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Review - "Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F"

Frieza is not only the most infamous villain in the history of anime and manga mega-franchise Dragon Ball Z, but arguably the most recognized antagonist in the history of the shonen (boy's manga) category in general, right up there next to other famed baddies like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure's Dio Brando and Fist of the North Star's Raoh. While, personally, I always thought he wasn't as interesting or fun as the next big bad guy, Cell, there's no denying his lasting influence on the series, and on the world of anime fandom in general.

So obviously, the best way to make a quick buck off of diehard series fans is to bring him back.

If that sounded overtly cynical, forgive me, but it's a thought that kept going through my head throughout the entire 93 minutes of Dragon Ball: Resurrection F. Because, despite enjoying the return of a villain I grew up with, his revival ultimately feels like a cheap, pithy ploy to snare fans into shelling out money for the ticket price. At no point during the movie did I feel like bringing back Frieza was necessary, justified, or even a remotely urgent threat. Considering this is a villain that killed Goku's best friend, blew up a planet, and came back as a robot that needed a badass warrior from the future to take down, not feeling like a real, palpable threat is kind of a problem. In Resurrection F, Frieza feels like a B-List, or even C-List, villain, one who never feels like he's going to jeopardize the lives of any of the main characters. The most he does is blow up a city, which is treated like a ho-hum event by the protagonists. Even his big trump card at the film's climax is written off with a quick, absurd deus ex machina that feels like a smack in the face to the audience.

When your selling point is "the most ruthlessly evil villain in series history is coming to Earth" and you fail to deliver on that promise of unbridled chaos, your movie is a total failure in a major capacity.

It's a good thing, then, that the film itself delivers on almost every other front. Yes, Resurrection F is a movie that, in a baffling turn of events, completely blows its biggest draw, but manages to entertain in others departments. If you're a series fan, there's a whole lot to love here, mainly because about half the movie is devoted to focusing on characters who aren't named "Goku" or "Vegeta." Dragon Ball Z has always had a pretty great supporting cast, but they're often sidelined in favor of the series' most popular characters getting to pummel people. Here, most of them get a chance to kick some ass, and even the ones who don't fight (read: Bulma) have several great moments. Oft overlooked stand-bys like three-eyed Tien and famed pervert Roshi get to plow through hundreds of Frieza's troops in fast-paced action sequences, and even legendarily kill-able Krillen/Kuririn gets some good punches in.

The only issue I took with the supporting cast is the complete and utter waste of personal favorite Android 18. Wife to Krillen, and (by her own admission) a good deal stronger than her husband, she is ordered to stay back and look after her daughter at the beginning of the movie. While we could have had an excuse to see her defending the kid, she's instead never seen again. Jarring sexism aside, this is a total letdown for series fans, as 18 is one of the most storied and interesting characters in the franchise, and relegating her to "stay-at-home mom" while there's a huge fight going on is a pretty garbage move on part of the writers, especially because there aren't very many fighting women in the series to begin with. Got to keep those dated femininity norms in check, I guess.

All action aside, Resurrection of F also delivers some pretty funny and unexpected comedy. In fact, I'd say that most of this film is dedicated to silly visual and verbal humor, with maybe 10-20 percent dedicated to actual, visceral combat. Even the fact that Frieza has been trapped in hell for years and years is played off as a goofy gag. Some might express disappointment at this, but anybody who knows series creator Akira Toriyama's body of work will recognize that he's primarily a comedic creator, who didn't seem particularly happy with the violence-heavy direction his own series took. Now that he's involved with the series again, even serious events like Frieza coming back to life are treated as jokes, and personally, I don't mind that. While, at times, it's a bit jarring to hear a metal song blaring while a chopped-into-bits Frieza is regenerated when, five minutes later, a character steps into a pink pile of poop, the comedy still mostly works, and made me bust out laughing several times.

It's good, then, that the writing is as good as it is (in the comedy department anyway,) because the animation is absolute garbage. I don't use that term lightly, but there's no other way to describe how thoroughly awful Resurrection F looks. Toei has a reputation in modern times for being an absolute cut-rate studio, and for good reason: their heavily outsourced animation is among the worst on Japanese television at the moment, and their output is arguably some of the worst I've seen in anime in the past decade. But while it already looks bad enough on a TV, it being blown up to the size of a movie screen is just painful to look at. Pupils drift out of eyeballs, heads shrink in proportion to bodies, veins bulge in areas they shouldn't, bodies turn into horrifically off-model eldritch abominations, backdrops look like ugly smudges, perspective barely exists... the list goes on. Add in some of the most abhorrently bad CGI I've personally ever witnessed in anime, and you've got a thoroughly ugly movie that only manages to impress, visually, in the last 15 minutes. This is especially disappointing considering how good Battle of Gods looked, and it's downright despicable that anybody looked at how awful this animation was and decided to put it in a movie theater.

It stands as a testament to the strength of rest of the film, though, that despite laughably awful animation and a total blowing of the central conceit that I ultimately enjoyed my time seeing Resurrection F. While it's definitely not on the level of Dragon Ball Z's last cinematic outing, and while I honestly enjoyed it less than I'm currently enjoying Dragon Ball Super, it's still a fun little movie that is peppered with a lot of satisfying moments for series fans. Dragon Ball, as a series, can and has been much, much worse than this movie, and while that might seem like faint praise, I genuinely feel like this isn't an awful movie, or even a bad one, just a tad disappointing. But, if you're invested in the franchise, and go in knowing what you're getting yourself into, there's a good deal of fun to be had here.

I just hope that if another stunt like resurrecting Frieza gets pulled again, it gets treated with the gravity it deserves.

Grade: B- 


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