Batman: Soul of the Dragon is a stylish seventies throwback
The latest DC Universe Animated Original movie arrives in Warner Bros. Animation's Batman: Soul of the Dragon. Sam Liu directs the film, and it features an original story from writer Jeremy Adams not based on any comic. Set in the seventies, O-Sensei (James Hong), a missing teacher of martial arts, is the subject of a quest by his devoted and brilliant, but distant students. One of these students includes Batman/Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli).
Other former students of O-Sensei's include Bronze Tiger/Ben Turner (Michael Jai White), Lady Shiva (Kelly Hu), and Richard Dragon (Mark Dacascos). The quadrant of students joins forces when they come to realize that a cursed relic has resurfaced. Before long, Batman and his former classmate's must face-off in the ultimate test of their Martial Arts skills to gain control of this dangerous relic.
The opening logo for Batman: Soul of the Dragon pays homage to the Robert Clouse-directed martial arts films of the seventies for the studio. I knew I was in for a good time. Director Sam Liu is no stranger to the DC Universe Animated films. He previously directed numerous other films for the studio. What I liked most about the film, was the script sways away from the traditional Batman narrative. Given the title, one would expect the film primarily to focus on Batman, but it doesn't. In hindsight, the film's correct lead is Richard Dragon, voiced by Mark Dacascos.
I had never heard of Richard Dragon until the film and was immediately impressed with the character. One of my favorite action stars, Mark Dacascos, is always great in these roles. Should we ever get a Richard Dragon live-action film or series, I would love to see Dacascos take on the part again, primarily due to his martial arts skill. Kelly Hu was also solid in Lady Shiva's role, reprising a role she previously voiced in the video game Batman: Arkham Origins.
For me, the highlight of the film was Michael Jai White as Ben Turner / Bronze Tiger. He previously played the role on the television show Arrow. I enjoyed hearing White's voice work as he pays homage to Mr. Jim Kelly. Voicing Batman is David Giuntoli, who fans know from the TV series A Million Little Things and Grimm. Naturally, Giuntoli never tries to imitate Kevin Conroy (the standard) when it comes to Batman voice work. Instead, he brings his own flavor to the role. This work from writer Jeremy Adams's story is about Batman working as a team and just starting, instead of being the badass we all know. So, if you're expecting the World's Greatest Detective, prepare for an upset.
This angle brings me to my primary issue with Batman: Soul of the Dragon. I've always enjoyed Batman, particularly in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies. As I watched the film, it's clear the studio added the Batman prefix title strictly to pull folks in. While I understand this angle from a marketing standpoint, I do think it was an unnecessary gimmick. Had the film had the title of Soul of the Dragon, I would have been just as happy.
Despite my issues with the title, I had a lot of fun with Batman: Soul of the Dragon, and I will recommend the film.
Final Grade B
Batman: Soul of the Dragon is available for rent or purchase this Tuesday, January 12th.