It’s been quite a long time that I truly enjoyed a DC Animated Batman movie from beginning to end like this one. Usually, there’s a grand flaw I had with Batman animated movies these days for cramming too many stories into one lone movie or adapting the wrong story. None of which is here. Batman: Soul of the Dragon is a refreshing homage to the works of writer Denny O’Neil on not only Batman but the 70s Richard Dragon comic. Add in some James Bond, Shaw Bros. films, and the Kung-Fu TV series this movie was like a big old genre love letter.
It really helps though a lot of the characters Denny O’Neil created (Richard Dragon, Bronze Tiger, and Lady Shiva), his Batman run, and his contemporaries (Chuck Dixon, Gail Simone, Kelley Puckett, and Andersen Gabrych) get all sorts of various shootouts throughout this movie. The passion for these characters is clearly on display here for all to see and it’s quite the a showing.
For me, it’s finally seeing an actual adaptation of done completely right. For example, Lady Shiva (Kelly Hu reprising her role of the character from Batman: Arkham Origins) finally getting the clout she never really has gotten in most media. For example in two years, DC Animated movies have not been kind to this character. From stereotypical lowly cackling toady in Deathstroke: Blood and Dragons, to just standing there and doing absolutely nothing in Batman: Hush or Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. These are not portrayals that warrant any reason to look up this character and are quite simply a disgrace on calling any of these characters Lady Shiva. Nor do they make you want to search or pop open the Richard Dragon comic (which oh hey is being reprinted in trade next month). Batman: Soul of the Dragon, on the other hand, is just so satisfying to finally see Lady Shiva actually acting like Lady Shiva. The fact that this movie went from beginning to end and actually had 0 once betray the team just made me love this interpretation more because that’s Shiva in a nutshell. She isn’t some dragon lady stereotype, this character has layers. Layers only comic writers just last year realized she had again (Bryan Edward Hill in Batman & the Outsiders and Tom Taylor in DCeased: Unkillables). It’s just so refreshing to finally see the character finally act IN character. After so long.
From her origins to where she lands in the movie. It really almost makes up for the crap adaptations of the character since and makes me hope people over in the Young Justice TV series take note *cough* you already have her equally awesome daughter in that show too showrunners. LET THEM FIGHT. *cough* But anytime if people ask me for the best portrayal of this character? Yeah, I’ll be recommending people this movie to.
Likewise, seeing Ben Turner aka Bronze Tiger (Michael Jai White reprising his role when he played the character in live-action on Arrow). Now, here’s a character who’s had better showings (the Suicide Squad animated movie from a few years back), but really I always felt it bad that Michael Jai White never really got to showcase the real layers the character had like in the comics. So it made me giddy seeing White get the chance here to do so.
As for the first appearance (and actual co-lead of the movie), Richard Dragon. I was happy with the portrayal. Mark Dacascos was the perfect actor to voice the character bringing the necessary sass and tone only Dacascos can deliver well. I’m a bit amazed this was his first voice acting work that I’m aware of, and given how much he knocked this role out of the park I hope to see it again.
Likewise the same can be said for David Giuntoli as Bruce Wayne/Batman. There’s just a more vulnerability along with balancing the two identities with it amusing reactions from his fellow comrades realizing what he’s become.
I know some will criticize the movie for not being “bat god”. News flash, Batman isn’t the best hand-to-hand fighter in the DCU. Heck, he ain’t even the best hand-to-hand fighter in the Bat-Family (Warner Bros. really should end that lack of appearances by the way to that character). Still, the movie shows what Batman doesn’t have in the skill he makes up for in his cunning and gadgets. There’s a lot of amusing toys we get to see that we haven’t in awhile.
Lastly on this glorious cast, anytime James Hong has a lengthy role (which he does here as O-Sensei), the movie has my attention more. Look, I’m a fan of the actor’s long career, no one can voice a sassy wise man as Hong can. Course, no one can cackle with villainous glee like Hong can either (Big Trouble in Little China and every 90s action movie he’s in proves that fact). So it’s a glorious hoot seeing all that in this film.
Besides the performances, the movie really goes deep in a giving tiny nods to other great fighters of the DCU. Really, the only ones not represented are the ones who aren’t really born (said character I mentioned earlier for example, but hey we get Easter Eggs of their run. So I’ll take it). Plus it allows all the main characters to have a big moment that’ll leave you smiling.
When a movie is doing that, what’s really not to hate on it for? The movie pulls off the homage it’s honoring while giving all the main characters their spotlight (some deserved) at long last. To be honest, it was refreshing seeing Batman tangle with a foe who wasn’t from Gotham and 0 appearances of the Joker for once. It reminds you of the grand world the character used to be in before every event had to be tied to the Joker.
Batman: Soul of the Dragon is a spinning kick of refreshing joy that’ll make viewers fall in love with the world of the DCU all over again. Trust me, do not miss this film alone for how well it finally showcases the world Denny O’Neil created in comics. Everything about this film is amazing. From the unique villains, the rare characters finally getting their due, to the soundtrack, and to the fights. It’s one slam-bam kind of movie you can dig. Can you dig it? CAN YOU DIG IT?!
5 out of 5