Movies / Animé and Toons

Batman: Soul of the Dragon


By Hervé St-Louis
April 12, 2021 - 00:17

Martial artist and globetrotter Richard Dragon enlists the aid of Bruce Wayne, Bronze Tiger, and Lady Shiva to stop the threat of Kobra, a cult looking fort the Soultaker sword that can open a portal to a hellish world. Set in the 1970s, this original story pits many of DC Comics’ best martial artists in an epic animated movie that mixes many genres from the 1970s such martial arts, blacksploitation, horror, and James Bond. Will the four martial artists beat Kobra and its agents and save the world?

I like that Warner Brothers Animation has crafted an original tale that resembles many of its comics. This story features other popular characters such as Cheshire, Judomaster, O-Sensei, and many more. There is a form of controversy in the changes that were made to the Richard Dragon character. In the comics, he is a red hair guy, often with a beard that resembles Chuck Norris. Warner Bros. Animation decided to change the character to make him Asian. Changing comic characters’ ethnicity is not new when adapting them to other media, although it is more often seen in live action than animation.

In the context of the story, changing Richard Dragon from a Caucasian to an Asian was not problematic. He performed his role very well. In some ways, being Asian was a better fit for the character. As mentioned above, Richard Dragon was modelled after Chuck Norris who in the 1970s, earned fame as the guy who opposed Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1972). In Batman Soul of the Dragon, Richard Dragon was modelled after Bruce Lee. In a sense, Richard Dragon probably should always have been Asian but probably because of the times, Chuck Norris was favoured to Bruce Lee who had recently died.

It needs to be mentioned that turning Caucasian martial artists into Asians is somewhat popular in popular culture. For the upcoming Snake Eyes movie, the soldier has been changed from a blond Caucasian to an Asian. In 2015, there was a fan-based online movement to have Iron Fist played by an Asian actor instead of a Caucasian. The negativity surrounding Marvel’s refusal affected the popularity of the series and actor Finn Jones who played Iron Fist.

Here, Warner Bros. and DC Comics embraced the challenges of diversity by giving us a series that plays with the clichés of Asian martial arts films and blacksploitation. The music sets the stage quickly although some of the technology used by some of the characters seems a bit too advanced for the 1970s.

DC Comics has had a rich backstory related to top martial artists since Denny O’Neil created Richard Dragon. Fans of the multiple variants of that history will find a lot of enjoyment in this story. There are very good display of martial art combat in this film. I am a bit disappointed that we did not see more of Cheshire and Judomaster, but at the same time, more obscure characters such as King Snake and Lady Eve were appreciated. The movie does strengthen a trope though. All of the main villains were Caucasians.

An important element that I enjoyed about the film is the liberty taken to recast the traditional Batman story in the 1970s. There was a time when this period was Batman’s contemporary epoch, but the character continues to change and modernize with the times. Thus, the costume and the logo were more evocative of the 1970s although the cape and cowl were still black instead of blue.

Having the story set in the 1970s meant that the creative team could take more liberties with the story than if it were a cannon version of Batman. I will add that the story would probably have looked better without Batman in costume and just Bruce Wayne. DC and Warner are not ready for such stories!

My Blu-Ray package came with a Bronze Tiger figurine that looks more like Luke Cage than Bronze Tiger. The features also include several Batman Animated episodes featuring martial arts-related stories. I always love when Warner Bros. Animation include these old episodes from its vault. They have so much to choose from and often they are episodes that I forgot or never saw.

This animated film is a one off but it’s worth picking up.

Rating: 10 /10

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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