Dragon Ball Super: Broly's dense mythology isn't necessarily accessible to newcomers, but it delivers dazzling Saiyan action worthy of the big screen.
Believe it or not, there are now twenty animated Dragon Ball features overall, including the newly-released Dragon Ball Super: Broly. The Dragon Ball media franchise itself turns 35 this year, having originated as a manga written and illustrated by Akira Toriyama back in 1984. Since then, the property has given rise to several anime series and TV specials, in addition to the various animated films and the infamous live-action movie Dragonball Evolution back in 2009. Still, even after so many TV series and film adaptations of the source material, the latest movie has proven to be something unique, and is already the third highest-grossing anime film of all time in the U.S. (following the first two animated Pokémon movies). Dragon Ball Super: Broly's dense mythology isn't necessarily accessible to newcomers, but it delivers dazzling Saiyan action worthy of the big screen.
Set largely after the narrative of the Universe Survival Saga, Dragon Ball Super: Broly starts off by recapping events that took place 41 years earlier. As seen in the film's prologue, the Saiyans' home world, Planet Vegeta, is ruled by the unforgiving King Cold (Jason Douglas), who then passes command of the world to his diminutive, yet even crueler son Frieza (Christopher Ayres). King Vegeta (Christopher Sabat), believing his son Prince Vegeta is destined to free the Saiyans, is troubled when he learns of Broly, another Saiyan with an even higher power level than the prince. As a result, he exiles the child to the distant planet Vampa, prompting his father Paragus (Dameon Clarke), to go after him. However, upon being stranded on this strange and dangerous world, Paragus vows revenge against the Vegeta family.
Years later, Planet Vegeta has been destroyed by Frieza - after Frieza learned of a legend saying a Super Saiyan will defeat him - and the now-grown Prince Vegeta (Christopher Sabat) continues to train and increase his power level on earth with Goku (Sean Schemmel), who was sent off-world by his father before Frieza's attack. Upon learning that Frieza's forces have stolen six of the seven Dragon Balls that Bulma (Monica Rial) had been collecting, she, Vegeta, and Goku set off to find the final Dragon Ball before Frieza can. Meanwhile, two of Frieza's lower-ranking soldiers - Cheelai (Erica Lindbeck) and Lemo (Bruce Carey) - find their way to Vampa, where they discover Broly has been shaped into an extremely-powerful fighter by his father. They are subsequently brought to Frieza, who realizes he may finally have found someone who can defeat Goku and Vegeta, once and for all.
Written by Toriyama and directed by Tatsuya Nagamine (Dragon Ball Super), Dragon Ball Super: Broly does a pretty respectable job of crafting a standalone narrative here from years' (nay, decades') worth of backstory and lore. There are certainly moments where the film struggles to stand on its own and either resorts to exposition dumps or simply not explaining things to keep the plot moving (see also: when certain supporting players show up). Still, for anyone with a passing familiarity to the world of Dragon Ball, the movie succeeds in painting the sci-fi fantasy martial arts saga in broad strokes, delivering some satisfying soap opera in the process. The end result is a Dragon Ball film that comfortably straddles the line between a glorified television episode and a three-act cinematic experience, like the best movies in any other multimedia franchise or universe.
While Dragon Ball Super: Broly has less success when it comes to fleshing out its many, many characters, it has a sturdy emotional through-line thanks to Broly himself. The film marks the Saiyan's first canonical movie appearances and paints him in a sympathetic light, portraying him as a gentle soul who was abused and violently molded into a super-warrior to carry out his father's quest for vengeance. Obviously, the movie doesn't dive too deep into Paragus' toxic masculinity (nor the questionable morals of Saiyan civilization), but it goes far enough to show Broly in a compelling light. The other characters here typically come off as one-note heroes or villains, even more so than they regularly do in their Dragon Ball TV series appearances. Nevertheless, they - and the voice actors behind them - play their parts well enough in the film's elemental battle between good and evil.
Speaking of battles - Dragon Ball Super: Broly very much delivers the goods when it comes to sequences of Saiyans trying to beat the crap out of one another. Following the world-building and table-setting of the first half, the latter portion of the film is primarily devoted to scenes of Saiyans fighting one another in visually spectacular and sometimes psychedelic ways. These scenes are also where the movie starts to really feel cinematic, in that they use subjective camera angles and first-person POV shots to bring the Saiyan brawls to life in ways that simply aren't feasible for a serialized Dragon Ball cartoon series. Admittedly, the imagery in the rest of the film is on the same level of quality as a TV episode, complete with the occasionally clunky mix of 2D and 3D animated elements. Still, the animation and sound editing in the fight scenes are justification enough to check this one out on the big screen, if possible.
Naturally, Dragon Ball Super: Broly is unlikely to win over anyone who wasn't a fan of Dragon Ball TV shows or animated movies past. Similarly, as impressive as the film's third act spectacle is, it's pretty relentless and is just as likely to leave some audience members with a headache as it it to enthrall or delight them. Nevertheless, this film is as good a place as any for newcomers to dive in and see what they make of the franchise at large. It should simultaneously leave longtime fans pleased, especially those who've been waiting to see Broly get his due justice in a canonical movie. While it admittedly doesn't have all that high a bar to clear in this regard, Dragon Ball Super: Broly ranks pretty high on the scale of feature-length anime movies for those very same reasons.
All in all, those who are interested in seeing Dragon Ball Super: Broly are encouraged to check it out in theaters, where they can enjoy watching Vegeta, Goku, and Broly try and incinerate one another like there's no tomorrow. If that's not an option, then viewing at home should be just as much fun for longtime fans and interesting (if, at the same time, overwhelming) for Dragon Ball newbies. Who knows: if the animated Dragon Ball feature films continue to succeed like this one, we might even get a decent live-action adaptation one day. No harm in dreaming, right?
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 100 minutes long and is rated PG for prolonged frenetic sequences of action and violence, and for language.
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