Batman: Soul of the Dragon
Batman: Soul of the Dragon 2021
It’s been a couple months since I subscribed to HBO Max with the intention of catching up on several of the animated DC movies that I’ve missed out on these past couple years but I only just now got around to watching the first one. There wasn’t any specific reason why I picked this one out of the others that were on there, it just stood out as being a little bit different than what I’ve come to expect in these animated movies and in that respect, it very much was. This was done in the style of the 70’s with a bit of classic Bond mixed with Bruce Lee and some exploitation cinema all mixed together. Not only that, but despite the fact that this is labelled as a Batman movie, ninety percent of the film is all about Bruce Wayne and Batman only shows up for one scene near the beginning, then for the climactic end battle. The story beats were a little on the cliched side, but it was cliches done with love and it was a lot of fun overall. This is still a relatively recent release so there will be spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
While it was a cliched story overall, it’s not a bad one to follow the outline on with Batman characters. It’s that redone many times story about the small group of characters who find this mystical martial arts retreat to be trained by a wise old sensei in super secret and super powerful martial arts. Heck, the sensei’s name is even just O-sensei. The students are a mix of characters who don’t initially get along, one of them turns evil, and the actual story takes place years later where they have to get the gang all back together to fight the evil connected to that bad student. The students are Bruce, obviously, Richard Dragon who had been there the longest and is basically the Bruce Lee as James Bond. Lady Shiva is the quiet but also most capable one, Ben Turner is the angry Black guy who is also Bronze Tiger but that only really comes into play in name only. Jade is the inquisitive one who ends up getting killed, and Rip Jagger is the one who kills her.
What worked surprisingly well in this film is the decision to give it a 70’s vibe overall. From the fashion to the music, it all had a slight exploitation feel to it without going over the top. Bronze Tiger has an afro, the music has a similar feel reminiscent of classic Shaft without overdoing it. Bruce Wayne also has the open collar shirt showing off the top of his chest with a pastel colored suit. Once the action kicks in, the 70’s vibe gets a little lost in the background as its replaced with ninjas and mystical creatures out in a villainous island hideout.
Another surprising feature of this film is that it spends a lot more time focusing on Bruce Wayne rather than Batman. His costumed persona shows up once in the first fifteen minutes and then disappears until the final act. And even then, pretty much everyone with him knows that it’s Bruce Wayne wearing a costume. It spends more time in flashbacks to his training in this mystical martial arts with O-sensei and his camaraderie with the other students than anything relating to his costumed vigilantism. The other students know about his fighting ability even though he manages to step things up while he’s wearing his costume versus when he’s just fighting as Bruce Wayne. But instead of using it to become this different persona, instead it’s presented more like a way to compartmentalize the two different sides of himself and while wearing the costume, he allows himself to cut loose and fight harder without holding back. Plus it doesn’t hurt that he’s also able to bring out some of his utility belt tricks that he’s not carrying while walking around as Bruce Wayne.
The overall story was a little bit on the far fetched side of things with demon Naga creatures, a chosen one with snake eyes, a sword that steals peoples souls. But the core story following these different students and how they’ve changed over the years from the students they were to the adults they are many years later. Bruce has become a masked vigilante, the quiet and talented student Shiva has become a criminal mob boss not dissimilar to Marvel’s Shang-Chi and his sister. Richard Dragon has become a suave and debonair jet-setting spy, while Ben Turner was initially full of anger, he’s now learned to tame that rage and instead teaches martial arts to kids. The characters are strong enough to look past the occasionally absurd-yet-still-cliched story. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.