Let me preface this review by saying that I am a fan of DragonBall Z since 2000 when my family first got cable. Even before then, I would catch this show on VHS tapes at sleepovers and even when I went to stay with relatives, I watched episodes of this epic anime series and was swept up by all the mythology and expanse of Akria Toriyama's world. Needless to say, I have plenty of DBZ merchandise in my apartment to keep me company and I'm still trying to collect all the manga to read it in its entirety.
This review is for the fans like me. If you haven't watched the show before and are thinking of seeing this film, it's not a great place to start. This film hits the ground running and doesn't stop until the last shot after the end credits.
I don't want to spoil anything for those who want to see the film, but here is a short summary of the premise. The film opens with our two new villains, Beerus and Whis, two gods who are destroyers of worlds. They are tongue in cheek like so many of Toriyama's greatest villains (Freeza and Buu come to mind) and they set a course for Earth where they hope to find the prophesized Saiyan god to challenge to a fight. Beerus has been sleeping for fifteen years. This course leads them to Bulma's birthday party which hosts all of the Saiyans in existence including Vegeta (one of my all-time favorite characters), Trunks, Goten, Gohan, and eventually Goku who arrives just in time to help out.
I loved this film. After a decade hiatus, seeing all these characters together was like coming to a family reunion - the type that you actually want to be at. The plethora of characters that were present had me giddy in my seat along with the many other people who were in the cinema with me. These characters are old friends to us, and we were pleased to see them alive and well. And what a fun celebration this is!
Toriyama is well known for his humor and Battle of Gods had plenty. This film is a sort of comedy-of-errors tale, complete with mistaken identities, forgotten acquaintances (who try to steal the dragon balls), and many revelations.
Toriyama admitted that he produced and co-wrote this movie as a stab at Hollywood for making the horrendous Dragonball: Evolution. I am so pleased that he did because this wiped all the bad taste from my mouth at that the live-action disaster had placed there. This film was full of everything that made DBZ one of my favorites, and I didn't mind all the fan-service because fan-service is the main reason this film was made.
The animation this time around is incredibly crisp and smooth. I was also impressed by the addition of many special effects during the fight scenes that weren't possible when the show aired on television in the early 2000's (1990's for Japan). All the energy blasts sparkle with detail and I was shocked at some of the destruction in a way that I wasn't when the show was on my small television set. But, then again, this film was designed to be shown on the silver screen, and boy was it impressive. It also benefited from the surround sound which made everything audibly immersive.
Now, to the characters. I was thrilled that the talented Sean Shemmel returned to voice Goku as only he could do. Chrisopher Sabbat also returned to voice Vegeta. These characters are my favorite anime characters of all time, and to see and hear them back together brought an authenticity to the film that would have been lost otherwise. Many of the other characters returned with their original voice talent, though even the replacements were a close match. The acting was superb, and you could tell that these actors were able to slip into the Z fighters as if no time had passed.
As far as the actual characters themselves, I was incredibly moved by Vegeta in this film. He has always been the Han Solo of the DBZ universe, which means that he's a stubborn Saiyan, but he also has a heart that he hates to wear on his sleeve. At one point, the mid-point of the film, Vegeta is provoked to fight for his family with not only his strength, but a sacrifice in his integrity, which spoke volumes for the father of Trunks. I'd see the movie just for these moments, and there are a lot of them.
But, it's Goku who shines as he does in all of the DBZ stories, and it's up to him to save the planet from total destruction - though it doesn't end in a way that I expected.
This is one of the most satisfying experiences I've had at the cinema in 2014. I'm a sucker for nostalgia, and it helps when that nostalgia is justified. Battle of Gods rekindled my love of DragonBall Z and proved to me that being rewarded as a fan by the original creator of a work that you loved is one of the greatest gifts that any storyteller can bestow upon their audience. If you don't get a chance to see this in cinemas (I believe the 9th of August is the last time it will be shown) then be sure to get it on BluRay.
Will this lead to more Z stories in the future? I'm not sure, but if the words on my fellow patrons' lips were any indication as we exited the theater, there is still a hunger for this world and these characters. For now, I'll enjoy the show on DVD as I rewatch from the beginning and reread (or in many cases, read for the first time) the adventures of Goku, Vegeta, Krillin and Piccolo as they defend our planet and their families from the forces that threaten to destroy them.
The one great thing that this film showed me is that you can always count on Goku. He's inherently good at heart, and that's something that we should all strive to be. Thank-you Toriyama for your sense of humor and your love for your audience.