Dragon Ball Super: Broly faces a tall task. It’s a new Dragon Ball film that acts as a canonical continuation of Dragon Ball Super is very much a big deal, but it’s also a movie that focuses on the controversial Broly, an overpowered character who has had three other Dragon Ball films devoted to him, much to viewers’ delight or chagrin. If this film didn’t stick the landing it wouldn’t have the luxury of a new episode on television next week to cleanse the palate.
Thankfully, not only does Dragon Ball Super: Broly rise to the occasion and finally do Broly justice, but it also fixes many of the series’ problems with continuity. It’s also just one of the best, most fulfilling Dragon Ball films period. It’s the ultimate celebration of the series, and whether you’ve been a fan from the start or this is your very first experience with the series, it’s still just an all-around strong movie.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is essentially broken up into two halves, the first of which covers Broly’s traumatic childhood and the end of the Saiyan race. What’s exciting here is that this is familiar territory that would make most Dragon Ball fans groan on any other occasion, yet Dragon Ball Super: Broly finds an entertaining and efficient way to condense all of that clutter. Broly takes this opportunity to rewrite all of Dragon Ball’s lingering plotlines and attempts to resolve several storylines that the series has hinted at in the past, like Frieza’s relationship with the Saiyan race, Bardock’s history, and the whole Broly debacle.
Broly begins his life with a target on his head. The Saiyan exhibits tremendous strength and the capacity for even more and the gossip among the Saiyan Elites starts to spread. The fact that Broly may grow up to be the Legendary Super Saiyan that eventually takes down Frieza should be reason for celebration, but King Vegeta is merely resentful that some random baby is more powerful than his royal offspring. Accordingly, King Vegeta sends Broly (and his father Paragus, by proxy) on a suicide mission of sorts to take them out of the picture. However, not only do the two survive under the extreme conditions of planet Vampa, but Paragus slowly refines his son into a tool of vengeance so he can one day strike back on the Vegeta family that was afraid of their power. It’s a storyline that’s downright Shakespearean in nature.
The movie decides to play Broly’s history parallel to Goku’s and his exodus from Planet Vegeta. The two experience strangely similar origin stories, only Goku is fortunate enough to end up on a place as hospitable as Earth. Broly is repeatedly shown to be a victim of circumstance, but it’s significant that Dragon Ball Super: Broly says that very little separates who they are, something Goku recognizes and part of the reason that he’s drawn to Broly.
Broly also makes the most of its past-set prologue and works in fan-favorite characters that haven’t been seen in ages like Zarbon, Dodoria, Nappa, the Ginyu Force, and Kid freaking Raditz! These obligatory blasts from the past are pleasant, but what’s even more enjoyable is the thorough work that the film does with King Vegeta and Bardock (as well as Goku’s mother, Gine). It turns them into actual characters that have real motivations and depth rather than “Cool Dad Saiyans.” There are also some deep cuts and answers to technological advancements throughout the Dragon Ball universe that you were never curious about before (like the development of scouters).
As strong as the film’s work with King Vegeta and Bardock is, it’s also quite remarkable how much this film knocks it out of the park with Broly’s character. The movie makes you care for him. He’s not just some manipulated meathead but is rather the victim of an abusive past. He desperately tries to avoid a life of violence, but continually gets pushed into it by the person that he trusts the most. It’s a brutal, delicate story and some of the most thoughtful work that Dragon Ball has ever put out. It’s shocking to think that all that made the original version of the character tick was baby Goku’s repeated crying. Not only is this a villain that you understand and care about, but it also ostensibly argues that Broly is the film’s hero.
This time around Broly gets to show a range of emotions, wields opinions, and even gets to speak full sentences rather than the array of grunts that he was restricted to in previous films (which voice actor Vic Mignogna must be deeply grateful for). The story of Broly’s unconventional “friend” back on Planet Vampa and the backstory behind his fur pelt is honestly heartbreaking stuff. Also to the film’s credit, Dragon Ball Super: Broly knows what elements from Broly’s previous trilogy to retain here and where to start over. The shock collar of obedience that Paragus uses to keep his son in check is no different than the ring and crown system from Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan. However, this time around, Broly’s restraint device leaves the picture much earlier and in a much better context. Overall, the film learns from the mistakes of its predecessors.
After the movie establishes the story of Broly and his father, it jumps forward to the present time and gets ready to light the fuse on this powder keg. Cheelai and Lemo, two of the latest crop of cockroach soldiers who have survived in the current iteration of the Frieza Force, make an unexpected pit stop on Planet Vampa and encounter the considerably displaced Broly and Paragus. The warriors bring the thought-dead Saiyans into Frieza’s clutches and the malevolent villain embarks on his next big scheme. Frieza is able to illustrate just how duplicitous of a mastermind he can be and there’s a particularly vicious moment where he tests the true limits of Broly’s powers. He brilliantly plays all of these Saiyans against each other to do his work for him and his appearances here re-establish how terrifying and menacing this villain can be.
Goku’s naivety towards Frieza, believing that the villain will behave and honor some sort of gentlemen’s agreement since the Saiyan helped Frieza get his life back, is a little frustrating. Of course betrayal is on the menu! This is Frieza. Goku can’t see anything wrong with placing trust in Frieza, but thankfully, Vegeta has better common sense and jumps into action. Goku, Vegeta, and company ambush Frieza before he can acquire the final Dragon Ball required for his plan. It’s at this point that the film’s various revenge missions dovetail together and the movie can embrace its bombastic action tendencies for its final third.
Broly is a satisfying challenge for both Vegeta and Goku and provides a visceral level of combat that hasn’t been seen in the series for some time. Both of the show’s heroes do well against the new threat, but Vegeta, in particular, gets to kick all sorts of ass and gets to show off plenty of tricks that he hasn’t had the opportunity to perform before in the anime. When it looks like there’s just no way for Goku and Vegeta to defeat Broly, the film pulls out it’s major set piece that’s been heavily advertised through the movie’s promotional materials. In a true moment of desperation, Goku pulls himself and Vegeta out of battle in order to turn to the hefty power boost that fusion provides.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly knows how much its fans want Gogeta and that there are nearly as many expectations behind Gogeta as there are with Broly. The film makes a meal out of the fusion sequence and doesn’t shy away from the technique’s tricky learning curve and that the process can sometimes be full of imperfections. It basically takes everything that Fusion Reborn did with the character, but does it better. The super-powered character makes for the perfect climax to an already exciting film. During the whole trial and error section of the fusion process, Frieza successfully holds down the fort and gets to engage in an aggressive fight against Broly. It’s an effective way to add some variety to the movie’s battle scenes as well as a way to not lose any action during the more comedic fusion training sequence.
All of these fights are so entertaining because of the outstanding animation that’s featured in the film. Sequences like baby Goku’s arrival on Earth, Vegeta and Goku’s first sparring match, and all of the Broly fights just look gorgeous. Dragon Ball Super has started to feature more engaging, impressive fight choreography throughout the end of its run, but the material here is on a whole other level. The camera weaves through and around battles without restriction, making it feel like the action never stops moving. It’s really quite something.
When the film decides to turn up the transformations and get carefree with the energy blasts, the theatrics of the animation look like something from out of One-Punch Man. There are occasional instances where the transition over to 3D animation can be a little awkward, but they’re few and far between and the explosive set pieces are worth the effort.
The animation, action, and character development are the film’s priorities, but there’s still a lively sense of humor in the movie. Bulma and Frieza’s similar Dragon Ball wishes are not only the best potential wishes from the entire series but the strongest gags from the film, too. All of this is further punctuated by Norihito Sumitomo’s incredible score. Sumitomo’s work on Dragon Ball movies has only gotten better, but Broly’s score is definitely the strongest of the lot. The theme for Gogeta, “Gogeta Vs. Broly,” is not only a memorable track but it also repeatedly shouts Gogeta’s name out in celebration. The film’s major theme song by Daichi Miura, “Blizzard,” is grand stuff, too.
There’s very little not to like in this movie, but some people may be eager for the film to get to the action quicker. Once the fights begin, they don’t slow down. The movie also features a surprisingly focused cast that’s really just Goku, Vegeta, and Frieza. Those that were hoping for some amazing redemptive scenes for Gohan will be sorely disappointed that the majority of the supporting cast doesn’t even appear, barring a brief cameo by Piccolo (and plenty of the Pilaf gang). Would it have been impossible for Future Trunks or Android 17 to make brief appearances and lend a hand in battle? What about Beerus, for that matter?
For the first time, Dragon Ball Super presents a story that’s sprawling and cinematic enough to feel like a real movie and it even boasts a runtime of an hour and forty minutes. The most recent Dragon Ball films have largely fixed the problems brought about by the brief runtimes of past movies. Previous Dragon Ball films sometimes felt like glorified excuses to churn out a few big fight scenes. This is far from that.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is an absolute triumph on every front. It sets a new standard for what’s possible in Dragon Ball movies and not only does it present an effective new story, it fills in gaps in old ones, too. It’s packed with fan service for dedicated viewers, but still features plenty of surprises. It’s a pleasure to watch and it’s extremely gratifying to see that there’s still lots of life left in this franchise, even if it just becomes a film series.
Now bring on the inevitable Broly and Frieza fusion for Movie 21!
Dragon Ball Super: Broly is playing in select theaters on Jan. 16.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.