Certificate – 15
Directed By – Sam Liu
Starring – David Giuntoli, Mark Dacascos, Kelly Hu, Michael Jai White, James Hong, Josh Keaton.
Running Time – 83 Minutes (1 Hour 28 Minutes)
To kick off the year for DC Animation, Batman leads the way and the 41st film in the studios long slate. However, I left a film caring less about the Caped Crusader for the first time as this story and performances will make you want one thing, a solo Richard Dragon adventure.
Set in the 1970s, we find Bruce Wayne in his early years as Batman (Giuntoli), but when former martial art student and friend, Richard Dragon (Dacascos), appears for help. They enlist fellow former students, Ben Turner (White) and Lady Shiva (Hu) to stop a deadly menace from this world and beyond.
This is the most fun I’ve had watching a DC animated movie in a very long time. I always have (for the most part) like and loved what the folks at DC and Warner Bros Animation do with these characters, but I’ve never had as much pure fun as I’ve had watching Soul of the Dragon.
Maybe it’s because of the era or that it blends beautifully two of my favourite franchises, DC/Batman and James Bond. Because as much as it’s a 70s kung fu/action movie, it’s also a spy-adventure flick.
The main source of the joy is down to the star of the film, Dragon. Dacascos’ name may not trigger anything, but if you’re a fan of the John Wick films, then this action icon was the villain in Chapter 3. He brings so much style, and coolness to the role and the storytelling is on point.
I adored this character in the first five minutes to the point I would love to see him come to life in live-action and he’s perfect for the big screen and easy sell to the audience, this is DC’s answer to James Bond.
The most impactful moment in the film comes from White’s Turner, who gives Wayne an insight that what happened to him and his parents is a daily occurrence in his neighbourhood and to black people.
It’s a short moment that leads to the progression of Batman being born, but it’s the first time I can remember in these films that Bruce’s privilege is shown to the audience this way. If this happened in live-action, I think it would get mentioned and talked about more.
This isn’t the first time White as been Bronze Tiger having played him in live-action on the TV series Arrow and would love him to continue as the hero in these Elseworlds stories.
Additionally, the character development for Shiva is the most surprising from honour student to a villain in Gotham that Batman will take out in the future is fun to watch and could be argued she has the best action scenes.
This leads me to Batman, as I said I cared less about the Dark Knight and would happily have continued seeing Bruce Wayne fight crime. The film does do a decent job of showing that while Wayne can defend and hold his own in a fight, Batman unleashes a different beast using fear as his ultimate weapon.
In Giuntoli you’ve got the new generation of voicing Batman. He does such a great job of bringing difference tones to the characters and would love to see him return in more of a Batman centric movie.
All of this wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Jeremy Adams’ brilliant script and direction from Liu with the Batman: The Animated Series legend Bruce Timm behind it bringing it to life. It has his classic animation style that I’ll enjoy seeing from time to time.
Finally, this could be my favourite score from a DC animated film. Joachim Horsley does a terrific job of blending classical scores with occasional touches of disco, general 70s music and kung fu movies.
The only negatives I have is I wish the villain was stronger and because of my love for Liu’s DC Showcase short, Death that Jamie Chung had more of a vocal role.
Are There Any Special Features?
There’s a brilliant featurette about why this film got made learning the US’s history during the 70s and how martial arts became big and broke into Hollywood.
Meanwhile, you get a sneak peek at the next film, Justice Society: World War II as well as two bonus cartoons from Batman: The Animated Series.
The most fun you’ll have watching a DC animated film that didn’t need Batman with a new star born in Richard Dragon and is seriously in my top five DCA films.