The first new Dragonball Z animation in 17 years, the Battle of Gods movie seems to have so much going for it: it's the first in-canon DBZ movie, creator Akira Toriyama worked deeply on it for the first time, and the nostalgia factor. But fans looking for the classic DBZ experience in BoG will likely be disappointed.
Goku's newest antagonist is Beerus, a recently awakened god of destruction who decides to test the mettle of the being that beat intergalactic despot Frieza while he was asleep. Beerus, who is basically a purple, anthropomorphic hairless cat, finds Goku, absolutely kicks his ass in two blows (while Goku is Super Saiyin 3), and then heads to Earth in hopes of finding the legendary "Super Saiyin God" to fight. Goku, of course, has to suddenly train to defeat this new enemy, and it all seems like standard Dragonball Z operating procedure.
The operative word is "seems," because other than this general premise, Battle of Gods is much more focused on the silliness of Dragonball, Akira Toriyama's original manga that gained the "Z" suffix went it shifted to focus on the extremely popular fighting. The Goku-Beerus battle — basically the movie's only battle — arrives insanely late in the movie. Battle of Gods spends the rest of its running time minutes focusing on hijinks, shenanigans, and a bit of tomfoolery, too (the picture of Vegeta below is 100% real). This includes the inexplicable return of Dragonball's very first villains, Emperor Pilaf, Mai, and the ninja-dog Shu, who appear in an extended sequence to steal the Dragonballs, and who continue to be grossly incompetent at it. They are Goku's least threatening villains ever, and yet Battle of Gods devotes a lengthy segment to their shenanigans.
All this would be more excusable if Battle of Gods felt like it had any real stakes to counterbalance all the humor, but it doesn't. Beerus is actually one of the most chill "villains" the Dragonball Z has ever had. He simply shows up during Bulma's birthday party and sticks around as a guest. It takes some real work from the original cast (and some stupidity [and some pudding, don't ask]) to finally get Beerus mad enough that he decides to annihilate the planet. Even then, Goku and the rest of the Z Warriors seem mildly concerned at best — given that they've fixed things when every human on the planet was killed back in DBZ proper, I guess it's hard to be too concerned about the annihilation of Earth. On the plus side, the movie seems to have a checklist of things people want to see, or at least remember fondly from the original — Super Saiyin 3, Gotenks, The Great Saiyaman, Mr. Satan being an idiot, etc. But these are presented quickly and perfunctorily, achieving nothing in the story but their appearance.
And yet, Battle of Gods has its merits; when the final fight does begin, the advancements in animation since 1995 serve Dragonball Z well — it's immensely satisfying to watch Goku and Beerus battle all over the world. More importantly, this scene also refuses to adhere to Dragonball Z convention. It may not be what fans want, but there's something to be said for a DBZ movie that almost aggressively refuses to give the fans what they want — as well as an ending that completely reverses the standard DBZ storyarc (to explain more would be to spoil it, obviously). Of course, even if you enjoy this bizarre deconstruction of one of the world's most popular anime, you still have to sit through a great deal of nonsense to get there.
If you're looking for the ultimate Dragonball Z movie, then Battle of Gods (which came out this week on Blu-ray and DVD) is likely going to disappoint you. If you just want a chance to hang out with these characters again — even if you metaphorically only get to wave at a few of them — then BoG does provide that. If you've been missing Dragonball's wackiness but are somehow still tired of the action of Dragonball Z, then you're going to enjoy this movie as much as anyone can. Everyone else should probably pray that next year's new Dragonball Z movie ups the "battling" quotient considerably.