Review – Batman: Soul Of The Dragon
Directed by: Sam Liu
Produced by: Sam Liu
Written by: Jeremy Adams
Starring: David Giuntoli, Mark Dacascos & Michael Jai White
Release Date: January 12th 2021
Batman: Soul of the Dragon is the 40th of DC’s animated original movies and is my first in a long time. The film, written by Jeremy Adams and directed by Sam Liu, tells a Batman story set in the 1970’s complete with an era-appropriate soundtrack and borrows elements from what would have been contemporary action cinema during the 70’s.
As soon as the movie opened I was instantly taken back to Saturday mornings of my childhood. The animation style implemented is very reminiscent of the classic Batman Animated Series look and feel. First off, we are introduced to Richard Dragon, who is essentially a combination of Bruce Lee and James Bond. The brilliant Mark Dacascos provides his voice and does a fantastic job with the character throughout the movie, giving Dragon an effortlessly capable yet measured feel. I also loved the Bond style intro, encapsulating the tone of many 70’s action films and setting the tone for the rest of the story to follow.
Next we are introduced to the villain of the piece Jeffrey Burr, played by the talented Josh Keaton. Unfortunately they don’t give Josh much to work with here. Jeffrey Burr looks like a villain, sounds like a villain and acts like a villain and that is pretty much his whole character. We aren’t ever given any clear explanation for why he is so evil or any motivation for his brutally cruel behaviour and this is disappointing when compared to Batman’s usual rogues gallery.
Only after all of this are we eventually introduced to this movie’s version of Bruce Wayne, played by David Giuntoli. This is Giuntoli’s first time playing the caped crusader and I feel that he does a decent job here. He has an authoritative nature to his delivery as Batman should, but he also sounds like the younger version of the character that he is portraying here. I also liked how his opening scene touched on the curse of loneliness that comes with being the Batman and how he can never really let anyone get too close to him. It’s only a brief fleeting few lines of dialogue but it reminds us of the cost of his personal justice.
When we do finally get to see him in action as Batman, it is worth the wait. The animation in this scene is great and the way that colours are used to represent lighting or lack thereof is very effective. Sadly the artists do choose to employ the more V shaped cowl here, which I personally have never been a fan of, – I’ve always preferred a squarer look to the cowl, – but other than that the costume design looks good.
The only issue that I had with this scene though, is that Bruce didn’t really seem all that bothered about revealing the monumental secret that he is in fact the Batman to Richard Dragon. Richard is far from the only person who learns his secret in the film and whilst I am not necessarily ardently against the idea of Batman being a bit more loose with his secret identity, it did make me wonder why he made his potential love interest leave at the start of the film by not revealing this apparently ‘open secret.’
We are then introduced to the renegade Shiva played by Kelly Hu and the badass Ben Turner played by Black Dynamite himself; Michael Jai White. The frequency of expositional flashbacks increases from this point on, but most of them are necessary to move the plot of the main story along.
Other than the plot-heavy flashbacks, most of the rest of the movie is packed with action sequences that are dynamic and really well animated. Batman does kill a few folks during some of these sequences, which I personally am okay with as this story is clearly outside of main Batman canon, but some other more purist viewers may take issue with this.
Something else that was noticeable during the action sequences was that Batman never feels like the most capable character in the room, often being on the back foot in comparison with his crime-fighting colleagues. This is an interesting choice as traditionally, even when Batman isn’t physically the most powerful in a fight, he is always the most resourceful and always finds an advantage to give him the upper hand. In Soul of the Dragon, it is often another person that pulls him out of a bad situation. In fact, there are a lot of sequences in the film where Batman didn’t really bring much to the fight and arguably didn’t need to be there at all.
Overall, I enjoyed Soul of the Dragon more than I thought I would. This is mostly down to nostalgic reasons and because I am a fan of the things that influence this movie, like Bond, kung-fu movies, Indiana Jones and the work of Denny O’Neill. As long as you are okay with a non-traditional Batman story that doesn’t feature any major Batman villains and doesn’t rely on Batman to tell the story, then you will have a good time with this one.
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