I’m going to keep things spoiler-free overall, but I do feel I have to talk about one element about the villain so I’m flagging the article with a spoiler and will mark the paragraph in question with an alert.
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero may have a dumb name, but it opened at number one at the US box office. Despite launching in the 80s, the franchise is still going strong thanks to the Super TV series and the Broly feature film from 2018. Now, Dragon Ball is back on the big screen with Super Hero and with it comes a slew of new things for the franchise, some that work and some that don’t quite as well. Let’s dive into it.
Unlike Dragon Ball Super: Broly, which was very much a story about, you guessed it, Broly, as well as Goku and Vegeta, Super Hero puts those characters on the sidelines in favour of telling a story about Piccolo and Gohan, two characters who have been a bit sidelined as of late. After a quick sequence catching audiences up on specific story beats, chiefly about the Red Ribbon Army and what they’ve been up to since the Cell Saga, and a lengthier sequence setting up the villains, the film pivots to a film that very much centers on Piccolo. He’s been training Pan, Gohan’s daughter and being something of a replacement dad for her. Gohan is repeating a lot of the same mistakes as his dad Goku did when it comes to parenthood. Sure, they may be heroes, but they’re deadbeat dads and Piccolo is once again left picking up the pieces. He’s left to train her and pick her up from school due to her busy parents, who seem to neglect their child. But the Red Ribbon Army quickly makes a move and sets the film into motion, which in turn gets Gohan back into the game after a long absence.
If you went in blind, the biggest change that’s noticeable right away is the animation style. Unlike literally any Dragon Ball that’s come before, Super Hero is a hybrid 2D and 3D animated feature and it shows. It’s a little jarring at first but you get used to it, but I’m not sure why the decision was made to make the whole movie in this style, especially after the stellar art design in Broly. It was a little uncanny at times. That said, the liberation of a 3D system allowed for a really dynamic camera, which worked really well in the fights, so perhaps a hybrid of the two styles could work for future features.
One of my biggest problems with Broly was that the end battle went on for far too long, it was almost half the movie! Super Hero keeps the pace must brisker and the battles feel shorter, which I did appreciate. There was more dynamic growth to the situations of the battles and a tighter focus, so I’d say the franchise learned something from the previous outing.
Unlike Broly though, Super Hero lacks the emotional depth when it comes to the villains, who feel a little one-dimensional. Sure, Gamma One and Two, the new Androids, are fun, interesting and actually layered as the film goes on, but their makers are far less so. You’ve been warned about spoilers so here comes the big one, but the introduction of Cell Max did nothing for me on an emotional level. He was a giant monster, nothing more. No nuance, no emotional depth to him. He was just a big bad scary monster for the team to take out. That was the biggest letdown of the movie, especially since Broly showed this franchise is capable of showcasing some great character development thanks to that character’s struggle with his father. Not only that but the original Cell is one of the most beloved villains in the entire franchise, so to hype up a new Cell, only to have him be a creature who is unleashed from his pod and immediately engages in an epic duel really missed the mark for me.
On the flip side, the dynamic between Gohan and Piccolo was great. They’ve always been a great pairing and the film knows it, so putting them back into the forefront was a wise move. Gohan has been on the sidelines far too long so getting him back into the fight was a great thrill, especially for longtime fans of the series. Also, the movie was surprisingly funny, but most of the jokes will only land if you understand and know this franchise.
In the end, I think Super Hero is a fun time. I hope the series goes back to the 2D animation style and that the series goes back to having a villain with a bit more oomph to it. But we got a ton of much-needed time with Gohan and Piccolo and I hope they’ll get inserted into future series now that this movie has been seen by so many fans. Not only that but I hope Gohan learns to balance his training, his studying and his family better and that we get to see more of him in the future of this still popular franchise.