Set in the midst of the swinging 1970s, this Elseworlds adventure finds Bruce Wayne (voice of David Giuntoli) training under a master sensei. It is here that Bruce, along with other elite students, is forged in the fire of the martial arts discipline. The lifelong bonds they form will be put to the test when a deadly menace arises from their past. It will take the combined efforts of Batman and world-renowned martial artists Richard Dragon (voice of Mark Dacascos), Ben Turner (Michael Jai White), and Lady Shiva (Kelly Hu) to battle the monsters of this world and beyond.
Sometimes the best Batman stories are the ones that are incredibly unconventional and don’t seem to fit within the usual formula of a typical Batman story. Sam Liu’s newest feature in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies franchise, Batman: Soul of the Dragon, is an effort to be one of those strange and unconventional Batman stories, and while it most definitely stands out from recent tales featuring the caped crusader, it has its fair share of flaws throughout.
Despite the fact that this fortieth installment in the series is only eighty-three minutes, it feels considerably longer than that due to poor pacing. The first act really doesn’t have any memorable scenes – as a matter of fact, as I sit here and look back on the movie (which I just watched today), I genuinely can’t recall one standout sequence in the first act.
It basically just exists to establish the martial arts style world that this movie is going for instead of the traditional Gotham City setting that we are so used to with essentially every Batman movie. We see some of the movie’s characters such as Lady Shiva and Ben Turner practicing their fighting skills with their master O-Sensei (voice of James Hong), meanwhile, a villain known as Rip Jagger works on a plan to open up a mystical gate that O-Sensei is guarding.
Part of the movie’s mystery revolves around why O-Sensei is so protective of this gate. What is behind it? Is it something bad that should never be let out? Is it something so precious and good that the general public can never be let inside to take advantage of it? The movie makes you ponder these questions for a while and when we do get answers, it’s not terribly surprising.
So in terms of story, Batman: Soul of the Dragon isn’t too strong and feels like a generic episode of a Saturday morning cartoon. Its character development is okay for the most part, with plenty of the development going towards Lady Shiva and Richard Dragon in particular, both of which are excellently fun new additions to this universe. They add a lot of entertainment value to the movie and are by far the most fun characters to watch on-screen which is incredibly impressive when you realize that the Dark Knight himself is in the film.
And as with any other film in this series, Soul of the Dragon is staggeringly beautiful and immaculately animated. It looks to be all hand-drawn and every single frame looks expertly crafted. Plus the voice acting is quite good for the majority of the time as well. David Giuntoli isn’t as great as Kevin Conroy in the voice role of Batman, but he still provides a moody and fun vocal performance as the character sure to entertain fans.
Kelly Hu voices Lady Shiva here and seems to have the time of her life doing so. She injects a lot of personality into the character, making it her own. She previously voiced the character in the 2013 video game Batman: Arkham Origins, so seeing her return to the character all these years later brought a smile to my face.
All in all, Batman: Soul of the Dragon has some fun moments and good character development accompanied by great action sequences and great vocal performances even if it suffers from a powerful story. It doesn’t feel like a breath of new life into the universe, but it’s different enough to appreciate.
Overall Grade: B
MPAA Rating: R for some violence
Directed by: Sam Liu
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Release Date: January 26, 2021
Running Time: 83 minutes