Dragonball Z: Battle of the Gods takes place several years after the titanic battle with Majin Buu. Bills, the God of Destruction, hearing that a Saiyan has defeated Freeza, awakens from a long slumber. Bills tracks down Son Goku and challenges him to a fight…
I read Dragonball Z as a manga. I didn’t watch the series as an anime nor does the anime bring any justice to the story. Anybody who jokes that the fights in the Dragonball Z anime go on forever, I actually agree with you. But also I respectfully refer you to the manga. I never got around to seeing Dragonball GT because Akira Toriyama didn’t write it, which it is precisely why I am both excited and unsure when I heard about this movie. Imagine if J.K. Rowling added an extra chapter between the ending and the epilogue in Harry Potter, how would the fans feel? What could a new Dragonball Z movie possibly mean? Is Toriyama going to continue and end the saga again? Or is it a mere trip down memory lane? Most of all, which one would I prefer? I am of two minds.
Dragonball Z: Battle of the Gods is two thirds nostalgic fan service and one third story expansion. The Z Warriors all return but unfortunately do not have much to do besides Goku and Vegeta. Every character gets to have their little moment, but these moments are all exactly pitch-perfect to their characterizations. Their interplay is what makes it fun. Vegeta does some things that I would never dream of, and he ends up being the most engaging character. In the end, it all hangs on Goku to solve the conflicts singlehandedly and for that he comes off more bland without assistance.
There’s never an impending sense of threat, partly because the story automatically connects to the epilogue of Dragonball Z. Bills the Destroyer is no Frieza or Cell. There’s nothing as dramatic as Krillin’s death on planet Namek or a young Gohan falling onto Vegeta in monkey form. But it’s an unfair comparison as there is no time to properly build Bills up as a proper villain with any personal vendetta involved. Bills is threatening only because he is physically powerful. Toriyama is aware of his limitations and does what he can.
To Toriyama’s credit, Battle of the Gods properly expands the Dragonball universe with its new villain, establishes a higher realm of power and Goku achieves a new ability at the end. I would have liked more exploration on Goku’s newfound ability and how it works. But again, it’s glossed over from the lack of screen time. There’s no time for a huge arc, Goku isn’t allowed to fall immeasurably, rise and come back as immensely as we all want to see. Nor is there enough of time to kill any of the Z Warriors and resurrect them at the end. That would only be feasible if Toriyama revamped the series, but that doesn’t seem to be the plan.
Before the movie started, I scanned the theater audience. I was surprised to see there were many 40-year-old parents bringing 10-year-old kids, and only a moderate amount of people in their late 20’s like me that would have properly caught the Dragonball trend in the mid-90’s. The film’s first act contains a comedic set piece that runs for ten minutes and it’s here where the film won me over. It made me self-conscious at first when the children started filling the theater with laughter. They were laughing at every single gag and the thing was I was laughing as well. And in laughing, it sparked memories. I’m remembered how funny Dragonball used to be. The first 4 issues of the comic book were immensely perverted and it acted as an early version of sex ed. In that moment, I let go. Yes, the Z Warriors don’t have much to do, but their little character moments had me cackling like a fiend. Yes, Bills the Destroyer is no Frieza or Cell but I love that that there’s a new villain for Goku to fight. Yes, there’s no real impending sense of threat but I totally forgot about that and immersed myself into this world again. I didn’t care anymore. Every time a character transformed into Super Saiyan or every time two opposing ki blasts had a tug-of-war, my mouth still dropped in sheer awe. I was transformed back into the 10 year-old chubby boy who was aching to buy the next Dragonball manga at the local newsstand, wishing that I can fly and fire Kamehameha blasts at school bullies.
So, is this movie mostly fan service? Yes, my laughing and overall enjoyment is more deeply rooted in the series than the children in the audience. If they wanted to get into Dragonball Z, they probably shouldn’t start with this installment. In the end, does it really matter that film is fan service? No, because I would have enjoyed it equally as a kid anyways.