DRAGON BALL Z: WRATH OF THE DRAGON (1995)
(Directed by Mitsuo Hashimoto)
(Written by Takao Koyama)
(Starring Laura Bailey, Kyle Hebert and Jason Liebrecht)
Plot: A mysterious imp requests that Gohan and Goku use the eternal dragon to unlock a mystical music box, which contains the only hero who can stop a destructive dragon that threatens the universe. Unfortunately, it turns out that the music box also contained the dragon. They just got trolled!
I wonder if “Dragonball Z: Wrath of the Dragon” was intended to be the last Dragonball flick, as it would be almost 10 years before we’d see another one. Part of me wants to say yes, because they made 13 serial films within a six year period and it seems strange that they would suddenly put the breaks on such momentum. It also seems like “Wrath of the Dragon” benefited from the highest production values, which often happens when the end has crept up on a studio or franchise. On the other hand, it seems like an ass retarded decision to place the responsibility on the guy whose only contribution to “Dragon Ball” was “Lord Slug“, arguably the worst of the shorts. Although now that I think about it, the manga and TV series were both probably reaching their conclusions around 1995…Ugh, I just looked it up and that is correct. You’d think I’d research that before typing, or at least have the decency to rewrite all of the above, but…no…Of all the DBZ movies, “Wrath of the Dragon” and I were the least intimate, although that had nothing to do with quality. I believe I watched it once, but it was when my interest in this franchise was reaching the end of its slow and terrible death, so it never left any impression on me. How does it hold up? “Dragonball Z: Wrath of the Dragon” is… different, and not in the way that “Fusion Reborn” was different- where it felt like the filmmakers were subtly adapting a ‘Goku x Vegeta’ slash fanfiction while tripping out on drugs. This one just has different priorities, toning down fighting for the sake of fleshing out and developing its primary character. Unfortunately, it focused on the WRONG character!. But its shortcomings are redeemed by the superb production values, or maybe the production values were brought down by its shortcomings. Once again, the fandom is divided between people who love or hate this movie.
The first problem I have with this narrative is it can’t decide whom it wants to focus on. Believe it or not, Gohan starts out as the primary protagonist as the film focuses on him trying to balance school and superhero life. He is the one who encounters Hoi (antagonist) and brings him into the story. Gohan has the most screen-time, the most dialogue and the most action all the way until the ending- where he is unceremoniously pwned even though he should be MUCH more powerful than Goku. But even before then, Gohan is removed from the story when Tapion arrives and now “Wrath of the Dragon” is about this new character and his growing relationship with Trunks. Personally, I don’t like that the only ‘character’-driven DBZ movie chooses to flesh out an original character nor do I think that it’s a fitting ending for the franchise, but whatever. Yet predictably, once the final battle takes place, it becomes Goku’s movie. He’s the one to save the day, even though he was practically a glorified extra throughout the first two acts. THIS IS SLOPPY WRITING! In general, the script has this strange combination of lazy and ambitious, the latter of which I’ll get into in a moment. But first, the laziness! It seemed like the villain wasn’t really a threat, only causing so much damage because the characters are stupidly holding back. Goku more-or-less reveals he could’ve slain the beast if…well, he just did ‘that’ much earlier. Everyone likes to stand around and watch as their allies get beaten up before jumping into the battle. I HATE it when that happens. The characters have the tendency to do stupid things in order for the story to advance, like how they immediately trust the dragonballs to this creepy little imp who keeps evilly smirking and cackling right in front of them. Idiots. The writer glances over important information like how Tapion’s brother was released or how they got these mystical items- which they don’t immediately use when it would benefit them. Hey, Tapion! If you have a sword that can injure Hildegarn (the evil dragon), WHY DON’T YOU GIVE IT TO THE GUYS WHO CAN ACTUALLY USE IT?! This is not only bad writing, but it’s some of the worst writing these serial films have encountered.
I did say that the writer was at least ambitious. I have to acknowledge that even though the plot is reminiscent of the Majin Buu arc in some places, this probably is the most original story any of these serial films has ever had. There are two different kinds of villains, with one being a freaking Kaiju. In many ways, “Wrath of the Dragon” kind of plays out as a ‘What if the heroes took on a monster like Godzilla?‘ story and Hildegarn’s destruction is very reminiscent on a giant monster movie. I did like how they tried to focus more on character building than straight up action, even if I felt these were the wrong characters. But I appreciate what the filmmakers were going for.. The dragon balls were smoothly incorporated into the story, whereas previously they were either side thoughts or absent all together, so that’s nice. In retrospect, every scene seems to have a legitimate purpose, whereas “Fusion Reborn” (for example) didn’t really need the ‘undead’ subplot. Even if the writing wasn’t very good, at least the filmmakers had plenty of good ideas and tried something new. As I keep saying, “Wrath of the Dragon” is different. It does not follow the formula of its predecessors, nor does it need trippy visuals to make it stand out. I respect that. I respect “Wrath of the Dragon” a lot, even if it can be pretty frustratingly stupid.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed our new villains. Hoi is unique because he relies less on power and more on his cunning, although admittedly his intelligence is only impressive because everyone else is really stupid. But there’s never been a villain like him in these movies and he’s nowhere near as annoying as his obvious inspiration (Babidi) was. Hidegarn has no personality, but he has a pretty imposing design and even though he’s practically a Kaiju, he gets some unusual techniques considering his size. This really helped with the action scenes. Trunks is technically the main character and even though I didn’t always enjoy his bromance with Tapion, it’s nice to see a more serious side of him. Tapion is kind of a douchebag, a conventional loner who must accept friendship and all that shit, but his reasoning is difficult to swallow because it’s putting the planet in danger. At least he does develop and the character grew on me, even if he NEEDED a fight scene. He was obviously inspired by Link of the Zelda franchise. Gohan was alright. The Great Saiyaman persona is supposed to be corny, but for some reason it’s never worked for me in the serial films. Videl was f@cking obnoxious, although maybe the dubbing is responsible for that. Her English version counterpart made Videl an unlikable, spoiled brat. Goku doesn’t have a big role until the ending, so he doesn’t do much outside of being Goku. Vegeta also gets a small role with a decent action scene, but once again, he doesn’t get to do much. Where is Picollo again? Krillin and Goten get very small parts, but it was nice to see Bulma get something to do. The dubbing is okay, but the dialogue is trying way too hard to be funny and the comedic relief FAILS. I only laughed once when Goku says “We need balls!“. But otherwise, you get smart-ass lines like-
“Someone is about to jump off of a building!”
(from school) “You think that’s bad? I’ve got Trig in 20!”
And that is why I hated Videl. But in general, this is the total opposite of “Fusion Reborn“. “Wrath of the Dragon” is taking itself very seriously, but when it tries to make you laugh, it tends to induce groans instead. Ugh, we even get a drunk Master Roshi bit, which I totally wasn’t sick of when that was forced down my throat in “Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan“…Sometimes the humor hurts the tone and the dubbing becomes quite awkward, like when Bulma says something along the lines of: “I should’ve known he was a villain. Those whiskers gave it away!” and Tapion responds with “Yeah, he murdered half of my worlds population“. Um…That made me unconformable. I’ve always been split as to whether you should view the dubbed or subbed versions, but watching “Wrath of the Dragon” would’ve probably been a more pleasant experience if I was watching the Japanese version. I suppose that’s another contrast between “Wrath of the Dragon” and “Fusion Reborn“, because the latter was hilarious thanks to the dubbing.
But moving on, the animation quality is downright amazing- probably the best of ALL the serial films up until this point. The backgrounds are detailed and Hildegarn’s destruction was fully animated. I loved how the battles took place in the open city or near the Capsule Corporation compound, instead of somewhere mundane like the forest or a plain black screen. We’ve come along way since “The World’s Strongest Man“. The fights also move quickly, but the cutting corner tactics are never really used. Every technique is seen clearly, but the movements are never slowed down because of that. Furthermore, Hildegarn is such a different kind of enemy that the fights end up being unique. You’d think that since the guy who directed this had previously helmed “Lord Slug“- which was comprised of nothing but allusions to what happened in the TV series- that Hildegarn would fight like Oozeru Vegeta, Giant Picollo or Giant Slug (who fought like Oozeru Vegeta and Giant Picollo), but he doesn’t. Hildergarn, as I said, has a variety of unusual techniques that defy what we would expect from this kind of character. He doesn’t just ignore everyones attacks (like most giants), he counters and dodges as if he was as big as Janemba’s second form. His size just adds flavor to his attacks and counters. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the action, even if the ending did make me face palm. But at least ‘Dragon Fist’ looked awesome.
“Dragonball: Wrath of the Dragon” is often regarded as one of the best- if not THE best- DBZ movie and I can see why people feel that way. It has a higher standard of production value, excellent action sequences, is different than its predecessors and perhaps most impressively: feels like a real movie. Granted, maybe not a good movie as everything is still rushed due to a lack of time. But it does flesh out a story and its primary characters, even if the filmmakers toss all of that shit out in order to force Goku into the leading role during the finale. But “Broly- The Legendary Super Saiyan” has a similar, if not more popular reputation and that movie also has a lot of detractors as well. I can certainly see why someone would dislike “Wrath of the Dragon“, as the writing can be downright frustrating. Many have also complained about plot holes, like how Future Trunks got the sword when Goku wasn’t around, but the serial films are full of those. My qualms tend to be based around the shifts in focus and the stupid decisions of our heroes. So overall, I’m torn down the middle. I don’t think “Wrath of the Dragon” is as good as its fans say it is, but I don’t think it’s as bad as the detractors say it is. I think it’s okay, but I really do respect it for trying something new. If anything, it’s LEAGUES better than “Lord Slug“, the previous effort of the same director.
Violence: PG-13 worthy, as most of it is implied.
Overall: “Dragonball: Wrath of the Dragon” is definitely worth watching, but it’s also very flawed. You’ll likely either love it or hate it.