Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Gods is a really fun entry in Toriyama Akira's beloved universe that's just not up there with the most memorable ones. It manages to capture the absurdist essence of Dragon Ball very well, but disappoints in the other important regard.
If you don't expect one epic Dragon Ball Z confrontation like those you grew up with, say Goku vs. Freeza or Gohan vs. Cell, you shouldn't end up dissatisfied with it. However, the premise (as well as the title with "battle" in it) speaks to both fans and newcomers equally: Goku is about to protect planet Earth once again as the threatening God of destruction Bills (aka Birusu) wakes up. Everything leads to this face-to-face duel so one should expect epic stuff, otherwise there's really no point.
The use of the word epic is perhaps too much when referring to this movie, and not only for the obvious reason (that it lasts 85 minutes); also because the battle between gods doesn't live up to its simple yet promising start, with little power and excitement.
We certainly get plenty of amusingly silly material, generally working fine as an absurd entertainment, like I said (though there are some misfires). It brings back the peaceful times usually found in the first and last episodes of each anime saga: for Bulma's 38th birthday party, the whole gang gets together, giving a certain special feel to the movie. Characters like Piccolo and Krillin are pretty much irrelevant for the central story, while others, like Gohan, Trunks and even Pilaf and Shenlong, have attractive moments. Still, minor characters don't stand much from the straightforward narrative.
It's all about the new enemy Bills, for which Toriyama and screenplay writer Watanabe Yûsuke created an interesting background story for. Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Gods nicely contributes to the general mythology, with a new Super Saiyan transformation and stuff about Bills' relation with Freeza and the destruction of Planet Vegeta. At the same time, Bills is invited to join the humoristic side of the movie and there are at least a couple of hilarious situations, for example Bills and Mr. Boo arguing over some pudding!
Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Gods has a completely renovated animation aesthetic compared to the old anime, going into CGI territory, which makes it look sometimes like a video game with 3D scenarios. It's a welcome effort, as it only tries to adapt modern animation techniques to the original anime. When trying to recreate the whole experience for the fans' nostalgia, the Mexican dub I watched suffers the recognizable absence of Goten's original voice. Aside of that little detail, the rest of the voices are perfect.
Like watching the Great Saiyaman episodes and stopping right when all the real (Majin Boo) action starts, Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of Gods feels incomplete. The nostalgic movie event of the year (at least in Mexico it was) brings good memories but lacks (Goku's) power and the final awesome punch.
This review was published in a slightly different form in connection with the film's theatrical release in Mexico in September 2013. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods plays at select U.S. and Canada theaters from August 5 to 9. It will be screened in Australia for one day only on Saturday, August 30.