NOTE: This movie is available in both an English-dubbed version and a Japanese version with English subtitles. This review is based on The English-dubbed version.
Here we are with another anime movie based on a property that is entirely unfamiliar to me. Actually, that’s not true – I’ve at least heard of “Dragon Ball” (though this is the first time I haven’t seen a “Z” attached) and I know its main character is named Goku. That’s more than I can say for recent big-screen versions of “Demon Slayer” and “Jujutsu Kaisen,” but I know it isn’t much help. Just remember that everything that follows is from the perspective of someone who is very late to the “Dragon Ball” party.
The film largely follows characters that are descended from supposedly familiar players. Evil tycoon Magenta, the son of previous villain Commander Red, teams up with Dr. Hedo, the brilliant-but-arrogant grandson of evil scientist Dr. Gero, to reform the defunct Red Ribbon Army and create androids that can take over the world. Hedo creates formidable fighters Gamma 1 and Gamma 2 as a sort of warm-up. The two think they’re superheroes working for the good guys, hence the film’s title. But Hedo’s real assignment is to perfect Cell Max, a massive being capable of unimaginable destruction. I hate it when villains seek to cause irreparable damage to the planet in the name of ruling it – do they really want to take over a massive crater? – but clearly Magenta is set on going in this direction.
Opposing the new evil alliance is Piccolo, a humanoid alien and former adversary of Goku, now an honorable fighter that previously trained Goku’s son Gohan and is currently training Gohan’s daughter Pan. Piccolo wants Gohan to join the fight against the new Red Ribbon Army, but Gohan may have gone soft since settling down with his family. Perhaps Piccolo can reach out to some old friends for help. Or maybe he can use wishes from a Dragon Ball to make himself more powerful. Wait, that’s what the Dragon Balls do, grant wishes three at a time? Quick, somebody use a Dragon Ball to make the bad guys evaporate or something. Someone comments that Piccolo has too much pride to use a Dragon Ball wish like that, but what’s everyone else’s excuse? Actually, the wasting of two Dragon Ball wishes is probably the funniest scene in the movie.
By the way, there’s a subplot about Goku and friends Vegeta and Broly on a planet controlled by Beerus, the God of Destruction. All Goku and company do is spar with one another and all Beerus does is feast and nap. There’s a tease that they’ll get involved in the battle on Earth, but nothing ever comes of it. The sequence only serves as a poor excuse to get Goku in the movie and it’s a huge waste of time.
Unnecessary cameos aside, a lot of character-driven scenes in this movie work. I found it easy to get wrapped up in Piccolo and his frustration in trying to find assistance, Dr. Hedo and his drive to continue his research by any means necessary, and Gohan and his reluctant return to heroism. Even the Gamma androids have more personality and a stricter moral code than it would seem at first glance.
As with many animes, “Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero” can’t stick the landing with the climactic battle. Cell Max is a big, dumb, hollow character, and Magenta before him was an unremarkable megalomaniac, save for how remarkably hard it was to take him seriously. Death blows are dealt about four times and usually turn out to be fake-outs, forcing the already-overlong battle to continue. Still, there’s a lot to like about “Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero,” even if you’re new to the series, though I’m sure fans will find even more of value.
“Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero” is rated PG-13 for some action/violence and smoking. Its running time is 100 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.