The twentieth film in a franchise over thirty years old has become an incomprehensible box office success. Dragon Ball Super: Broly might be the twentieth in a long line of films, but it’s also one of the greatest achievements in a property consisting of 792 episodes across four television shows and innumerable video games and television specials. Based on the manga created by Akira Toriyama, the recent resurgence is a testament to the renewed commitment and quality of the stories being told, and Broly might just be the best one yet.
It comes in the wake of the 2013 and 2015 films Battle of Gods and Resurrection “F”, and the now finished series, Dragon Ball Super. As such, Broly becomes the first film to be released under that new show’s moniker, which might suggest that its completion could be short term. Super found itself on the end of some harsh and at times warranted criticism, particularly in its early stages when the animation sunk to a franchise low and much time was spent stretching out the events of the aforementioned films for a televised adaptation.
The titular character of the new movie himself is famous among fans of the franchise, but never existed as part of the canon Dragon Ball history. He features as the villain in three older films. All nineteen previous films are not considered canon but rather parallel, disconnected stories that often mimick whatever events are taking place in that period of time in the series proper. We should only hope that Broly remains the same way and isn’t adapted for the show’s small screen revival. There’s little room for improvement here, because this is quite easily the best tale that Toriyama has told in this world since the end of Z.
Broly’s popularity always baffled me a little. While his existence as a third surviving member of the extra-terrestrial Saiyan race that main characters Goku and Vegeta belong to has potential, he was only ever used as a hulking monster to torment and torture the heroes of the show. Until now. Any story of this length needs to continue to grow both its characters and its world, and Super managed to do this by its conclusion. Then comes Broly, which under Toriyama’s guidance feels more like a beginning, the opening of a new door for the franchise.
The storytelling of Dragon Ball is not perfect; it’s often repetitive, riddled with inconsistencies, and at times poorly paced. And yet there’s something alluring about it. Perhaps its the added nostalgia, but Broly achieves a few things in its path to success. Quite unexpectedly, it’s a rather patiently paced film for its first half, spending a huge amount of time set years prior to events that would take place later on. This makes for difficult viewing for the uninitiated. There’s plenty of satisfying details and cameos featuring long dead characters to satiate a certain craving, but the entire thing (which is far too long to be bracketed as a prologue) adds immense scope and builds toward what eventually feels like a fated confrontation between the three remaining full-blooded Saiyan characters.
The franchise has long since become firmly about its otherwordly warriors, and apart from Goku and Vegeta only Bulma and Piccolo feature from the traditional core cast (the latter of which being something of a crowd pleasing inclusion). This certainly doesn’t weaken the film, and even without its typical comic relief characters popping up it finds moments for levity. Not all of the comedy works, and there are moments of tonal imbalance between dialogue and the otherwise befitting soundtrack. Leaving supporting characters out even strengthens the film, when we consider that Resurrection “F” felt bogged down by elongated fight scenes involving a number of side characters that ultimately felt like padding. Perhaps a lesson has been learned, and we’ll see less of the same old structure that the shows had copied and pasted in their glory days.
Broly and his father Paragus are given extensive background sections where we see them on the desolate planet that would be their home for many years. Our level of sympathy for Paragus declines as the film wears on, as he continually exemplifies his inability to be a father. This remains in line with the characterisation of other Saiyan characters, because while the villainous Frieza’s stranglehold over their race frames the underdog as the tragic slaves of an evil dictator, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that these slaves are not nice people. They are violent and cruel and it shows through in the behaviour of their very children. Fortunately, Goku and Vegeta grew into adults without the influence of these parental figures, and both turned out far different to how they would have otherwise. Broly only learns the way his father teaches him through cruelty and discipline. No wonder Broly snaps in the back half of the film.
I haven’t even touched on the film’s second half because the meat of the narrative is entirely in the first. Dragon Ball has always been a franchise that shines when it sprinkles its pieces of world-building in amongst excessive, earth-shaking action. This is particularly true of early parts of Dragon Ball Z, when we’re learning more about where Goku comes from through his coming face to face with antagonists that have a significant connection to his birthplace. For the first time in a long time, Toriyama has merged elements from the early days of Z and crafted an original and compelling new chapter that adds renewed relevance to the origins of its major characters.
The final forty or so minutes of the film is a non-stop action blockbuster. There’s barely any time to take a breath as the Toei animation team puts in what is arguably the best work ever conceived for a Dragon Ball project, period. The hand-drawn style rekindles that seen in the ‘80s and ‘90s era of the franchise, and its blending with CGI only very rarely falters. There are entire sequences that’ll keep loyalists of the series on edge, and seeing the protagonist battered so badly and with such vibrant, vivid animation is a rarity in a show that often falls back on the near invincibility of its overpowered leads. Occasionally the bombastic nature of the battle becomes too much, a literal feast for the eyes that leaves the distinct feeling that we’ve been forcibly overstuffed.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly eclipses all previous films in this franchise convincingly and is a fitting new chapter that solidifies Goku, Vegeta, and the stories of super-powered aliens on Earth as mainstays in contemporary pop culture. It’s hard not to remain a fan after so many ears when it remains clear that quality is still attainable when time and energy is poured into the work. That said, Dragon Ball is fraught with flaws that are likely to never go away. There’s nothing deep or groundbreaking about the story here, but those of us who have adored what’s come before will be relieved and grateful that, in a franchise that like any other with such stamina, has seen many ups and downs, Dragon Ball has found its footing and has an eye toward a promising future.
Film ’89 Verdict – 9/10
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is on theatrical release now (regional variances apply).