Of all the long-lived shōnen anime series that are popular in the U.S., Dragon Ball is the most beloved, if not the very most prolific. Dragon Ball Super, the latest TV series adaptation of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama's original Dragon Ball manga series, debuted last month in Japan. (Funimation, which owns North American licensing rights for Super, hasn't yet gotten a simulcast up and running here in the U.S.) Produced by Toei Animation, Super is the fifth Dragon Ballseries to air since the domestic debut of the original Dragon Ball in 1986.
Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' is the fifteenth DBZ movie. It won't be the last.
Remarkably, Resurrection 'F' is only the second DBZ film supervised by Dragon Ball manga creator Akira Toriyama, and the film is essentially a sequel to Battle of Gods (also supervised by Toriyama), which introduced the characters Beerus and Whis along with the Super Saiyan God level of transformation. Where Beerus, the God of Destruction, was Goku's primary foe in Battle of Gods, he's relegated to a secondary, comic relief function in 'F'. Instead, we're dealing with Frieza. As far as resurrection and rematch storylines go, 'F' does little to justify the revival of a villain who's been so frequently reheated since the late 1980s. At the start of Resurrection 'F', the decimated Freiza Force, led by the sniveling newcomer Sorbet, sets out to resurrect their lord with a wish to Shenron. Once revived, Frieza's immediate priority—against the advice of his minions—is to defeat that simian Goku once and for all.
Before Frieza's titular resurrection, the earliest plot is left to the doofus Sorbet and his tagalongs. The first twenty minutes of Resurrection 'F' are so talkative and convoluted that you might mistake the film for an animated adaptation of George Lucas' Attack of the Clones, what, with all of the intergalactic missives and logistical banter that it takes to get everyone started. Sorbet explains things to Frieza, Jaco explains to Bulma, and so Frieza's vengeance unfolds with all the urgency of a flagging soap opera, and in service of a plot of furious confrontations and combat punctuated by screwball talk and Beerus' hankering for a strawberry sundae.
Exposition and mistimed humor aside, 'F' excels where it counts: as brilliant, crisp, and colorful animation of martial arts and manly magic. Master Roshi, with his incomparable sun's-out-guns-out flexing, and Piccolo are the twin stars of our assembled heroes' showdown with the invading Frieza Force. An earlier sequence in which Goku and Vegeta tag-team in training against the unflappably dexterous Whis is the movie's first real, exciting combat, so unfortunately preceded by the aforementioned slog of exposition of prelude. The first-act's combat sequences are the film's most exciting and impressive moments, and they're the brightest, most exhilarating testaments to Dragon Ball's stylistic signatures and timeless appeal.
As with most DBZ material, however, 'F' stretches the logic and upper limits of everyone's powers to mindless, sure-why-not extremes. Frieza's last-gasp obliteration of Earth, for instance, isn't the thrilling climax of a story that's carefully built itself up to such an explosion; it's the default of a script-writer who needn't think too hard to come up with this stuff. In any case, fear not: Whis briefly (some would say cheaply) foreshadows certain time-capsule mechanics that eventually reel Goku and company from the jaws of incineration and outer space. Whis' cosmic rewind affords Vegeta a second shot at Golden Frieza, whose fate I won't completely spoil, other than to say that anyone familiar with this franchise might easily guess how it ends.
Admittedly, I find Dragon Ball, the pop phenomenon, to be generally exhausting, never mind the tonal sloppiness of this particular movie. Don't even get me started on the direction. Much is made, for instance, of Frieza's deliberate hastiness in pursuing Goku before he's properly trained to defeat him, but none of Frieza's rationalizations make him seem any less clumsy or dumb for rushing off to die like that. At the climax of 'F', Frieza is too too weak to stand yet strong enough to incinerate 5.972 sextillion metric tons of planet at his fingertips. I'll be damned if it makes real sense, even to the mind of a child. Luckily, many of these children will be eager to contradict me down in the comments.
Justin Charity is a staff writer for Complex. Follow him @BrotherNumpsa.