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Hell is what you make it.  For most, a flower-laden field, cherry blossom trees in eternal bloom with Playboy bunny nymphs, winged pixies and teddy bears playing beneath its boughs is the very picture of heaven.  For one merciless destroyer of worlds, this is a worse purgatory than that Dante fella could’ve ever dreamed of.  Sliced into oblivion years ago, the alien Frieza’s afterlife finds him wrapped and bound, hanging from a cherry tree in a cocoon, while whimsical, adorable creatures frolic cheerfully all around him – all day, every day for eternity.

His residence in hell is no accident:  Frieza was a nasty piece of work; the most ruthless of a family of powerful space conquerors whose occupation was planet flipping.  Colonising worlds and populations to sell to the highest bidder.   Any show of resistance, or perhaps boredom of Frieza’s part, or maybe simply because it was Tuesday, would find that planet obliterated with a simple crook of the tyrant’s finger.  Having wiped out so many worlds across the universe, it’s strange to Frieza that one docile-looking, little blue planet in a small galaxy should have gone unclaimed for so long.  He wasn’t counting on some extra extraterrestrials from the planets Vegeta and Namek (Two more notches on Frieza’s world-killing belt) inhabiting and feeling mighty protective about the place.  Even so, all the earth’s strongest good guys, led by domesticated Saiyan, Son Goku, of the super strength and martial arts skills, aren’t enough to bring Frieza down.  So unstoppable was Frieza that it took a guy from the future to travel back in time to chop him into little pieces and save humanity.

While Frieza faces eternity as a saccharine-coated larvae, for some reason, his remaining troops have forgotten what a rotten, employee-slaying boss he was and decide to use the power of the seven magical Dragon Balls to restore him.  The goons’ idea of bolstering the army that’s flagged in their leader’s absence falls to the wayside against Frieza’s lust for revenge against Goku and all the people of Earth.

What a fun time Dragon Ball Z Resurrection 'F' is.  Really, one of the most entertaining in the long line of feature films based on the world’s most popular manga/anime series.  In celebration of the 31 years since the first Dragon Ball manga was published, the series has been feted and rebooted in various forms; including more movies and a new TV series.  Its fandom is just that devoted and insatiable, but at the same time, tough and demanding.  Make a false step with the beloved characters and the fans will howl loudly (Dragon Ball GT, I’m looking at you).  The producers of this film seems patently aware of this and have not let the following down in the least here.

The fights are exciting; keeping the iconic style of Dragon Ball action with hyper-sped-up punches and lots of vocal sound effects (“Da-da-da-da-da…” punctuating rapid-fire exchanges of blows).  There’s also plenty of them, too, whether it’s the thousands of Frieza troops versus the earth team, or the leader’s one-on-one against Goku… which ends up a one-on-one between Goku and a jealous Vegeta, who thinks Goku is stealing all the fun of beating the Saiyan prince’s old lead-holder.  The challenge of bringing something new to the action is met with the exciting 360-degree camera angles used during the big Goku vs Frieza fight, as well as some unexpected, eye-catching milliseconds of realism in the usually one-dimensional renderings.  The result are blows so impactful on screen they actually knock the audience back into their seats.  Beautiful artwork makes our heroes look more stalwart than ever; particularly notable are Tien Shinhan’s few scenes, using all sorts of highlights and shading that make him seem as if he was carefully hand-drawn.  And best of all, unlike the old series, we don’t have to wait almost a whole season for Goku to train in some distant dimension and eventually make his way to the action, and then an additional dozen episodes for anyone to stand around “powering up” before they actually throw a punch.  Good stuff. 

The script is frequently laugh out loud funny, even if the viewer isn’t aware of some of the DBZ references.  The English adaptation is wry and self-aware without being self-conscious, witty without smirking or disrespecting the property.  FUNimation’s were always one of the only anime dubs I could stand and they show why here.  Witnessing Goku’s newest power-up, Frieza quips, “So, what is this, Super Saiyan with blue hair dye?” speaking for the audience without taking the mick out of the scenario.  Some other sweet DBZ trash talk includes Frieza commanding Goku to escalate to his Super Saiyan level, and Goku smirking, “To be honest, Frieza, I’m not so sure I need to, yet.” Burn!

Vegeta’s eternal outrage at being forced to cooperate with forever rival, Goku, in any way is always and ever a hoot.  Their mode of transportation from their training planet to the Frieza-infected earth galls him to the tips of his artichoke-shaped hairdo.  The mortification of the Prince of All Saiyans will never not be hilarious.

While shown flat in its US release, it’s obvious from the film’s opening and the stereoscopic cinematography of the action that this would have been great to see in 3D, as it was meant.  That aspect might’ve been the reason that while extremely pleasing, the movie’s narrative is less cinematic than some other recent anime feature adaptations; the concentration was on the fact that this was the very first Japanese movie filmed in IMAX 3D.  Pity to have missed that.

Also deprived is anyone who walks into this movie without having a Dragon Ball for Dummies book.  The history of Frieza I gave at the top of the review bears far more exposition about the little space tyrant and the DBZ heroes than this movie does.  I can’t imagine what I’d have thought about the film had I not known about the characters’ long and brutal past, which is related in scanty flashbacks and off-hand mentions.

DBZRF is, of course, packed with the iconic items and attacks fans know and love; Senzu beans, Destructo Discs, Tri-Beams, and of course an appearance by the gorgeous and mighty Shenron, Dragon of the eponymous Balls.  There’s in-jokes all through the script, such as our first image of the fierce warrior, Piccolo, scowling as he rocks Son Gohan’s infant daughter in her cradle; a reference to many fans’ disgust at the one-time scourge of the earth losing a lot of his scariness after becoming young Gohan’s manny, years ago.  There’s the appearance of greyish purple clouds during the fight scenes, which I wondered were a call back to the US dubs that used to insert those clouds over the artwork to censor when a scene became too bloody or violent.

It is a thrill to see Goku’s eldest son, Gohan - at one point the world’s strongest creature while still practically in diapers, grown into a weedy, track-suit wearing dad, way behind in his martial arts training - flexing old muscles to snap into Super Saiyan mode and use a one-inch punch on a particularly tough bad guy.  (Side note: The one-inch punch is one of several sweet Bruce Lee references in the film.)

Bulma’s new seiyuu is okay, but could use a bit more of FUNimation’s long-standing voicer, Tiffany Vollmer’s ditzy, comic tone.  It’s great to see the character continue to say the wrong things to all the wrong people, only to regret it to her peril soon after.  Her intergalactic scolding of one of the great - and lethal - fighting gods shocks everyone but her mate, Vegeta, who only acknowledges the all-too-familiar shrieking with a twitching downcast eyebrow.

Frieza’s loaded reaction when the Saiyan frenemies appear before him holding hands speaks for us all.  Unlike the Frieza of the old series, here he’s voiced by a male, Chris Ayres.  I had begun to miss the silky, rich tone of Linda Young, who made Frieza appealingly sound like a spoiled, petulant feline, but Ayres warmed up as the film went on, and is probably closer to the Japanese original seiyuu and does get to hit some uncannily high notes as things become more brutal.  He also gets many of the movie’s choicest lines, such as his recognition of frequent Dragon Ball resuscitee, Krillin, “Oh, look the little bald one.  I have a distinct memory of killing him back on Namek.  Ha!  Well, it seems the Dragon Balls can resurrect the powerful and the pathetic.” Man, Frieza, that was cold.

As interpreted by longtime Vegeta actor, Christopher Sabat, the Saiyan’s voice sounds more forced than it used to, with not a lot of tone, inflection, or depth.  The crispness of the delivery is also missing, and occasionally it was actually a little difficult to understand him.  Vegeta sounded haughtier previously and it added to the character, particularly when he’s offended by the various and plentiful slights to his monumental pride.  Now he just sounds continuously exasperated.  Sabat is also the voice of Piccolo, who fares better, with almost no differentiation between his sound back in the TV series dub and this new film.

Akira Toriyama’s newest comic creation, Jaco the Galactic Patrolman is introduced here, as well, with no real fanfare.  In fact, when Team Roshi notices him fighting on their side, none of them have any clue who he is. “Beats me.  I’ll never understand how Bulma has so many weirdo friends,” states an introspection-free Krillin.  Todd Haberkorn does a great job as the interstellar cop, who would really rather not get involved in the battle against the invaders, as the Patrol “has a strict policy against suicide missions.”  His discovery that as defender of Earth, he’s missed not one, but two deadly Saiyans living here, goes purposely unnoted because he does not want to do the paperwork.  Strangely, Haberkorn’s delivery contains a lot of the nuance and otherness I enjoyed about Christopher Sabat’s older rendering of Vegeta.

Son Goku bemoans losing the renewed Frieza more for the tyrant’s sparring partner potential than being particularly concerned about the earth’s destruction.  Sean Schemmel’s voice is lower and less goofy than years ago, which is a little sad, as I enjoyed that simpleminded, carefree nature of the misdirected Saiyan warrior.  (But then he never reached the same effortless loopiness of original seiyuu, Masako Nozawa, and US fans did not get the cool, clever irony of having the earth’s most powerful beings - Goku and his sons - voiced by a woman.)  In essence, the character of Goku never changes; to fight - but, where possible, not kill - is what he lives for, a quality that may or may not be a curse in this film.  Goku’s still training to exclusion of all else, “I knew you were the self-improvement type, but you’ve climbed higher than I thought,” quips the acerbic Frieza when he’s not calling Goku and Vegeta monkeys at every opportunity.  There’s a comfort in knowing Goku will always be that good guy, particularly in the world of Dragon Ball, where the constant invasion by intergalactic aggressors means this poor planet needs all the help it can get, and that will hopefully lead to more great Dragon Ball fun like this film.

Dragon Ball Z Resurrection 'F' is a most excellent nostalgia trip for longtime fans that brings back fond memories, while managing to be exciting, witty and engaging enough for new viewers who have no idea who the Prince of All Saiyans is, or why he keeps calling Goku Kakarot.  The care taken with this production signifies that the producers know exactly how precious the legacy of Dragon Ball is to its diehard fans.  If this level of quality is maintained in future productions, I look forward to many more big screen adventures with Son Goku and his crew.

Sometimes old school is the best education you can have.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Aug. 28th, 2015

 

 

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Photos

Stills Courtesy of FUNimation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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