Batman: Soul of the Dragon Review – Enter, Then Drag on
Batman: Soul of the Dragon, currently available on digital and hitting Blu-ray and DVD this week, has perhaps the best DC DTV animated opening ever. A George Lazenby-looking character in a tux is playing high stakes casino games, and it’s a total misdirect. The waiter who takes his drink is the one who has a fingerprint-reading gadget, and manages to sneak into the secret evil lair. There, he punches and kicks his way through various henchmen, engages in some grenade-fu, and bails out the window in a parachute. Landing on a boat with some beautiful bikini babes, he announces his name. Dragon. Richard Dragon. As drawn to resemble Bruce Lee, and voiced by Mark Dacascos. It’s a wonderful tribute to early ’70s action, and the movie never gets better than this. Alas.
The film features other inspired touches. Bronze Tiger’s design resembles Enter the Dragon‘s Jim Kelly, voiced by Michael Jai White. Bruce Wayne (Grimm‘s David Giuntoli) looks more like his classic comic self, but clearly recalls John Saxon in Enter the Dragon. And now that even casual viewers are comfortable with alternate takes and Elseworlds, a ’70s karate Batman movie is hardly the worst idea.
But while animation allows the movie to effectively “cast” the likes of Bruce Lee and Jim Kelly without creepy CGI, animated martial arts films make for a tough sell. Inherent to the genre is the appeal of watching people do cool stunts most people can’t do, and in animation, they can do anything. Ninja turtles and kung fu pandas are fun because they’re inherently absurd, but at their best, they also rely on solid comedic writing. Soul of the Dragon plays more like an actual ’70s martial arts movie where the story is just an excuse to get to fight scenes. As such, it doesn’t do a whole lot beyond trafficking in cliches.
The viewer must ask themselves if they want to see long scenes of Bruce Wayne and others training in the far east under the mystical O-Sensei (James Hong, of course) who has them hit stones and balance on poles. Or other scenes where the heroes go to an island and fight henchmen on a hillside. If that’s enough, this is the movie for you. But the Bond-tribute opening is so good that it’s a shame the rest dissolves into “mystical eastern” trope. As well as a lack of a real ending.
Bonus features include a featurette called “Raw Groove” that establishes what the pop culture and politics of the ’70s were like, for those not old enough to remember. Then a pre-existing preview of the film segues into a series of interview quotes from producer Jim Krieg. Dressed in full Beastie Boys “Sabotage” style ’70s gear. It’s cheesy and lame, but arguably excused by the fact that it’s supposed to be.
The sneak peek at Justice Society: World War II is more interesting. It looks to be the all-out reboot of the DC animated universe that the ending of Apokolips War promised. The modern Flash gets shown back in time, fighting in WWII alongside the original Flash, Wonder Woman, Hawkman and Black Canary, among others. One interesting point is that it looks like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman has influenced Canadian voice actress Stana Katic to affect an Israeli accent.
Finally, in addition to stills and trailers for previously released films, the disc (but not the digital copy) includes two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series that feature ninjas and samurai.
Someone like Quentin Tarantino could probably make a kickass ’70s grindhouse Batman movie, but Soul of the Dragon director Sam Liu is not Tarantino. Like Robert Rodriguez’s Machete movies, Soul of the Dragon has enough material for a really good fake trailer. But it’s a slog at feature length. And even the director seems to grow tired of the tribute elements.
Recommended Reading: Batman Beyond: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)
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