Frequent readers of my blog will have probably been waiting for this post with bated breath; but probably not. It’s hard to miss that I talk about Dragon Ball a hell of a lot on here, so an inevitable review of Dragon Ball super: Broly was only ever a matter of time.
I feel like I should count myself lucky that I actually got to see this movie at all to be honest. My local cinema only decided to arrange a single showing of the dubbed movie, and while I booked my ticket well, well in advance, they still only screened it on one of their smaller screens. They even turned a hell of a lot of people away at the doors.
I get the impression that Cineworld still doesn’t really understand the rabid interest in a movie such as this, as they showed trailers for children’s animated movies before the movie too. In a room full of dudes in their 20s and 30s. It was an odd experience that I might delve deeper into at a later date, but for now, let’s just talk about the movie itself.
Bardock, Minus, Broly
Like Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’ before it, Broly is a Dragon Ball movie that neatly slots into the canon of the main story, taking place almost right after Tournament of Power that Android #17 won.
The movie is a reimagining and a recontextualising of several pieces of Dragon Ball history that existed within various states of “canon”. The first half of the movie taking elements of the first Bardock TV special and Akira Toriyama’s mini comic; Dragon Ball Minus. Mixing these new insights into a new version of a story that has already been told; specifically, the 1993 movie Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan.
Toriyama’s Three Hour Epic
During interviews we learned that Akira Toriyama’s original script for this movie would have produced a film with a three hour length. And during the early parts of the movie, it shows. You can see where certain aspects of the story have been cut up and moved around to shrink down the length, which sometimes throws off the pacing of those early parts of the movie. Which is the only real criticism I can muster when it comes to the film’s story.
The first act of the movie takes place in the past: Showing the Saiyans at their peak as a species, how Freeza came to power after having the reigns handed to him by his father and how Broly and his father Paragus were banished from Planet Vegeta and stranded on a remote and hostile world.
This part of the movie is fantastic. It reveals the Saiyans to be much more than a race of interstellar barbarians we once perceived them as. It shows them having expertise in weaponry, engineering and piloting on top of some of them being laser blasting supermen. It turns out they’re much more like the Turians from Mass Effect than the Space Vikings we’d seen them as before. There is an entirely different tone to events than we see anywhere else in the franchise, and it’s a welcome one for me personally.
The Unfortunate Casualty of Act 1
It’s this part of the movie that really feels the effects of the trimming down of the original script, especially when we meet Bardock. His segment of the movie is breezed over in comparison to the new insights into Freeza, King Vegeta and Paragus, he is the only one who suddenly realises Freeza is about to destroy them and sends his son away in order to save him.
While I don’t have especially strong feelings regarding the softening of Bardock’s character in the movie, I was upset that one of his most iconic moments ends up being a victim of the editing process. There are hints of there being a longer interpretation of his final stand against Freeza, but the movie ends up cutting away in order to move into the present sooner.
The movie never felt overly long to me personally, and I think it could have stood to take an extra five or ten minutes to give some more attention to Bardock’s last stand and the ultimate fate of his planet.
The second half of the movie takes place in the “present”, and has a much lighter tone to it compared to the somewhat serious and dour events of the first act that focus on themes such as revenge and oppression. It makes Broly feel like two entirely different movies stitched together in the middle, both of which I loved for totally different reasons.
The first part of the movie grips me as a long time fan of the series, expanding on well-trodden lore while also telling the grim tale of a proud race and their last days before their unnecessary destruction. It shows us the origins of not just the three saiyans, but of Freeza himself as well.
The Freeza Effect
While I’m on the subject, I suppose I’ll take some time to talk about Freeza. Bringing back the franchise’s most recognisable villain not just once, but twice seemed like a dicey tactic. But it’s proven to be a move that’s paid back dividends over and over. I already spoke about his presence in the tournament of power at length, but Freeza is a fantastic addition to this movie.
A result of the movie’s structure means we get to see Freeza in the past, at his most arrogant and unopposed. We also get to see him now; a character that has, amazingly, gone through some significant character development since his introduction back in Z. He’s still as evil as they come, but he seems to take himself much less seriously now, finding sport and amusement in his rivalry with Goku and Vegeta. Knowing when he is bested and when to bow out gracefully.
While he is the main antagonistic force in the movie, forcing the events into action, both in the past and the present. He is also one of the movie’s main sources of comedy.
From his desire to use the Dragon Balls to wish to be 5cm taller, a petty desire that mirror’s Bulma’s reasons for collecting the Dragon Balls also, to his over the top acting towards Broly after killing his father, culminating in the catharsis that comes from an hour long (not an hour of the movie) beat down from the Saiyan bezerker. He has really become a fantastic staple of the series. The perpetual, moustache twirling villain that will continue to butt heads with our heroes for the foreseeable future. Unless the universe itself is at stake again.
The Redemption of Broly
Let’s really get to the meat of this movie though, and boy is there meat… I’ve openly spoken about how I actively used to despise Broly, more so, I hated his fan base, who insisted on his inclusion in absolutely everything. Despite his original incarnation being a wholly uninteresting villain with a laughable motivation. Embodying all of the worst things about the franchise and its fandom.
The Broly seen here, Toriyama’s Broly, is a sympathetic, likeable and redeemable character whose status as the villain is pretty much thrust upon him. He is discovered by Cheelai and Lemo; two oddball members of the Freeza force. The pair quickly forge a bond with Broly, realising he is a gentle soul who has lived his entire life knowing very little kindness. The comparison I’ve seen made more than once regarding this Broly is to Tarzan. With his burdening relationship with Cheelai being the anime version of Jane, I think it fits pretty well.
Ultimately, even this Broly is a rather shallow character though. While far better than his original counterpart, he is still almost entirely defined by his nigh unstoppable power born from rage. The scenes involving him talking about the past abuse of his father and the backstory behind the pelt he wears make us sympathise with him, but they still don’t really make him an interesting personality. He’s ultimately the universe 7 version of Jiren; a hulking brute with little more to define him than a tragic backstory.
Unlike Jiren though, Broly ends up melting into the background in the scenes that don’t involve him fighting, as the characters around him with much stronger personalities end up sucking the attention. Paragus, for example, is a great character in this movie. An angry old man whose feelings of betrayal by his own race have devolved into a single minded quest for revenge, ironically turning him into the very thing he set out to escape from.
In turn, Paragus ends up getting sucked up by Freeza’s incredibly forceful personality. I like this Broly. But he doesn’t feel like a character that can have a strong impact on the series going forward. He is incredibly powerful, yes, but that’s about all there is to him. I really don’t know if there are plans to include Broly in future story lines, but I get the impression that his apparent aversion to battle might make him a character they only role out for special occasions.
Everything I’ve spoken about thus far only actually takes up about half the run time of the movie. Once Broly is unleashed on Goku and Vegeta, we are thrown into an extended action sequence that takes up almost the entire remaining length of the movie.
And it looks stunning. The new art direction used in this movie is an incredibly welcome one. While there were occasions where Dragon Ball Super looked absolutely amazing, the action in Broly is far more consistent. If anything, the looser, more flowing animation style makes the heavy hits of the battle even more impactful. The battle starts off slowly, with Broly fighting Vegeta, before introducing Goku, each combatant slowly building in strength, raising the stakes and eventually forcing Goku and Vegeta to retreat in order to return as Gogeta.
The combination of traditional animation and computer generated animation is mostly seamless, with only a few exceptions. Some of the more dynamic shots and amazing choreography come only because portions of the fights are computer animated, and there are very few scenes where it distracts from the action. It all feels weighty, and the impacts and deforming terrain make the fight feel like brutal heavyweight brawl rather than a martial arts contest.
Broly himself devolves into a screaming bezerker once the fight gets going, and while there are moments of levity within the action, such as cut aways to Freeza and the time it takes Goku and Vegeta to learn the fusion dance, it feels like a much different movie than what we saw in the first half.
While I enjoyed the earlier parts of the movie more, this extended fight sequence is amazing to behold, really showing us a “Dragon Ball” fight in all it’s over the top glory. It’s pulse pumping, it’s beautiful and it’s oftentimes really funny.
It’s difficult to say this without it seeming like criticism, but this movie feels like the ultimate piece of fan service. It’s a movie that contains both Bardock and Broly, it gives us Gogeta and then has him fighting Broly. It all feels like something out of Super Dragon Ball Heroes. Or some old fan fiction (which is what Super Dragon Ball Heroes is supposed to be).
Gogeta even uses the Soul Punisher, which was one of several instances in which my audience were applauding at the movie.
And yet, it’s difficult for me to find any genuine criticism of Broly that doesn’t involve the fact that I wish there was more of it, knowing that there was a lot more to Toriyama’s original script. It’s a piece of genuine fun that is catered to fans like myself.
If you wanted a objective review of this movie, this was not the place to find it. I am far too close to this franchise to view it as anything but the hardcore fan that I am, and ultimately, this is a movie for the fans. It has no deep message, it isn’t going to touch you emotionally. It’s just something that’ll get your blood pumping, if you’re into anime dudes screaming and beating the ever loving crap out of one another.
I had a blast at this movie and I continue to be excited that Dragon Ball is not only back, but might be bigger than its ever been before.