Blu-ray Review: Batman: Soul of the Dragon
Written by: Jeremy Adams
Starring: David Giuntoli, Mark Dacascos, Michael Jai White, Kelly Hu, James Hong
Reviewed by: Eric Joseph
Thanks go to WB for the free review copy.
“Set in the midst of the swinging 1970s, this Elseworlds adventure finds Bruce Wayne training under a master sensei. It is here that Bruce, along with other elite students, is forged in the fire of the martial arts discipline. The lifelong bonds they form will be put to the test when a deadly menace arises from their past. It will take the combined efforts of Batman, world-renowned martial artists Richard Dragon, Ben Turner and Lady Shiva, and their mentor O-Sensei to battle the monsters of this world and beyond!”
If there’s anything I have to say about Soul of the Dragon, it’s that this flick is different from any Batman movie you’ve seen. Whether that’s a positive or negative is up to the viewer themselves, but it’s not your usual foray into Bruce Wayne’s years training abroad. Instead, we’re thrust into a love letter to the 1970’s, paying tribute to Kung Fu and blaxploitation films of that era, with the obvious influence from Enter the Dragon – and a small dash of James Bond. However, I wouldn’t go as far to label this “Batman by way of Quentin Tarantino,” because there are no gratuitous feet shots.
What amazed me is how there’s more than adequate storytelling in a picture packed with so much action. Some animated movies neglect narrative when going the action-packed route, but I didn’t really have a problem with this one. Plus, Batman: Soul of the Dragon boasts the best fight choreography I’ve seen in a DC animated project since Batman: Bad Blood.
Though it’s not labeled as such, I’d very much consider this to be an ensemble piece, with Richard Dragon, Shiva, and Bronze Tiger playing parts almost as significant as Bruce Wayne himself, as they take on an evil cult. Staying on the subject of Bronze Tiger, it must be said that Michael Jai White doesn’t retread his previous tenure as Ben Turner as seen on Arrow. Instead, he really embraces putting that quintessentially ’70s spin on the character, and I’m pretty sure he had a smile on his face in the recording booth while doing so. Dragon and Shiva are a bit more straightforward, rounding out the group nicely.
Getting back to Bruce Wayne himself, I enjoyed seeing how his undying determination is defining in any iteration of the timeless icon. The stone punching scene really stands out in my mind as highlighting this aspect, giving you the sense he was different from any other student at Nanda Parbat. I’d like to have seen more of how this Batman works in his version of Gotham City, which I’ll elaborate on in a bit.
As for the bonus features, they too are different from what you’d expect from a Batman home video release, but they service the material well. “Batman: Raw Groove” dives into the cultural climate of the 1970’s and ties it in to the Caped Crusader’s lore. “Producer Jim Krieg’s Far-Out Highlights,” however, is a bit odd for a specific reason. And no, I don’t mean that because it’s Krieg dressing and talking like he’s from that era, but because his segment is tacked on to the previously released “first look” featurette – therefore you’re going to hear him saying the same stuff twice. His routine should’ve been included in a standalone sense.
On top of that, two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series are thrown in for good measure, those being “Night of the Ninja” and “Day of the Samurai.” Seeing as how both flashback to Bruce’s formative years and have Far East influence, their inclusion is highly appropriate. Additionally, the next film in the DC animated line, Justice Society: World War II, is previewed in its own featurette, and I’m doubly looking forward to seeing it after viewing this appetizer of sorts.
Aside from not digging some of the villains combating our heroes in the third act, I don’t have any deal-breaking gripes with this movie. However, I must address the elephant in the room by talking about how this isn’t much of a Batman movie. Bruce Wayne is omnipresent, sure, but you’re going to see him in costume less than you did in The Dark Knight Rises. Furthermore, you don’t really get a sense of what his war on crime even looks like in this newly established world. I’ll again have to say this is an ensemble piece through and through, and that’s going to make or break this film for the viewer.
And on a less significant side note, I have to ask this: Why is Wonder Woman from Justice Society: World War II pictured on the spine of the 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack? She’s not even in this movie! I’m guessing somebody made an error that went unnoticed.
Don’t get me wrong, I was thoroughly entertained by Batman: Soul of the Dragon, but I could go either way when it comes to the possibility of a sequel. If this sells enough copies, a followup probably will see the light of day – and the ending certainly leaves the door open for one. Oddball offshoots are indeed appreciated, but I hope for more actual comic book adaptations in the future. The upcoming Long Halloween is one example, not to mention major boxes such as Knightfall and No Man’s Land that have yet to be checked off.