I spent a good portion of my childhood devouring anything with the Dragon Ball Z brand on it.
School would end, and I'd rush home to catch the latest episode of the Cell Saga on Cartoon Network's Toonami block. Everyday meant another new episode and even crazier action. I know I'm not alone in this: an entire generation spent their afternoons watching Goku and his friends (but mostly Goku) kick all kinds of ass.
Seventeen years after the last feature film, Dragon Ball Z has returned to theaters in the form of Battle of Gods. Unsurprisingly, the movie is a box office success and has already grossed a whopping $7,000,000 in just two days.
Is it any good though?
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (Theatrical release)
Studio: Toei Animation
Release Date: March 30, 2013 (Japan)
Taking place between the end of the Buu saga (chapter 517) and the final chapter (518) of the original manga, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods tells the story of the ruthless God of Destruction, Bills. Waking from his 39 year slumber, Bills is startled to discover that the diabolical Freeza has been defeated by a mere Saiyan. Before settling into his long rest, he had seen a vision that one day a Super Saiyan God would stand before him in battle. Excited by the prospect of an all-out brawl, Bills sets off for Earth in search of his ultimate rival.
Back at Capsule Corp., Bulma is holding a massive birthday party for herself. All of the Z warriors are present save for Goku, who's off training with King Kai. The celebration takes a turn for the worst when Bills and his assistant Wiss arrive in search of the Super Saiyan God. With the Earth's fate in the hands of a fickle God, Vegeta is forced to step in and tend to Bills every request. The clock is counting down, but will Goku be enough to stand against the most powerful being in the universe?
To say that Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is light on story would be an understatement. Bills wakes up, goes to a party, eats some food, and then engages in a final battle. The events of the film wrap up in a single day, and because we as viewers know how this story ends, there's absolutely no threat of losing a single character. Battle of Gods lacks any kind of dramatic tension, and doesn't really ever try to create any at all.
This new film also makes no effort to try and reintroduce the cast, assuming that at this point everybody and their mother knows who these men, women, and children are. Even the so-called Super Saiyan God is a disappointment, coming off as pointless and lazily designed. The pacing is quite terrible, with long stretches of time devoted to side characters running around trying to steal the Dragon Balls. Despite being a brisk 90 minutes long, Battle of Gods could have easily been trimmed down into a 60 or 70 minute feature.
Yet when I walked out of the theater, I was still smiling like an idiot.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods doesn't tell a good story, but it seems like director Masahiro Hosoda never set out to do that in the first place. Battle of Gods is a celebration of Dragon Ball's long history. Every major character makes an appearance and gets at least one chance to take the spotlight. Even Emperor Pilaf and his two cronies are given a sizable chunk of screen time, reminding viewers of DBZ's humble beginnings. Rather than tell a dark and dramatic story, Toei Animation opted to make a light hearted, joke-filled film. The characters bounce off one another well, making references to prior events and acknowledging different moments in the franchise's history. If you've ever considered yourself a Dragon Ball Z fan, you'll find yourself laughing much more than you probably ever expected you would.
The characters are as you remembered them, though Son Goku actually gets fairly little screen time or interaction with the rest of the cast. He spends most of the film training or out of commission, which leaves the burden of being the main protagonist on Vegeta's shoulders for 75% of the movie's runtime. Fortunately, the antihero handles the pressure admirably, and comes out as the most memorable part of Battle of Gods. His attempts to calm Bills' rage are some of the funniest scenes in the film. Sadly, Bills is something of a mixed bag. Despite being billed (no pun intended) as the God of Destruction, he's hardly the evil antagonist DBZ fans are used to. Even when he threatens to destroy the Earth, Bills never comes off as threatening because he spends most of Battle of Gods' runtime eating food and partying with the Z warriors. His overall design leaves much to be desired as well; a skinny purple rabbit isn't exactly how I had envisioned a world destroying God.
Sadly, Battle of Gods is not a looker. Often darting between mediocre and terrible, rarely does the animation quality ever seem remotely close to being film level. There are some flashes of brilliance; watching Goku and Bills engage in a high speed chase through the clouds is exhilarating. Much to my chagrin, these moments are few and far between, replaced with inconsistently drawn characters, unimpressive action sequences, and awkward CG that at times resembles flash animation. One five second scene was so poorly drawn and animated that my friend and I burst out laughing in the theater because it was so out of place. Previous Dragon Ball Z films have done action significantly better than this.
The other massive disappointment comes from the soundtrack, composed by Norihito Sumitomo (Asura, Shikabane Hime: Kuro). Battle of Gods' score is bland and generic, with the only recognizable tunes being rearrangements of the original Cha-la Head Cha-la. I find it bewildering that Toei didn't bring back Shunsuke Kikuchi (DBZ), especially considering how iconic his music in the original series was. The film is a celebration of the franchise in a lot of ways, but Toei really missed a golden opportunity here. The new version of Cha-la Head Cha-la by Flow isn't awful, but it can't even begin to compare to the original theme.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is not a good film. I can't in good conscience recommend it to someone who has never enjoyed DBZ. The writing is a mess, the pacing is awful, the animation is subpar, and the soundtrack is a complete disappointment. Even amongst the DBZ films, it doesn't rank very highly. That being said, if you've ever enjoyed the series, Battle of Gods will make you smile and laugh. You'll remember a time when watching a couple of spiky haired guys scream at each other as a planet explodes was the best kind of entertainment out there.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is a 90 minute stroll down memory lane that never aspires to be anything more than that. A good friend of mine summed up the experience quite well: "it sucked, but it was awesome."
I suppose after a seventeen year hiatus, that's enough for me.
5.0 – Average. This one’s just “okay”. It has many flaws, and just couldn’t follow through on its intentions or had ones that were simply too narrow to warrant consideration. Some will still enjoy it, but should temper their expectations, or perhaps just opt to pass. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.