Movie Review: Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

Being the twenty-first Dragon Ball film, and the second Dragon Ball Super film, you’d expect the relevant production companies and animation studio to know how to make a great Dragon Ball film – especially after the roaring success of Dragon Ball Super: Broly. Alas, that is not quite the case. Instead I found Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero to be a super disappointment that does not live up to the expectations set by the previous film, but at the same time still manages to offer something fun for casual viewers to enjoy.

The promotional materials leading up to the release of Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero teased the premise of an age-old-enemy, the Red Ribbon Army, rising from the ashes of defeat to extract their revenge on the world with Goku’s group being a key target for the newly produced androids. While there is truth to this expectation the reality is slightly different.

****BEWARE SPOILERS FOR THE FILM AHEAD****

The reality is that the new androids creator, Dr Hedo, who is the grandson of Dr Gero, is tricked by Magenta, the Red Ribbon Army’s current leader into thinking that Capsule Corporation are villains that need to be punished. Dr Hedo is a super hero fanatic and agrees to help Magenta, but unbeknownst to Dr Hedo the true goal of the Red Ribbon Army is to use his super genius to create powerful Androids that will help the Red Ribbon Army rise to power within the world. This plot point is presented as a dreary, rather awkward, discussion in a car to the Red Ribbon base but when the Androids, known as Gamma 1 and Gamma 2, are completed they are set free into the world; with Gamma 2 setting his sights on Piccolo as a test fight.

With the tone of the film set, and before the introduction of Gamma 2 and his test fight, viewers are introduced to Piccolo and Pan who are training in the forest where Piccolo resides. This location should be familiar for viewers of the older Dragon Ball Z movies. When Piccolo and Pan are not training he acts like a godfather by taking care of her when Videl and Gohan are busy, something which seems to be quite a regular occurrence based on Piccolo’s reactions throughout the early stages of the film.

This father figure in Piccolo replicates the Gohan and Piccolo relationship from Dragon Ball Z, except unlike then Piccolo is much nicer towards Pan and that her dad (Gohan) is still alive. The heavy reliance on Piccolo to care for Pan also gives the impression that Gohan and Videl are bad parents by neglecting their child, even though in reality they care for there daughter. It’s an odd impression to receive and is quite a different vibe to what was given in Dragon Ball Super where they loved and cared for their daughter and looked to Piccolo for additional support.

That aside the battle between Piccolo and Gamma 2 begins and we get to see the new animation style in great effect. I had my concerns, but the animation really holds up well and brings new life to the fights and gives crisp clear visuals on close-ups. At times the animation does look like CG video game visuals, but for the most part it holds up well. Alas this fight is short lived and Piccolo seemingly loses the battle, but in truth he merely escaped in order to follow Gamma 2 to see what he (and the Red Ribbon Army) are up to.

Now… here is where things get a little bit strange, and completely different to the Dragon Ball experience you might expect. Firstly, Piccolo follows Gamma 2 to the Red Ribbon Army base and pretends to be an enemy soldier in order to gather Intel on their objectives. It’s a solid plan, but it’s not something you’d expect Piccolo to do and reminds me of the old filler episodes in Dragon Ball Z. As mentioned earlier the (fake) objective for the androids is to defeat the evil Capsule Corporation made up of Goku, Vegeta and Gohan and it is one that Dr Hedo is keen to help with.

When Piccolo learns of this he contacts Bulma, on a smartphone I might add, to try and get Goku and Vegeta to earth as they happen to be training on Beerus’s planet. With the all powerful saiyans out of reach Piccolo opts to boost his own power by using the latent unlocking ability, an ability that the Elder on Planet Namek once did for Gohan and Krillin. Sadly Dende does not have this ability and so they decide on a different tactic.

This is where the second strangest element of the film comes into play, and carries on a joke that was introduced in the previous Dragon Ball Super film. As Dende is unable to use the latent unlocking ability (apparently only Namekians over a certain age can do it) the guardian of earth suggests using the Dragon Balls instead, and even increases the wishing power of the balls in order to make the wish a success when the eternal dragon is summoned. Since when could the eternal dragon be upgraded in this manner? I have no idea, but let’s move on.

It’s also explained that Bulma has been consistently gathering the Dragon Balls and already has them in her possession as she has previously been using them in order to wish for changes to her appearance. If that revelation wasn’t awkward enough after Piccolo, who arranges to meet with Bulma to summon the dragon, wishes for the power up he desires Bulma then proceeds to ask the eternal dragon for her “buns” to be trimmed and her eyelashes to be adjusted.. Of course the cinema erupted in confused laughter, but it felt out of place for both characters to be using the Dragon Balls in this manner. Admittedly in the original Dragon Ball series we did see Oolong wish for a pair of girls underwear, so I guess anything can happen.

Taking place at the same time as Piccolo’s cheated growth and Bulma’s cosmetic surgery viewers are whisked away to Beerus’s planet where we see Broly and Goku sparring with Vegeta meditating. Realistically this segment of the film acts as an intermission, and filler, to the progression of the film and can be seen as a bit of fan service. Why fan service? Namely because it sees Goku and Vegeta, in their base forms, fight each other with everything they’ve got while Broly watches on. It’s an epic fight and one that has a surprise ending, an ending which can only be seen after the end credits roll.

It’s a shame these characters, especially Broly, aren’t used more effectively in the film, but fans are treated to the fight they’ve waited decades to see. It’s also a fight that was teased during a portion of the previous film before Frieza’s soldiers stole the Dragon Balls in Bulma’s lab.

Speaking of Dragon Ball Super: Broly; Cheelai and Lemo, who were support characters to Broly in that film, also find themselves as residents on Beerus’s planet after Goku suggested they lived there to avoid Frieza. It makes sense, if not a little convenient, but what happens next is bizarre and is easily the third (or fourth?) moment in the film that took me by surprise and brought about confused laughter in the cinema. It turns out Beerus has a “certain type” of person he likes and when he notices Cheelai he instantly becomes infatuated with her.

One can only assume that Beerus has affection for Cheelai and will do anything to keep her, and her friends, happy and so he does a variety of out of character moments such as protecting her from danger, sharing his ice cream to her friends and even ignoring deeds against him. This isn’t on the same level as Bulma and Beerus interaction either, which naturally developed as the series went on, as it is instant, entirely forced and out of the blue.

Intermission over we return back to Piccolo’s infiltration of the Red Ribbon Army who, after being powered up by Shenron, is once again pretending to be a soldier in the army. It’s seriously amazing how he was able to sneak out, and sneak back in, without no-one noticing… but here we are. Its here we learn of Magenta’s plan to draw Gohan out, and to fight him on their own terms at the base, a plan which sees them kidnap Pan and hold her hostage. Dr Hedo and the androids are against this plan, as they fight for justice, but bizarrely Piccolo, while in disguise as a Red Ribbon Soldier, believes this would be a great way for Gohan to become serious as a fighter and offers himself on the kidnapping team for Pan.

Over the many years Piccolo has been a supporting character for Gohan, more so than Goku, so to see his own personal objective of wanting Gohan to become stronger by kidnapping Pan just felt inconsistent and out of place with the character we know who wants to protect Pan and Gohan. Of course Piccolo did the same thing during the Saiyan Saga with Gohan, as he kidnapped him to train him for the arrival of the Saiyans, but Piccolo has changed since then and developed respect and care for Gohan and his family. Piccolo’s actions in this film felt more like King Piccolo from Dragon Ball, which makes a bit of sense considering King Piccolo is heavily referred to throughout the film.

Fortunately it’s not as sinister as it sounds, as the kidnapping operation fails, and Piccolo informs Pan of the his plan and she insists on going along with it thinking that it would be fun. Upon returning to the Red Ribbon Army base Pan pretends to be scared in order to help draw out her father. Naturally when Gohan finds out he is furious, in turn destroying part of his own home, and rushes over to the Red Ribbon Army base to rescue her.

****BEWARE MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD****

The remaining runtime of the film is arguably the best, and potentially the worst, of what the film has to offer. Not necessarily from a presentation perspective, as the fights look fantastic in this animation form, but more from an original content perspective. If Dragon Ball Super: Broly was recreating the elements of Dragon Ball Z: Bardock the Father of Goku and Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn and combining them for a cannon story line, then this film is undeniable recreating the Android and Cell Games Saga for a new generation of entertainment, and nothing more.

At this point in the film Gohan and Gamma 1 battle among themselves with Gamma 1 stating that he is fighting for justice, believing that Gohan is a villain, and Gohan attempting to explain that the androids have been misled by Magenta. During the battle Piccolo can see that Gohan is struggling and so attempts to enrage him (even more) by threatening Pan, something which (yet again) she agrees to be a part of. When Gohan sees this he erupts into his Ascended Saiyan form and pushes Gamma 1 back while Piccolo reveals himself to fight against Gamma 2 in his new powered up form.

The two fights continue onward in spectacular and entertaining fashion with Piccolo activating his “a bit extra” form given to him by Shenron for added flair. Eventually Gamma 1, Gamma 2 and Dr Hedo realise they have been tricked by Magenta and that the Red Ribbon Army are the real villains. With the Androids refusing to fight at full force Magenta leaves the battlefield to activate his back-up plan, Cell Max. That’s right, Dr Hedo, under order from Magenta, created an improved version of Cell, but unlike the original Cell created by Dr Gero this android is a huge and is already in its second form. The tone of the film once again changes and turns into a raid battle (like those in Dragon Ball Xenoverse) with everyone, including arrivals in the form of 18, Krillin, Trunks and Goten, teaming up to battle the monster that is Cell Max.

With Cell Max seemingly impossible to defeat Piccolo not only activates his new power again (later named Orange Piccolo) but he increases his body size to that of a great ape, much like what King Piccolo did in Dragon Ball, to help stop the giant Cell Max with Gohan ordered to charge up his KI and take the final shot.

The battle between these giants is monumental and is one of the few moments in the Dragon Ball Super franchise that shows blood and brutality in the punches, with Piccolo even losing an arm. It’s a really great action sequence but eventually Piccolo succumbs to Cell Max’s powerful attacks and this enrages Gohan, in the same way that Android 16’s death in the Cell Games Saga, and he transforms into an entirely new saiyan form. It’s not explained how Gohan was able to reach this new form without any real training, but one would speculate that Piccolo’s defeat combined with the KI he had been charging was the catalyst for it.

What is the name of this Saiyan form? Sadly one isn’t provided in the film but the presentation is that of the Dragon Ball AF Goku fan art, minus the white fur, and is reportedly titled Beast Saiyan. Spawning Super Saiyan 3 length white hair, and crimson red eyes, this Saiyan form is beastly and sees Gohan deliver the final attack on Cell Max in a rather special and fitting way. The battle ends in typical dragon ball fashion, with the enemy exploding and enemies (minus Magenta) becoming friends, but before the credits roll we get one final reminder of Bulma’s usage of the Dragon Balls.

But wait; there is more after the final credits. Remember that all-out-battle between Goku and Vegeta? Well a winner is decided and fittingly fun jokes are made about the fight taking longer than it needed to be and being a waste of time. It’s hard to know if this was a joke about the events of the film, but it honestly felt like it.

So there we go, a rundown of the events that take place within Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, but why did I suggest that the film was a super disappointment for long time fans of the franchise?

***OVERALL***

Firstly the story line of the film and how it was portrayed to the viewer wasn’t as I had expected and could have been done in a more progressive and simplistic manner. The backstory of the Red Ribbon Army pretending to be a pharmaceutical company and waiting for the right time to strike built up a great atmosphere, but this atmosphere was quickly disrupted by Dr Hedo’s obsession with justice and was heavily reliant on information from the past. Dr Hedo being tricked into helping the Red Ribbon Army helped reduce these concerns, but it only muddied the water on what should have realistically been a simple revenge film for the Red Ribbon Army and Gohan stepping in to save the day with Goku off world.

At the end of the film Dr Hedo even confesses that he knew he was being tricked, but simply wanted funding to create androids based on super heroes. It sort of undermines the whole build up of the story a little and gives a sense of “what if”?

Secondly the presentation of characters personalities and priorities felt different to any other Dragon Ball experience with characters personalities changed to fit the narrative of the story. Gohan and Videl were seemingly caring parents in Dragon Ball Super, but here they pass on the responsibilities to Piccolo and even Piccolo complains about this. Beerus on the other hand goes from his traditional god-like-persona to someone who will do anything to please a certain type of person. Bulma on the other hand, a genius in her own right, admittedly uses the Dragon Ball for cosmetic surgery. It was a nice joke in the previous film, as it did not happen, but here it felt out of character.

We then have Piccolo who, much like Goku during the Cell Saga, attempts to enrage Gohan by different means in order to see him becoming stronger. These are not the normal personalities we’ve come to expect from the characters and it felt off. Pan even has her off moments as well, as a small part of the film was Pan wanting to learn to fly, but in the Dragon Ball Super TV series she can already fly as a baby. It breaks the overall chain of continuity that this film is expected to continue from the previous film and TV series.

Thirdly there is a heavy reliance on past events, both as flashbacks to help tell the story and as references to create something new in this film, and all of these are presented in much better traditional animation style that the film itself. Additionally certain elements are adapted for purpose in this film. For instance Gohan transforming to his beastly form is a like-for-like of his transformation to Super Saiyan 2 in the Cell Games saga, minus the flying bird. It’s great to play on nostalgia, but it kind of dimmed down the impact of his new and unexpected transformation.

Finally there was hope that this would be a Dragon Ball film about Gohan and him protecting his family, but in reality it is a film about Piccolo. Naturally Gohan plays an important role in the film, but majority of it follows Piccolo and his actions of attempting to uncover the Red Ribbon Army’s motives and then increasing Gohan’s fighting spirit. It isn’t until the later stages of the film that Gohan takes the stage. It once again feels like Gohan is being under utilized within the Dragon Ball franchise despite how great his potential is…a comment which rings true when Gohan complains about losing his glasses.

There is not doubt that Gohan’s appearance is one of the best since the Cell Games Saga, but I feel that it is not the movie fans wanted or deserved. The inclusion of Goku, Vegeta, Broly and the rest of the group on Beerus’s planet also felt forced into the film and did nothing but to offer a bit of fan-service as they had no effect on the flow of the overall story – which is a shame as it would have been interesting to see them interact with Cell Max and Gohan’s new beastly form.

The film isn’t entirely bad, as there were bits of the film I did enjoy, such as the individual fights with the Gamma Androids and the Red Ribbon Army’s potential revival, but overall I was disappointed by what the film turned out to be and what it offers for long time fans that were hoping for a revival of the Red Ribbon Army and the return of Gohan to his strongest form. That being said, if you switch off and watch the film for what it is, then it can be a fun and entertaining experience.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero doesn’t feel like a natural progression of the franchise, but rather a fan film made using elements of the past to create something familiar, but new. That aside, those fans looking for a different type of Dragon Ball film filled with some laughs and pretty cool fight sequences should enjoy what is being offered on the big screen. For long time fans, and those that remember the traits of individual characters, then it can be a disappointment; however if you can ignore some of these inconsistencies then it can be a fun film with a few surprises.

Score: review-stars-3

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is now available in cinemas across the UK with tickets available to book online from the official website.

About Scott Emsen
Scott is the Founder and Executive Editor of AnimeBlurayUK but in the past he has produced content for ZOMGPlay, Rice Digital and Funstock and was once a Community Moderator for the Nokia N-Gage forums. Based in the UK, he loves anything related to Games & Anime and in In his spare time you'll mostly find him playing on one of his many gaming consoles; namely the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.

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