Batman: Soul of the Dragon is the 41st film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line. Under their Elseworlds banner, it is a fun throwback to ’70s, especially martial arts movies, as Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli) reunites with his fellow students of O-Sensei (James Hong): Richard Dragon (Mark Dacascos), Lady Shiva (Kelly Hu) and Ben Turner/Bronze Tiger (Michael Jai White, who also played the role in Arrow). They reunite when Richard learns Jeffrey Burr (Josh Keaton), Kobra Cult leader, is planning to open the mystical gate that contains the serpent god Nāga, which was protected by O-Sensei.
Although billed as Batman movie, it’s refreshing that his peers are more important to the story. Not only better fighters, but much of the plot revolves around them and their actions. The film opens with a Bondesque sequence, as Richard infiltrates Jeffrey’s penthouse and discovers what he is up to. Shiva was given the magical sword, Soul Breaker, to protect. The cult comes for it because it’s needed to open the gate. She runs organized crime in Gotham’s Chinatown, which seems odd, but that’s not explored in the story. Ben learned about the Kobra Cult shortly after they left the island. He intended to kill Jeffrey, but finding him as a young boy, Ben was unable to kill him. Rather than keep up with Kobra Cult, Ben returned to the U.S. and forgot about them and became a martial arts teacher. Another odd choice made by the screenwriter Jeremy Adams in what is otherwise a smart script. Together, the quartet return to the retreat where they trained to defeat Kobra Cult and Nāga.
The filmmakers make great use of the ’70s. The character designs recall iconic figures. Richard and Ben resembles Bruce Lee and Jim Kelly, who both appeared in Enter the Dragon together, and O-Sensei brings to mind Keye Luke as Master Po from Kung Fu. Bruce is up on the fashion of the times with his sideburns and bell-bottom pants. The fight scenes are executed the way they would appear in the era, not the high-flying antics seen in movies in the decades that follow.
The video appears in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The colors pop in rich hues. Blacks are inky and whites are accurate, helping to create a solid contrast. The image presents good texture details and depth through the use of light and sharpness in the art.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Dialogue is clear and up front. There’s loud support of effects and bass in the fight scenes, which fill the surrounds. On the quiet end, blades cut through the air. Also coming through the surrounds is Joachim Horsley’s playful score and ambient effects.
Batman: Soul Of The Dragon Special Features (all in HD) are:
- Batman – Raw Groove (31 min) – A look at the culture of the early 1970s, particularly the films, and how it inspired Batman: Soul of the Dragon.
- Producer Jim Krieg’s Far Out Highlights (18 min) – A featurette about the film where Kreig dresses up as a ’70s Elseworlds version of himself
- A Sneak Peek at the Next Animated DC Universe Movie (8 min) – A preview of Justice Society: World War II.
- Previews of previously released Elseworlds movies: Superman: Red Son (11 min) and Batman: Gotham By Gaslight (HD, 9 min)
- From the DC Vault: Batman: The Animated Series, “Day of the Samurai” (22 min) Bruce returns to Japan to find his sensei’s kidnapped daughter.
- From the DC Vault: Batman: The Animated Series, “Night of the Ninja” (HD, 22 min) – Kyodai Ken, a martial arts student alongside Bruce and villain from “Day of the Samurai,” comes to Gotham seeking revenge.
Batman: Soul of the Dragon is a very entertaining and welcome detour in the DC Universe and is a must-own for fans of this genre. The Blu-ray delivers a strong and satisfying high-definition presentation. Hopefully, the producers will continue to take chances like this.
Batman: Soul Of The Dragon is available on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack and Blu-ray as well as on Digital.