Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 10th 2014
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods
A few years after the defeat of Kid Buu, two great events on opposite sides of the universe shake the Dragon Ball multiverse to its foundations. One is the awakening of Beerus, God of Destruction, who arises after a mere 39 years (instead of the usual 50) because of a prophecy that he would encounter an “arch-rival” around this time. Upon learning that Freeza has been slain, Beerus decides to take his manager Whis (“beer” and “whiskey,” you see) and go check out the Super-Saiyan who defeated him, in part because of rumors he had once heard about a supposed Super-Saiyan God. Meanwhile on Earth, Bulma throws a birthday party the way only the richest woman in the world could: with Dragon Balls as the top of many expensive prizes for a bingo contest. Not even the infiltration of an old enemy can stop the fun – that is, of course, until Beerus shows up, after having soundly trounced Goku, who was training on Lord Kai's world. What will Vegeta do to protect his family against Beerus? Can he and the others hold out until Goku arrives, and even then, can they find a way to power up enough to thwart Beerus? Or will Beerus be too distracted by chowing down on Earth delicacies to care?
Battle of Gods is the 18th movie in the Dragon Ball franchise but the first new movie since 1996. It is also the first movie in the franchise whose content is considered canon, as original manga-ka Akira Toriyama was reportedly heavily involved and its story can specifically be placed between chapters 517 and 518 of the manga – in other words, about four and a half years into the ten year time skip between episodes 288 and 289 of Dragon Ball Z. (The timing of this can be pinned down precisely because this is the point, chronologically speaking, where Videl first reveals that she is pregnant with Pan.) The vast majority of surviving long-time franchise cast members make at least token appearances, including the reappearance of a villain and his cronies who date back to the original Dragon Ball anime, with the only entirely new characters of consequence being Beerus and Whis.
Although advertisements for the movie make it out as one of the typical apocalyptic battle affairs that Dragon Ball Z was well-known for, in execution the emphasis is actually on the franchise's goofy side, to the point that it saps some of the gravitas from the climactic Goku-Beerus battle. Though a being whose very name includes the words “God of Destruction” and who has both Vegeta and even the Kais terrified of him, Beerus lacks the sense of menace that he should have to be a proper DBZ villain; even Majin Buu was more intimidating. He simply engages in too many antics that border on slapstick and reacts too comically to certain situations to be taken completely seriously. Perhaps this was intentional, as his ultimate motives actually seem to be quite different from those of typical DBZ villains and his character is certainly more laid-back than that of a Freeza, Cell, or Buu. Whether intentional or not, though, prospective viewers should definitely expect a more light-hearted affair heavy on jokes, pratfalls, and general silliness (the God of Destruction and Buu tussle over pudding at one point, for instance) and more sparse on action.
That isn't to say that there is not a fair amount of high-powered action to be had, but in that regard the movie is less than extraordinary. Despite the souped-up animation, the fight scenes show nothing that has not been seen countless times before in DBZ installments, and Beerus demonstrates no tricks beyond what any other DBZ villain has pulled. Sure, Goku finds yet another tier of power-up (with the help of the other Saiyans), but even that does not particularly impress as being all that different from lower levels. The climactic battle does eventually generate a fair amount of tension, but even then it comes nowhere near the epic level of the final showdowns with Freeza or Cell.
No, the entertainment value here is more in the comedy, in the allusions to events past in the Dragon Ball franchise, and in the smaller touches. Seeing the way Trunks and Goten interact is always a joy, especially when Trunks seems to have an unlikely new girlfriend, or in the way the guests at Bulma's party utterly fail to take a hostage situation seriously (much to the dismay of the hostage-takers), or how Beerus and Whis get completely enamored with Earth cuisine. Vegeta is an especially bright star here, both in the pride-sacrificing depths he goes to in order to take Beerus's mind off of destroying Earth and, in perhaps the movie's highlight scene, the fire he gets in him when Bulma is endangered. A new generation makes its official entrance (sort of) and little treats like how even Piccolo can get into the bingo game, or how Lord Kai's planet ended up so small, abound. These are the aspects that make the movie memorable, not the fights.
Animation production once again goes to Toei Animation, who seemed to be trying to give the franchise an updated production aesthetic while still retaining the original look and feel. The result is a movie which looks like a spruced-up TV episode. For its fight scenes it uses all sorts of fancy CG-enhanced perspective-shifting shots to give the sense of a mobile camera (somewhat like what Attack on Titan did in certain highlight scenes), but as often as not that gimmickry actually makes the fights harder to follow. Battle auras are more commonly done with CG enhancements, too, which between that and the way character designs are handled sometimes creates stark contrasts between character animation and background art. Despite the flaws, though, the animation is still a decided upgrade from the TV series episodes. Long-established character designs vary from those in DBZ only in appropriate aging (or de-aging in certain cases), while the design of Beerus is supposedly based on a Cornish Rex cat. Background art and graphic content conform to TV series standards; if you would not hesitate to show the TV series to younger viewers then you should not hesitate to show them the movie, either.
The musical score for the movie does nothing particularly remarkable. The Japanese dub, which was not available for review, uses a couple of new voice actors in supporting roles, but the English dub cast is entirely carried over from Funimation's dub of Dragon Ball Kai, with voice actors for Funimation's dubs of Dragon Ball and DBZ being used in places where characters either will not appear in Kai or have yet to appear there. Jason Douglas, who voiced King Cold in DBZ but is probably better-known for roles like Bandoh in Elfen Lied, Doug in Kurau Phantom Memory, or Gildarts in Fairy Tail, fits nicely as the somewhat mercurial Beerus and Ian Sinclair (Dandy in Space Dandy) works just fine as the more level-headed Whis. Essentially, if one never had issue with the English dub for the TV series then the dub for this movie should not be an issue, either.
Ultimately Battle of Gods is entirely a movie for long-established fans, as it has too many in-jokes that those not familiar with wide swaths of the franchise would get. It is not a stellar addition to the franchise but is a worthwhile and at least moderately entertaining one, provided that one does not go into it expecting an action magnum opus.
Overall (dub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Quite funny at times, Vegeta has some shining moments, several nice tidbits for long-time fans.
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