Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero opens with exposition to refresh the memories of fans and catch newcomers up to speed. It details the rise and fall of the Red Ribbon Army, a criminal organization determined to take over the world. It was foiled by Son Goku, the primary hero of the franchise. Like the Empire in the Star Wars series or any other evil group hell-bent on domination, the Red Ribbon Army isn't about to go quietly into that good night. And this time, it might be a child helping to revive the great menace.

The villainous Magenta hatches a seemingly well-concocted scheme. He recruits boy genius Dr. Hedo to the cause. Hedo specializes in building life-like androids, including the ones he dubs Gamma 1 and Gamma 2. (The young scientist also has an unhealthy fixation with Oreos.) Under Magenta's direction, those androids are sent out into the world, where they pretend to be superheroes. In reality, they're covertly working to bring the Army back. Another, even more powerful android is under construction in Dr. Hedo's laboratory as this takes place. Once unleashed, it should be able to seal the deal.

Gamma 1 and Gamma 2 pick the wrong fight when they attack the warrior Piccolo and Goku's son Gohan. The heroic duo quickly realizes what's taking place and they make an effort to infiltrate Magenta's headquarters. Once inside, the magnitude of the situation becomes apparent, leading them to assemble their own troops for battle.

I'm treading lightly on plot details, partly to preserve surprises for fans and partly because my personal knowledge of the Dragon Ball universe is limited to having seen Dragon Ball Super: Broly and Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F. The press notes came with a request not to reveal the appearance of certain characters and new forms. I couldn't spoil those things if I wanted to, but rest assured there's plenty in the movie to delight the target audience.

As someone with only a passing knowledge of this world and its inhabitants, I enjoyed Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero even more than the previous entries. The animation is a little softer here, a little more accessible to outsiders who may not be accustomed to the anime style. That's not to say it's been radically changed, just that it freshens things up a bit visually. The film seamlessly melds traditional hand-drawn animation with CGI, allowing for complex action sequences. In every sense, this is a pleasing film to look at.

An increase in humor adds to the enjoyment level. Aside from Dr. Hedo's cookie obsession – and his tendency to scream at anyone who tries to take one of his treats for themselves – the green, muscular, alien-looking Piccolo earns laughs once he gets inside the headquarters. Donning a trooper's uniform, he attempts to make it appear that he belongs, despite being clearly different from everyone else. Such intermittent comedy adds welcome levity to balance out the requisite fighting scenes.

Dragon Ball pictures always end with a big finale, and the one in Super Hero offers genuine imagination. Characters haul out unexpected new powers and spontaneously level-up their abilities as usual. It's how the climactic melee plays out that's unexpected. Anime films often end with fights that are explosions of color, with fists or bolts of energy flying against nondescript backgrounds. In this case, we can more easily see what's happening and how what one character does impacts another. Gohan and gang team up to take on the final menace, combining their abilities in complimentary ways that prove satisfying.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is a worthy entry in the big-screen iteration of the franchise. Devotees will find an abundance of material to geek out over, and newcomers will be able to follow the plot, even if they don't understand every nuance.

out of four

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero is rated PG-13 for some action/violence and smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.