When I first heard that the Dragon Ball Z franchise had a new movie, my first response was "Oh!" This response came from a mixture of happiness and fear. The happiness came from the fact that Toei Animation finally decided to move away from remastering the old series and launching into new material. The fear came from the fact that the Dragon Ball Z movies tend to look the same: the villain is a bastard, a secret character pops in to keep a main character from dying, and you can't forget the power tug of war that ends the battle. Yet when I finished watching Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods, I felt a different type of "OH!", though at least two out of three elements that I mentioned before are present, the writers actually took a chance and it has paid off. The DBZ franchise has a pulse. Major Spoilers Ahead:
Battle of the Gods takes place after the Buu and Fusion saga ends. The Z fighters are enjoying Bulma's birthday, while Goku trains at King Kai's place. Unknown to everyone except the Kais, the Destruction God name "Birus" (Bills) wakes up from his 39 year sleep looking for a fight with a Saiyan God. The trouble is that he doesn't know where this Saiyan God is, so Birus and his teacher, Uis, travel to King Kai's planet to talk to Goku. Now Goku being Goku is clueless, but can't resist going against a super strong opponent, even after being warned by King Kai. Birus accepts and soundly beats a Super Saiyan 3 Goku in two moves (Watching that part alone was worth watching this movie).
Feeling like his question will go unanswered, Birus and Uis travel to Earth to talk to the other Super Saiyans. Vegeta has the unfortunate chance of meeting Birus first and quickly remembers that his dad, King Vegeta, had to kneel before him. Yet fear is stronger than revenge when he learns from King Kai that a powered up Goku fell to Birus. So Vegeta tries to keep Birus away from the party. Unfortunately, a drunken Bulma invites him against Vegeta's wishes. Unable to turn him away, Vegeta tries his best to keep Birus happy, so he won't destroy the Earth. Yet even this fails, when Majin Buu refuses to share his pudding with Birus. The ticked off Destruction God then goes on a rampage and easily defeats the Z fighters in an impressive fashion. A still drunken Bulma steps up to Birus and is quickly knocked to the ground. This gives motivation to Vegeta, who scores the first real hits against Birus, but even Vegeta is beaten by a single touch to the head.
Goku appears, but he knows that he doesn't have the power to defeat Birus. All appears lost when an unsatisfied Birus decides to end the Earth, but Goku manages to buy time by asking for a chance to find the Saiyan God. The Z fighters turn to Shenlon (Shenron), who can't make the Saiyan God appear but tells them the method to bring out the power of the Saiyan God. They need six pure hearted Saiyans - five for the power and one to channel the power through. Yet with only Goku, Vegeta, Trunks, Goten and Gohan, they're missing one pure hearted Saiyan. It was revealed earlier in a sub story within the film, that Videl, who is Gohan's wife, is pregnant with child. Her unborn child is the final Saiyan needed to make Goku into a Saiyan God, complete with red hair instead of yellow.
Birus finally gets his wish and he and Goku commence fighting throughout the city, across the ocean, underground, and finally into space. Birus decides to test Goku's limits by firing a giant energy ball at him. Goku, whose godlike power has faded just like the original Saiyan God, is overwhelmed and the Earth looks doomed (a scene from when Goku's dad Braddock tried unsuccessfully to save Planet Vegeta from Frieza's energy blast, flashed into my mind). Yet with the thoughts of his friends and family counting on him, Goku absorbs the energy ball and saves the Earth. Birus is surprised and Goku has no clue how he did it. Ultimately, Birus spares Goku and the Earth and reveals that he is just one powerful being out of many, however he can't wait to go against Goku again.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods is a feast for the eyes for Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z fans. All the Z fighters and even Goku's original enemy Emperor Pilaf and his cronies, are involved and they actually got to do something. The animation for the new film is quite impressive and the visuals are amazing; in a rare moment that shows Goku fighting in the city instead of a desolate area, the angles that follow the fight were really impressive. I also have to give credit to the visuals of Goku and Birus fight across the ocean, which had a "Ten Commandment" split-the-sea moment in there. Yet what really won me over about this movie was the comedy/action tone and seeing a different side of well known characters; when bringing out a movie after so many years, you have to mix things up and do something unexpected to get people excited again; Goku was beaten easily, Vegeta didn't take himself so seriously, Shenlon wasn't an all-powerful deity that looked down on everybody, Young Trunks was actually watchable, Buu was Buu, and even the villain, Birus, was break dancing at Bulma's party. The original Dragon Ball was light hearted with great action scenes and comedy thrown in. Dragon Ball Z and GT seemed to take the fun element out of the series and took itself way too seriously. This movie was great at reminding fans how grand Akira Toriyama's characters and world are.
My only complaint was that I wasn't satisfied with the final battle or the ending though the buildup was great. On one side, you have an all powerful being that humbled King Vegeta and even made Shenlon sweat. On the other side, you have Goku becoming a SAIYAN GOD. This should have been an epic battle but it simply wasn't. I actually think that Lord Birus's first battle with Goku and his battle with the Z fighters at the birthday party trump the final battle. Also the Dragon Ball franchise has to let the power tug of war thing go in their movies. Not every fight must end with a kamehameha, spirit bomb, or giant power sphere threatening to end the Earth. To give the writers some credit, I didn't expect Goku to absorb the energy into him, which may open the doors for future explanation in another movie or series.
Looking past my complaints, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods, for me, was like a homecoming. I got to see the characters I grew up with and enjoyed seeing a different side to them. And I believe Lord Birus' comment about being just one powerful being out of many, should open the door for a potential new series or movie. I know Akira Toriyama is already on to new things, but I would love for him to pen this possible spin-off or at least be part of it in some way. All and all, as a Dragon Ball fan, I give this movie a 5 out 5, but as an anime fan. I have to give this movie a 3 out 5 for being good but not memorable.