Batman: Soul of the Dragon (2021)
Directed by Sam Liu
Written by Jeremy Adams
Produced by Sam Liu, Jim Krieg, Kimberly S. Moreau
Executive Producers Bruce Timm, Sam Register, Michael E. Uslan
R, 1h 23min
Why is this movie rated R?
OK. There are a few beheadings. And there are some moments where the blood splatters a little too freely. And there’s a couple of foul words that could easily have been cut. The fact that this has an R rating tells me a whole lot more about the people running things over at WB Animation than it does about the story being told here.
Basically, this is Batman in the midst of the kung fu and cult thriller movies of the 1970s. Enter the Dragon is the heaviest influence, but there’s also James Bond and the crime movies and maybe even a little influence from the blaxploitation films. And it’s no accident that we have characters designed to look like Bruce Lee and Jim Kelly in this flick.
The essentials: Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli) gets contacted by globe-trotting superspy Richard Dragon (Mark Dacascos), who was one of Bruce’s fellow students at the temple in Nanda Parbat, along with Shiva (Kelly Hu) and Ben Turner (Michael Jai White). The four of them reunite to stop the Kobra Klan from opening a portal to the supernatural realm where lies trapped the Great Naga — a serpent god bent on ruling over Earth.
Using the sword known as Soulbreaker (given to Shiva for safekeeping), the Kobra Klan plans to free the Great Naga and dominate the world, but our four intrepid heroes stand in their way. And it’s refreshing that they don’t fight each other first before turning together to face the Actual Villain™. This group is a little different from what you may have seen in the comics, and it falls into the sphere of “influenced by the Satanic cults” piece of the 70s milieu. That also includes the superspy elements with Richard Dragon pulling a James Bond caper to open the film, and we also get a Bond movie super-henchman with mystical powers thrown in.
The format incorporates numerous flashbacks to their time in Nanda Parbat, a format I normally find annoying, but it works in this case. The flashbacks inform the present-day moments and serve to move the story forward rather than distract with superfluous exposition. Those flashbacks also work to detail the arcs for Bruce, Rick, Shiva, and Ben as we go through their early days training at the monastery. They all present interesting contrasts between who they were during their study and who they are now. And James Hong’s O-Sensei is a treat. Part Master Po, part Mr. Miyagi, part imp.
My only real complaint (outside of the film being unnecessarily rated R) is the ending that isn’t an ending. It feels like a setup for a sequel, but it also feels like a “The End” with an asterisk, as the story concludes to a point, but not completely.
Overall, it’s a fun mix that’s stirred, not shaken, and it’s only enhanced by the music. While Joachim Horsley’s tracks might be a little too on the nose, they actually are in line with the kind of soundtracks you’d find in movies like Shaft and Superfly. Just enough wakka-wakka-chicka-wakka to remind you that this is the seventies, turkey.