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Blu-ray Review: Batman: Soul of the Dragon – “A funky and fresh spin on The Dark Knight”

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Available now on digital and released on Blu-ray on the 15th of February, Batman: Soul of the Dragon is an animated ‘DC Universe Movie’ written by Jeremy Adams (Supernatural), directed by Sam Liu (Batman: The Killing Joke) and features the voices of David Giuntoli (Grimm), Mark Dacascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf), Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite) and Kelly Hu (X-Men 2).

An “Elseworlds adventure”, Batman: Soul of the Dragon pitches The Dark Knight (Giuntoli) into a 70s set kung-fu caper where Bruce has sideburns and is running Gotham’s hottest nightclub. But this isn’t really Bruce or Batman’s story. Richard Dragon (Dacascos) is an old friend of Wayne’s, a globe-trotting super-spy and the real star of the show.

Dragon drives the narrative from the very off where he gets a sweet ‘Bond, James Bond’ pre-title sequence entrance intro, and Bats is one of the gang alongside Ben Turner (Jai White) and Lady Shiva (Hu). 

The foursome all studied under the same master as youngsters and the film spends half its running time flashing back to their training and burgeoning friendship. The other half sees Dragon and Bruce re-recruit Turner and Shiva and attempt to stop the Cobra Cult: murderous zealots who want to steal a magic sword and let out a scary snake god from behind a magic door that our heroes thought they had slammed shut in their youth. 

The team are fun to hang out with, with an easy and amusing sardonic chemistry, and the voice work is… fine. It is totally serviceable, but nobody really stands out apart from Michael Jai White, whose Ben/The Bronze Tiger is pure personality, has superior strength and a temper and with lines like “DIE, SUCKER!” after punching off a snake monster’s head is obviously the coolest.

The villains are actually really villainous – thanks to the ‘15’ rating – with a very bad big bad who tortures sex workers and sacrifices kids, and a henchman with a horrifying and scary secret… The ‘15’ also allows for a few mild swears, but nothing stronger than “crap” and “dick”, some blood, a couple of gruesome deaths and fight scenes that pull no punches.

Liu gives the film a clean, visual style with easy-to-follow and admire action and the fun and exciting fights matched up to Joachim Horsley’s wah-wah funk guitar score ensure the film looks and sounds great. After a while, though you realise that apart from some haircuts and the odd line of jive talk this could be set in any time period and that you haven’t seen Batman yet.

Apart from a brief glimpse twenty-five minutes in, The Caped Crusader doesn’t don his cowl again for an hour and even then Bats doesn’t actually doesn’t get to bust out until ten minutes from time. It’s certainly a cool moment, but is not anywhere near satisfying enough for a Batman film and not something that can be excused in one unless it’s Batman Begins.

Disc-wise, the Blu-ray video encode is flawless and the colours are vivid and popping while the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is crisp and clear as a bell. Also present are French, German and Spanish audio streams as well as English SDH subtitles for the hard-of-hearing, plus additional subs for just about every language you can think of.

There is a decent extras package on the disc too, that features ‘Batman: Raw Groove’ – a sort-of making of that also gives lots of historical context, ‘Producer Jim Krieg’s Far-Out Highlights’, ‘A Sneak Peek at the Next Animated DC Universe Movie, Justice Society: World War II’ and ‘From the DC Vault’ – which is two episodes of the classic Batman: The Animated Series.

 

Film: 

Disc:

With cracking scraps and a groovy score, Batman: Soul of the Dragon is a funky and fresh spin on The Dark Knight that is available now on digital and released on Blu-ray on the 15th of February.

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