, many fights are just flashing lights and fireworks displays meant to convey speed and power, making many of the battles hollow and uninteresting. Why Dragon Ball never looked to other anime like Cowboy Beebop or FLCL to figure out how to make speed look cool, I’ll never know.
The pacing of the film is up and down, as well. The backstory is a bit slow, but is also compresses years of story so sudden jumps occur. The fight sequences seem to have no sense of time or place, so its hard to feel like they have weight. Events that seem to take hours are shown in seconds while things that should take seconds are stretched into hours. It’s very uneven.
The story…well, its a hot mess for fans and newcomers alike.
Blast from the Past?
Dragon Ball Super: Broly tailors itself to a subset of the fandom, sacrificing mass appeal. Despite all of the history laid out, I’d find it hard for lapsed fans or casual audiences to become invested in the story. Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse does a much better job of creating engaging spectacle in a “vaguely familiar” setting.
Having had a day to stew over it, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend Broly to even Dragon Ball fans. It takes the story of DB Super nowhere new, instead taking an actual step backwards in terms of furthering the narrative, and it is arbitrary in what it acknowledges from the current arc. Fans of Dragon Ball Z will likely bemoan the power creep and lack of involvement from side characters. I don’t think DBS: Broly is even as good as the original DBZ: Broly movie. The series has moved on. As cool as a character as Broly was, he’s a relic from another era and this film doesn’t make a convincing argument that returning to that time is good for the franchise.