Allow me to the set the scene.
It’s half past five. I’ve been spending the day with a friend playing Dragonball Fighterz to hype ourselves up for the latest instalment of the franchise, Dragonball Super: Broly. We arrive early for our viewing, but to my surprise, there is a long spiralling queue leading towards the actual viewing area. Strange, I thought, there’s no real big blockbusters on today.
Except there was.
I was going to see it.
I just hadn’t realised that an army of Dragonball fans, clad in everything from character’s gis to Teamfourstar memorabilia, were going to be lining up to watch the same movie I had been anticipating for weeks. We all filed into a completely packed screening with the staff urging people to leave no gaps in the seating, lest not everyone be able to fit into the cinema. I even met an old friend I hadn’t seen in years in the chaos, who had coincidentally been seated right across from where I was sat. All of this gave me pause for thought. As a desperate fan phoned up his friend warning him that the English dub viewing had completely sold out and how he had booked his seat in December, I couldn’t help but reflect on just how pervasive Dragonball still is.
In hindsight, this factor is no surprise. The franchise started by Akira Toriyama’s inventive manga has been going for well over thirty years with near-yearly game releases, a whole host of volumes and, of course, the four anime adaptions and spin-offs that paved the way towards Dragonball becoming a household name here in the west. It doesn’t need to be say that Dragonball is popular, beloved by millions, and it was something that only struck me sitting there in that crowded room of how far its influence has spread and how much a testimony it is to the creative team that keep this series going.
Especially when one stops and considers the fact that Dragonball, for all its fans and followers, is fairly simple, basic even, in execution. It’s an adventure/action series, with heavy emphasis on the action, involving lasers, power levels and a confusing world logic that operates solely on rule of cool. This isn’t to say that there is nothing special about Dragonball. The characters are engaging and the story-line and themes are brilliantly enjoyable, but compared to a lot of their contemporaries, Dragonball is obviously far more comfortable just being a fun time, even at the risk of being childish. For every epic Vegeta monologue and solemn moment of tragedy, there’s a nonsense joke, strange alien design and humorous character quirk that works to undermine any sense of maturity.
And, to be honest, that is completely okay in my book. I love Dragonball because it’s fun. I would even call it mindless fun, but someone mindless wouldn’t be able to construct some of the fascinating world-building aspects of Dragonball: living dinosaurs existing alongside high-tech capsule corporations and all of it ruled over by a dog by the name of King Furry. However, I know that’s not the case for everyone.
My point for this long ramble on my love for the Dragonball franchise is to sprinkle a hint of a warning to those uninitiated in this brilliant series. No matter how much I and a lot of others love Dragonball, I’m fully aware that it’s not a series for everyone. It’s a silly over-the-top romp from start to finish and not everyone is into things that are irredeemably childish. If you already know that you don’t like Dragonball, the newest addition to the pantheon of movies won’t change your mind on that matter. It’s the same old crazy melodramatic nonsense that you might expect, so I understand if you want to give this one a pass.
However, for those of you who have no idea what Dragonball is and are the least bit curious, or familiar enough but want to try dipping your toes in for a solid introduction, Dragonball Super: Broly proves to be a weirdly good jumping-on-point for the series. Past events are mentioned throughout the film but the movie itself functions as a beautiful standalone piece in the fallout of some of the latest developments in the most recent Dragonball series. If you haven’t seen Broly yet and in any way intend to or are the least bit curious, go check it out now and trust me when I say you will not regret the experience. Even if you learn Dragonball isn’t your thing, the sheer spectacle of the film will be enough to last you to the ending credits.
With that said, let’s dive in to a full on spoiler filled review of the latest Dragonball outing.
Broly’s introduction is strange all things considered. It starts with an extended prologue piece before moving on to the actual movie in question, technically giving us two vastly different movies in one.
On the planet Vegeta, many years ago, King Cold gives his son, Freeza, control over the native saiyan population. Rumours of a legendary super saiyan soon reach the tyrant’s ears and a tragic destiny is set in motion. Fearing the culmination of the legend will arrive in a lower class warrior, King Vegeta exiles Paragus’ son, Broly, to a frontier planet, raising his own son as his heir apparent. Paragus travels in desperate search of Broly whilst a third saiyan father, Bardock, launches his own son into space to save him from a suspected attack. True to form, Freeza destroys the planet, killing all the saiyans bar a small cluster, including the three sons spared from the destruction: Broly, Vegeta the Fourth and Goku.
Over forty years later, the destinies of these three wandering saiyans are finally pulled together once more. Rebuilding his forces after a recent resurrection, Freeza plans to steal the dragonballs to make a powerful wish. His desire brings him into conflict with his old foes Goku and Vegeta, only for Freeza to reveal a new set of followers in Broly and Paragus. Broly launches into a frantic free for all against the pair in a land of frozen ice, carving out a new saiyan legend in the midst of a battle for the ages.
I think it’s easy to say that Dragonball Super: Broly has a very simple story attached to it. Despite the development to the Dragonball mythos in its prologue section, the story of the movie itself is told, as the trailers have encouraged, through combat. There’s no concern for re-establishing the franchise as there was in Battle of Gods, nor an abundant focus on wavering strands as there was in Resurrection F. Broly is succinct and simple. What makes this movie so incredible, really, is the execution and the sheer level of detail it provides, from the perfect pacing of events to the godly animation skills on show.
Needless to say, the animation is incredible. It’s beautiful to an intense degree and only brought down by a few 3d modelling scenes which clash with the fantastic artwork. They’re not bad, but the opening and ending of the fight is much stronger than the middle as a result. Even someone who is tired of Dragonball and not pulled in by the world, setting or characters can at least sit back and enjoy the sheer majesty of this movie in motion. This movie is mostly action and the action it shows is fantastic in scale and execution.
In all honesty though, I don’t understand why people wouldn’t love the characters in this movie. Not because they’re all perfectly likable, though they are endearing to a fault, but because Broly is the strongest example of character development and establishment in the series. The characters we’re shown, whilst simple, are all shown effectively and characterised through excellent character animation and great dialogue. Goku’s urge to fight is showcased as strongly with Vegeta’s saiyan pride. The two best examples of this are the reinvention of the titular saiyan and, of course, Freeza.
Freeza is, without a doubt, my favourite part of modern Dragonball. The lengths Toriyama has gone to re-establish him in the world of Dragonball but also to develop him to such a degree beyond his one-note evil overlord persona, whilst still retaining all the gleeful evil one might expect. His diabolical notion is only off-set by the beautiful new quirks to his character. Here, we experience a Freeza that has learned the thrill of combat, a Freeza unburdened by the desire for immortality and a Freeza that is so petty, terrible and hilarious that he makes a mark that no other villain in Dragonball has managed thus far in the series.
Then there’s Broly, the man himself.
Broly is complicated. Originally a villain from an anime exclusive movie and unrelated to the core of the series, his overwhelming popularity and power made him a fan favourite. Toriyama obliged this long term affection for the character but giving the character a redesign, rebooting his character and re-establishing him in this new age of Dragonball. And, without a doubt, has created a character that is now on par for my favourite creation in all of Dragonball.
Like his earlier counterpart, Broly is anti-social and hiding an uncontrollable rage and power, but unlike his original movie-exclusive self, Broly has a level of nuance that few in Dragonball ever reach. He’s cold rather than timid, inexperienced rather than dull and repressed by his father Paragus in a manner that builds sympathy for the big brute throughout the movie. Restrained and reformed, Broly is still awe-inspiring when he gets a chance to cut loose and his development over his fights with Goku, Vegeta and, yes, even Freeza, mark him as a new gold standard for character in Dragonball. It’s incredibly reassuring to see Toriyama created characters like Broly in a climate of his series throwing it mostly uninteresting or heavily flawed villains like Zamasu and Jiren, because it shows that the man still understands what people love in characters and how to make them appealing, even if Toei are still struggling to wrap their heads around it.
As much as Broly is a movie that comes off as more of the same with spectacular new heights, it’s in its new additions that the movie really makes its mark. For one, the opening prologue focuses on providing further development on the homeworld of the saiyans and providing us a central point of development for our three main saiyans and Freeza. We see the invention of the scouters, King Vegeta’s arrogance towards his own son and his disdain for Broly. Pargus and Bardock are equally shown to be proud saiyan warriors, who give into the weakness of the heart to save their children with disastrous results. The amount of attention to world-building, both of the saiyan’s past and their future in this movie reaches absolute levels of perfection.
The new characters are likewise appealing. Lemo and Cheelai are a great double-act, with Lemo representing an older, more wise character and Cheelai just being one of the best additions to a mostly male centric mythos. Her character is fun, interesting and engaging, even if the camera focuses as much on her figure as much as it develops her budding relationship with Broly. Either way, their addition is very welcome and at its core, fun.
That is the greatest strength of Dragonball Super: Broly. It is fun, a heartfelt romp through a cosmic adventure of action. From the fantastic fight animation that will light up the eyes of any viewer who has a glimpse of their inner child left, to the brilliant characters who are equal part hilarious and endearing. Humour is a main focus of the movie and it really helps craft an experience that is just a blast from beginning to end.
Speaking of the ending, if there’s one issue I might have with Broly, it’s the way in which it ends. Or rather, that it really doesn’t. After a spectacular battle between Gogeta and Broly, Cheelai uses the dragonballs to wish Broly away to safety, leaving the battle un-concluded and Broly still alive. What momentarily disappoints for a lack of solid resolution, however, only serves to highlight why Dragonball is so popular a series. Rarely are elements of Dragonball wasted and the conclusion of Broly shows that Toriyama and the team aren’t willing to give up the story potential for this character yet. The film ends with Broly, Cheelai and Lemo forming their own faction and Goku befriending the group with food and shelter, in exchange for getting to test his skill against Broly again. Rather than creating something wholly self-contained, Dragonball Super: Broly builds on what came before for a compelling jumping on point, before stepping back to establish a new foothold for the series to advance: with new characters, new conflict and a new addition making for a saiyan trifecta.
To put it simply, Dragonball Super: Broly is the best Dragonball movie. It has heart, humour and glorious action that we’ve only ever imagined Dragonball could ever look like. Each moment watching it was enjoyable and I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything in the world. I’m even tempted to seek it out for a second re-watch if I have the money. That is how good this movie was. For old fans, this is a solid entry to the canon you need to check out and for those interested, Broly is not only a great starting point but an experience that will thrill and entice a whole new generation into the story of a simple monkey boy who loves to fight.
Dragonball Super: Broly 5/5