Review: 'Batman: Soul Of The Dragon' (2021) Dir. Sam Liu
Sam Liu, renowned for his work in for Warner Brothers Entertainment and Marvel Animation, returns in 2021 and takes us back to the 1970s for a kung-fu era spin on the Dark Knight...
Richard Dragon (Dacascos) is a spy, fighting injustice around the world. When terrorist group Kobra acquire a mystical artefact that can open a portal known as 'The Gate', Dragon knows that only one man has the fellow training to help him.
Bruce Wayne (Giuntoli) is reluctant to help due to his own role as Batman, so Dragon turns his old martial arts students for help including Shiva (Hu) and Ben Turner (White), to take on the might of ninja assassins and deranged scientists hunting them.
Their journey takes them on a dark path that threatens the very existence of mankind if The Gate is opened. However, Bruce can't allow himself to let Dragon and the others take on such powerful evil alone...
Remove the character of Batman, who feels plonked in as a brand name just to sell a product, and instead market this as a cross between early 1970s Roger Moore James Bond and Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon. That will be much more on point than anything akin to what you may expect from The Dark Knight himself or going off previous DC animation efforts. Don't think that's a bad thing, but it proves sometimes you don't need Batman himself to stand strong in the DC animated world, so don't feel the need to throw him in for the sake of it.
Within minutes you have the 007-esque title sequence and pastiche soundtrack to a roster of voice talent such as Mark Dacascos, Kelly Hu (back as her character Shiva from Arkham games) and Michael Jai White who fill the bulk of our leads. With strong support also from veteran James Hong and Jamie Chung, this is an authentic looking and sounding mix of Western and Eastern culture riding high on the style of the aforementioned Bruce Lee flicks. Dacascos's character, Richard Dragon, is one step away from being sued by the Lee estate.
It's a celebration of all the elements that made kung-fu, blaxploitation and action films work in the 1970s, all under the safety net of being linked to the world of DCs Batman.
The action goes back to the early days of Bruce Wayne's Himalayan training where he meets the likes of young Dragon et al. Back and forth between the past and present help expand the story as we learn about the villains, the risk to all and the sacrifices made to try and keep evil away. The animation, as always with these Warner Brothers adaptations, are top notch. They harken to the classic 90s era of Batman animation, but are deep, colourful and blend with subtle CGI to enhance the environment and action.
A standout funky soundtrack by Joachim Horsley fuses the best of Lalo Schifrin and Hans Zimmer with a story by Jeremy Adams to make this more 'Enter The Batman' than anything else, but as said there isn't much Batman on show. That's not a bad thing, except if you go in expecting a Batman heavy story, you'll be dissapointed. Bruce / Bats help move the story on with the links to his training and thus new characters Dragon, Shiva etc. Bar that and a few minutes of costume time. he's not a main character.
If anything, it continues to bring new elements of action and style to the expanding DC universe, and this welcome funky 70s twist is entertaining enough when it comes to the soundtrack and martial arts action with slick animation.
The content is for mature audiences, with some bloody violence and a few mumblings of bad language, but the recent content of these DC animated films has never been targeted for young viewers in order to keep the content exciting, mature and gritty.
Celebrating the might of 1970s kung-fu / espionage movies wrapped up in the unnecessary premise of being seen as a Batman film. It doesn't need to be.
'Batman: Soul Of The Dragon' is a co-production between Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment