Batman: Soul of the Dragon Review: A stylistic, but soulless DC animated outing
The latest DC animated film, Batman: Soul of the Dragon, doesn’t end up feeling like another strong outing for the caped crusader or an interesting introduction to lesser-known DC figure Richard Dragon and more like a failed attempt for Batman and Bruce Lee to fight alongside one another.
Stylistically, the film is more like 70s kung-fu action flick, similar to Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, rather than a traditional Batman animated adventure. The score gives off a funky vibe from start to finish, the opening credits artistically feel ripped right from those movies, and the action is more solely focused on hand-to-hand combat and not as tech driven. It’s a style that certainly creates a lot of awesome fight sequences and a unique vision of Batman that continues DC’s efforts to showcase what Batman (voiced by David Giuntoli) is like in different time settings. Here, he’s much more personable and warmer compared to the cold and distant Bruce we’re used to seeing. There’re some unique emotional stakes for him since he has allies that tie to his personal life and his vigilante alter ego. However, this isn’t really a Batman movie at all.
Although we do see a sort of alternate take on his League of Shadows story as he seeks learns to fight under a man named O-Sensei (voiced by James Hong) at his Himalayan monastery and he works with a bunch of characters, who normally would be villains, to stop a cult from unleashing a devastating force into the world, this film is more of a jumping off platform for Richard Dragon (voiced by Mark Dacascos). Dragon has been incarnated as both a sensei for other DC heroes as well as the villainous leader of deadly group of hunters, but here, he’s essentially Bruce Lee. It’s not terrible that this incarnation of Dragon strays from the comics with him being Asian here, but it does suck that his entire look is modeled after Bruce Lee.
It’s a design choice that makes it impossible to see this movie as anything but a Scooby-Doo styled crossover of Batman meets Bruce Lee. From the clothes he wears to how his face is modeled; Dragon only comes off like a Bruce Lee clone and it makes it impossible for this character to standout or make his own impression. It especially doesn’t help this story since it tries to focus on a relationship between him and Bruce and his own arc of honing his skills that has absolutely no depth to it at all. The film constantly portrays Bruce and Dragon’s relationship as being very strong even though we rarely ever see them together or get to know the characters all that well. The relationship between Bruce and Ben Turner (voiced by Michael Jai White), aka Bronze Tiger, and Lady Shiva (voiced by Kelly Hu) is stronger than anything he has with Dragon. Ben and Shiva are honestly probably the best things this film has to offer since their personal stories, along with White and Hu reprising their respective characters, are more interesting and engaging than the film’s bland original story.
The villains are completely unremarkable, the overarching story within Bruce’s time at the monastery isn’t anything special, and the story in the present of the cat and mouse game to save the world isn’t exciting. The film barely ekes out time for viewers to develop a connection to O-Sensei or delve into the other characters at the monastery. Thus, there’s no real time given to develop an emotional connection to anything that’s happening and once you look past the stylistic action and aesthetics, there’s just a soulless story that quickly fades from memory. It’s a perfect example of why DC should strive to make it’s stories longer to flesh out its world and characters rather than create a short animated adventure with barely any meat on its bones.
Soul of the Dragon delivers some cool action and a unique style for a DC story that’s certainly worth its existence, but not much else. Its failures in being a Batman story or a worthy introduction to Richard Dragon as well as a decent story in general make it a bland and forgettable DC animated outing.