The elements that make up a great Dragon Ball movie probably don’t differ that much from one fan to another. Some may value the lore of Akira Toriyama’s 30-plus-year-old franchise more than others, but in the end it likely comes down to how memorable the centerpiece showdowns are. If you’re judging them by either metric, Dragon Ball Super: Broly is one of the best feature films the series has to offer.
Broly is a big deal not just because it’s the first of the DB movies to sport Super in the title—coming about eight months after the conclusion of the TV anime itself—it also marks the proper debut of Broly as a canon character. The heavyweight hitter previously appeared in 1993’s Broly — The Legendary Super Saiyan, 1994’s Broly — Second Coming, and 1994’s Bio-Broly, but Toriyama didn’t really have any involvement other than drawing up some designs he barely seems to remember. Now, thanks to Toriyama’s direct involvement, Broly gets the treatment he deserves and a more fitting incorporation into the sprawling Dragon Ball backstory.
Before we get to see all the series’ familiar faces as we left them after the events of Dragon Ball Super‘s interminable but awesome Tournament of Power arc, Broly takes us way back. Way, waaaay back to the moment a young Freeza first arrived on Planet Vegeta to take over for his father King Cold. As ruthless as Cold may have been over the years, the Saiyan race has no idea what’s in store for them when Freeza touches down for the very first time. Anyone who is even passingly familiar with the origin of Goku and Vegeta knows things don’t end up so peachy for the world-conquering warriors of this planet, but the real focus here is the fate of a young child named Broly.
When King Vegeta spots the young child in the very same room as his own offspring, he is, to put it mildly, disgusted. His disdain rises further when his underlings inform him that the latent power within Broly might just rival that of Prince Vegeta, and all this power-related drama eventually culminates in both Broly and his father Paragus being forced into exile and a life of survival on the harsh and desolate planet Vampa. Hey, it beats being wiped out of existence completely back on Planet Vegeta, right?
Flash forward 41 years and it’s business as usual, with Goku, Vegeta, Beerus, Whis, and the rest of the gang living it up in paradise. There’s only one catch: Since Goku resurrected Freeza to help with the Tournament of Power, one of the most evil characters of all time has been allowed to simply continue on with his old life of evildoing. It doesn’t take long for him to cause trouble with his reconstructed army, as some of his underlings already managed to snatch the Dragon Balls from right under our heroes’ noses. Freeza’s ultimate wish isn’t the true concern here, though. The title threat of the movie comes into play when two Freeza Force members—new characters Lemo and Cheelai—end up zipping over to Vampa and running into a pair of insanely powerful warriors who would make perfect recruits: Broly and Paragus.
Even though Freeza wasn’t planning on taking out his old nemeses just yet, these two long-lost Saiyan fighters represent the perfect opportunity to do so. With Paragus hungry for revenge against King Vegeta—a bloodlust that gets transferred to the Vegeta we know by process of elimination—and Broly essentially an uncontrollable bruiser whose only safeguard is literally a shock collar, it all paves the way for what is without a doubt one of the best Dragon Ball battles of all time.
Early previews hinted at, but didn’t fully illustrate, just how impressively over-the-top the back half of Dragon Ball Super: Broly really is. At the time it was tempting to groan about how much the countless trailers were giving away, but it’s difficult to spoil how intense the fight ends up being. Goku and Vegeta versus Broly is among the most dynamic fights in the series, full of electrifying animation and clever shots that make each hit have that much more of an impact. From smart mixes of CG and 2D animation to gimmicks like a really brief but cool first-person sequence, Toei Animation pulled out all the stops, and even the line weight of the art has a distinct pop to it this time around.
There are only a few moments of the main event that suffer from what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, Dragon Ball FighterZ syndrome. It might just be a perceptual issue due to how much I’ve watched and played of Arc System Works’ fighter in the past year, but there’s a solid minute or two of the Broly battle that looks like an opening or mid-match cutscene straight from the game. The rest, however, lives up to the larger than life throwdown everyone has been expecting since Broly was first announced. Seriously, when the fight starts, Vegeta is so fired up he manages to casually take off his jacket while trading blows with Broly. This is the type of energy the entire brawl brings to the table from beginning to end. It’s the infectious joy of Goku’s love for fighting writ large in the type of landscape demolishing way only Dragon Ball can manage.
Beyond that insanely petty nitpick, my only slight issue with Broly is Freeza. Despite the fact that he was integral to the last arc of Dragon Ball Super, they’ve really cheapened him as a villain by using him so much in recent years. His inclusion here makes sense, of course, especially when it comes to finally canonizing Broly in a way that fits with the overall history of Dragon Ball. Way back when I was reviewing the original Broly movies for the magazine, I found myself asking, to no one in particular, “Broly again!?” Now Dragon Ball Super has me doing the same with Freeza, so let’s put him to bed for a while after this one.
The energy in Dragon Ball Super: Broly is palpable from the very beginning. Director Tatsuya Nagamine previously worked on a bunch of episodes of One Piece and Dragon Ball Super, and he’s more than proven himself worthy of helming major franchise features. Toriyama’s script makes it clear he hasn’t lost touch with what made the early stories of Goku’s grown-up days special, and both voice casts are clearly having a ball bringing his tale to life. Long time fans are going to love every minute of Broly‘s nearly two-hour runtime, but I wouldn’t discourage newcomers from checking it out while it’s in theaters. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m sorely tempted to see it again on a towering IMAX screen.
Dragon Ball Super: Broly opens in North American theaters on January 16.
© BIRD STUDIO/SHUEISHA, TOEI ANIMATION