Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods [Extended Edition]
After years of planet-shattering conflict, Earth has finally entered an era of peace, and the heroes of Dragonball are enjoying some much-needed rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, that peace is doomed to be short-lived, as the awakening of God of Destruction Beerus promises to herald a new age of, well, destruction. Beerus has been dreaming of a fight with a mythical Super Saiyan God, and unless he gets his wish, it's very likely the Earth itself will be the first casualty of a new era of death and destruction.
Dragonball Z: Battle of the Gods is a work that turns back the clock in a couple of ways. The first, most obvious one is that it leaps back in the timeline - the film takes place right at the end of Dragonball Z, in a happy post-Buu neutral. The movie assumes you're already perfectly familiar with the Dragonball cast - there's an amusing minute-and-a-half recap that's essentially a highlight reel of Goku playing whack-a-mole with the show's villains, but you'll be lost if you aren't already familiar with Dragonball's extended family of characters. This isn't a standalone narrative, it's a reunion tour. All the major faces get a moment or two to shine, there's plenty of gags between the main cast, and most of the film's running time actually consists of people hanging out at Bulma's birthday party. Which leads into the film's second element of clock-turning - the overall mood of the piece.
Battle of the Gods marks the first time Akira Toriyama has been involved in the franchise in a very long time, and his presence is clearly felt in the tone of the film. The story here feels more Dragonball than Z - a lighthearted adventure with a beloved cast, with far more time spent on gags than action. “Bulma has a party and then Goku fights a guy” is definitely a less snappy title than “Battle of the Gods,” but that's pretty much what you're getting here. And even the first titular God, Beerus, is more of an endearing frenemy than a Cell-like menace.
Beerus actually manages to steal the show in Battle of the Gods - if anyone has to destroy the earth, I'd prefer it be an endearingly lazy and prideful god like this guy. His vague space-Egyptian aesthetic is really just an excuse to make a villain who's an actual cat - from his physical mannerisms (constant yawning, licking his “paws”) to his desires (an even mix of naps and food) and even his overall personality (brittle, proud, self-serious but constantly making a fool of himself), Beerus embodies everything that makes cats endearing. In contrast to more tonally serious villains like Cell or even Vegeta, Beerus is introduced by waking from a nap, walking off a floating platform, and then falling down only when he realizes he's standing in midair. That roadrunner gag pretty much sets the tone for his character - he'll destroy the earth, sure, but only because he never got to try the pudding.
The film's plot is about as minimalist as you can get, and really just acts as a vehicle for the film's gags and fight scenes. Bulma's throwing a birthday party, everyone's having fun together, suddenly Beerus wakes up, decides he wants to fight a Super Saiyan God, and so rushes around the universe interrogating saiyans until someone at Bulma's party makes him angry and he decides to destroy the earth. That setup allows for plenty of both joking and fighting - the highlights in a movie like this are things like Vegeta making a fool of himself in order to keep Beerus happy at the party, or Piccolo cursing earthling bingo because he didn't win any prizes. It's light and fluffy even with Beerus's threats hanging overhead, and though the extended edition's pacing drags at times, little of the content feels wholly superfluous. The early stuff is engaging enough that when the fights come, they seem like a pleasant surprise, not a reward for your suffering. And don't worry, Battle of the Gods definitely has plenty of fighting.
In spite of its cultural ubiquity, Dragonball Z's fight scenes weren't generally very good. There was the issue of pacing, of course, but the lack of animation often meant they felt like watching people play a videogame you weren't any good at, and thus required someone else to explain everything for you. Toei have gone all-out for Battle of the Gods, and so that problem is completely erased here. The fights are fast-paced but easy to follow, making them dramatically satisfying purely as an exchange of beams and blows. Both Goku and Vegeta get their moments in the sun, and when the final confrontation between Goku and Beerus arrives, the film stretches its visual muscles with mixed but generally positive results.
Dragonball Z has never been a particularly beautiful show, and Battle of the Gods doesn't really change this. Its designs are clean and iconic, and the introduction of Beerus allows for some lovely celestial backgrounds, but the film generally sticks to the visual aesthetic of the original show. The fight scenes feature a few standout moments of beautiful animation, and the effects animation in particular is worth noting - there's a great sense of flow and volume to the beams, clouds, and rubble of conflict. Unfortunately, the film's CG integration is much less graceful. Though the fights rarely resort to actually using CG models for the characters, there are a number of sequences where the characters either interact with CG backgrounds or simply fly through them, and there's a clear and jarring disconnect between the traditionally animated characters and their CG-animated environments. It's like a somewhat less drastic version of the old “driving in a car” film trick, where characters in a foreground vehicle would be transposed against a projected background. This is fortunately only used for a couple major sequences, but it's definitely a distraction from what are supposed to be some of the film's most dramatic moments.
The score is more consistent, featuring the same alternation of subdued gag-ready tracks and guitar-driven action music you're accustomed to. The big animation setpiece in Goku and Beerus's final fight is matched with a suitable pop-rock insert song, and the sound effects still zoom and whoosh as they always have. As someone who grew up with Dragonball Z in English, the dub here actually sounds more natural and charismatically written than usual. There's sometimes a bit of a disconnect between the more pratfall-friendly animation and modernized dialogue (“Fine, I'll suck it up and go”), but the script overall matches the lovingly irreverent tone of the film itself, meaning I'd recommend sticking with whichever voice track you're accustomed to. The extended edition doesn't come with any physical extras, though there are a couple of nice behind-the-scenes features starring the English voice actors. Overall, Battle of the Gods delivers exactly what it promises - a fun afternoon with old friends and a few crazy fights to spice up the party. It's good to see you again, Dragonball.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Handily achieves its own modest goals, offering plenty of classic Dragonball gags and battles.
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