Even six years on, it's almost astounding to see Dragon Ball's resurgence. While it never truly went away, the franchise has seen a new explosion of popularity, and the ongoing story has only fuelled this element. With Super having brought back Future Trunks, Resurrection F focusing on Frieza's return and a reworking of the franchise as a while, many questioned where it would go next. The addition of Broly proved to be one hell of a surprise, to say the least.
Broly - or Anime Hulk as I like to call him - is one of those characters who is understandably popular, but never quite reached his full potential. The idea of a new Super Saiyan was fun at the time, and the original film is flawed but good. However, two dismal sequels and an inability to use Broly as anything more than a juggernaut meant that he lacked some much-needed depth. Well, this latest film not only gave him that but much, much more.
Divided between various points in Dragon Ball's history, Dragon Ball Super: Broly follows the events of the titular Saiyan's life. With a substantial portion of the film set prior to Planet Vegeta's destruction and exploring the nature of the Saiyan race, Broly himself serves as a ghost of their past. Raised to be a berserker by his father, he is recruited into Frieza's army upon discovery and sent against Goku and Vegeta. However, neither Frieza nor Broly's father Paragus seems to truly realise just what they have set loose on the galaxy, or what might befall the Earth once he engages its defenders in battle.
The most prominent point of the film is how it serves as a new keystone for the setting as a whole. While the film could have simply focused on Broly's return and use as a living weapon, the push to better explore the universe makes it a cornerstone in the ongoing setting. We see Frieza taking over from his father, the introduction of scouters into his army, Bardock's actions leading up to the destruction of his planet, and the events behind Goku's dispatch to earth. All of that? It's just in the first act, before things really get going.
The whole point of the matter is that it joins up variations of events from Minus, Bardock: Father of Goku and Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan, and forms it into a single narrative. Yet what is best about all of this is that it doesn't simply copy and paste elements. Readers will know my derision of the Star Wars setting under Disney and dislike for its ongoing events, especially with how it uses the Expanded Universe as a crutch. So, what's different between that and this? Simple - It doesn't use those stories wholesale. It uses the same basic elements as a starting point, examines them, and then goes in an entirely different direction. Better yet, it doesn't overwrite them, so you end up with two equally valid but very different versions.
The film has to cover a great deal of ground in a short amount of time, but it does so excellently. Rather than being overwhelmed by so many varied elements or coming across like a fanfic (See Star Trek: Generations for when this goes wrong) it's there to provide context to the main plot and add depth to the universe or characters. Just to continue with the above point of Bardock, while it's not stated, its strongly implied that he's coming to terms with the possibility of Frieza annihilating them in a single location, simply because it's similar to what he might do in his place.
Every time the film does add in something new, it always goes off in an entirely new direction from the original, or uses it to explore the events from a new angle. Sure, certain key moments still have to happen, but even the context behind them can dramatically change. This is evident in every part of the film, but it's at its strongest with Broly himself. The original Broly was impressive, exciting and provided one hell of a fun fight scene, but his motivation was questionable, and he devolved into a one-note character. By comparison, the one we have here is very different. He's simple, kind and surprisingly gentle until he needs to use significant force to oppose his enemy. In fact his relationship with his father is very different, as Paragus forces him into being a warrior with threats of violence, and barely keeps him under control. It's framed less in the manner of a chained attack dog than that of an abuse victim.
The character developments which play out in the film hinge both on playing off of events from Super as much as the past. Goku's relationship with Frieza serves as a backdrop to the narrative, and their odd rivalry/enmity which constantly shapes their lives. Broly's very presence in the story, and the overall outcome of events, stems from this. While this sadly leaves Vegeta playing second fiddle again, the fact so much of the film explores his people's history gives him more depth and meaning to his actions. It can show just why he displayed so much pride in his heritage, but also the demons which can come back to haunt him thanks to it. This is only further enhanced by the performances of the cast - all of who are well versed in voicing these icons - but also Chris Sabat's ability as an ADR Director. Short of, perhaps, Andrea Romano there are few people who can so expertly blend the vocal performances of a scene with the visuals on hand.
As for the visuals themselves? That's where this gets a little more complicated. Now, these are beautiful to be sure, with the sort of rapid and fluid moves rarely seen in the franchise. It lacks the FPS issues you might expect, or repetitive frames to capture the high-speed fights, and even pulls out a number of tricks which you would never have expected to see. Perhaps the biggest one among these is a full first-person sequence of one fighter attacking another, and a multitude of segments which push to display just how terrifying a fight between figures capable of nuking planets would truly be. Unfortunately, there's some bad which mixes in with a lot of this good...
So, the visuals. This is where the other shoe drops. Once in a while, the animation choices become very, very odd in regards to how events are depicted. This isn't so much skipping details or missing things (in fact the only notable moment in that regard was Goku and Vegeta lacking faces in a long distance shot) but the choices themselves. The moves of Broly, Vegeta, Goku and Frieza are extremely fast and it seems as if director Tatsuya Nagamine wished to fully emphasise that. After a while, however, it starts to become very difficult to keep track of what's going on, and can even become white noise at points. It's something which could work well in moderation, but it lacks the pauses and shots to really help specific moments be distinct. The actual fight takes up just over half the film, but there are only four or five moments in total which I can distinctly remember. The others? It would take repeat viewings to truly tell them apart.
A further issue which arises from the film stems from the soundtrack. Some of it is good, even great, in how it seems to take cues from WWE wrestler intros and hypes up the next stage of the fight. Others? They just seem to fall into the background and merge together. It's akin to how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has many great soundtracks, and a number of excellently executed scores. However, as several of them have the same general notes and theme behind them, they blend in together. So you know it's good, but you just can't recall why or specific bits which spring out above all else. Furthermore, it lacks a distinct stand-out version of the iconic theme to help get you invested in the intro like the previous two films. There is a brief variation of it, but it passes in such a brief time that it is very easy to miss.
A further weakness is the film's use of characters, or rather the lack of them. Broly, Paragus, Frieza, Goku and Vegeta all have a place within the plot. Bulma even has enough decent moments to justify her presence despite taking an eventual background role, and newcomers Cheelai and Lemo both make a good showing. However, a number of others just rapidly show up and are then forgotten. Goten and Trunks both appear for perhaps a minute and are then gone, with Beerus doing much the same. Whis barely makes himself known outside of one admittedly fun moment, and Piccolo appears purely to get one scene across and then is gone again. Each is such a brief moment that it's hard to wonder if their involvement was fully justified, or if the narrative could have been streamlined to focus on its main cast over adding in someone else. And this is coming from someone whose favourite character is Piccolo, and thought Raditz deserved more screen time.
In fact, much of the film is very bloated as a whole. If the section covering the good elements seemed to be all over the place, it's somewhat akin to watching this production. It's trying to cover so much, compress in and rework so much background, that it seriously struggles to fit into any act structure. There's no definite beginning or ending to events, and a lot of strings are left dangling to be followed up on at another time. Rather than an individual story, it instead comes across as if this is a very pragmatic adaptation of a longer piece. There is enough material in this film to cover a major arc in Super, but it's ill-suited to a film as a result. This is, admittedly, likely a result of Akira Toriyama's original script being almost halved in length, but it is still a flaw. In fact, it would likely be one of the best reasons to adapt this into whatever follows on from Super, just to give it more room to breathe around the big fight.
Perhaps the biggest problem of all is something some people might argue against: Anyone who isn't up to date on events is going to be horribly confused. It's definitely made with fans in mind, and I will admit that was the main audience that this was intended to focus on. However, the Saiyan, Frieza Empire and many elements are given little explanation or introduction, while the tournament of power (and the alliance with Frieza) is largely name-dropped without explanation. Combined with hints that this will lead into much bigger battles, it isn't something which can just be viewed on its own and enjoyed.
Overall, this is both the best and worst that a Dragon Ball film can be. It builds upon the universe, reworks previous ideas and genuinely uses them to explore new things. It re-introduces a popular character as less of a generic doomsday device on legs and more of a person, and leaves the audience with a few major hints of things to come. At the same time, if you've not watched most of Super you'll be completely lost, and will likely be left trying to piece together all that played out between Resurrection F and this film.
Because of its undeniable flaws as a film, it's difficult to give this one a higher mark based upon my usual system even with all that it does right. It's definitely worth seeing if you are a fan, but otherwise I would suggest starting much further up the timeline or looking for a vastly better gateway into the setting.
Verdict: 6 out of 10 (or 8.8 out of 10 if you're a Dragon Ball fan)