Strap on your bell-bottoms, spin the disco ball, and grab your nunchucks. The Dark Knight returns in a groovy, karate chopping, seventies retro animated adventure. Batman: Soul of the Dragon is an original story that mixes Bruce Lee inspired action with a James Bond storyline. The Caped Crusader is actually a supporting character to the ass-kicking Richard Dragon (Mark Dacascos). Bruce Wayne's (David Giuntoli) origin story is updated with a Japanese master and cohort of allies. The plot runs thin at times, but the film offers a fun and interesting new take on the beloved superhero.
Batman: Soul of the Dragon opens in the seventies with a secret agent, Richard Dragon, infiltrating a shady millionaire's mansion. There's something sinister about the snake-eyed Jeffrey Burr (Josh Keaton). Richard finds an ominous clue. After a high-flying escape, he travels to Gotham City to reconnect with an old friend.
Bruce Wayne is stunned to find Richard in his penthouse. The film flashes back to Bruce as a troubled young man. He travels to a secret monastery hidden on a snowy mountain. Burdened by the guilt of his parents murder, Bruce asks the wise O-Sensei (James Hong) to train him to defeat evil. Bruce is introduced to Richard, Shiva (Kelly Hu), Jade (Jamie Chung), Ben Turner (Michael Jai White), and Rip Jagger (Chris Cox). O-Sensei's disciples brutally compete during the grueling training regime. Bruce learns quickly that his fame and fortune are viewed with scorn by the other students.
In the present, Richard informs Bruce that O-Sensei's most valued possession is being hunted by a cult called Kobra. They must reunite the trainees to prevent Kobra from enacting their heinous plan. But O-Sensei's disciples did not part ways in a friendly manner. A devastating event at the monastery clouds all of their destinies. They must overcome their bitter past to defeat a truly monstrous enemy.
The film is essentially a combination of Enter the Dragon and Live and Let Die. It's loaded with martial arts duels, high speed chases, and serpent inspired supernatural themes. The protagonists are drawn from the seventies comic series, "Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter". Lady Shiva, Bronze Tiger, and O-Sensei stay close to the source material. Richard Dragon becomes an Asian character in the vein of Bruce Lee. Hardcore Batman fans may be turned off by his supporting character status. I found it refreshing to see Bruce Wayne in a different light. He doesn't have to be the toughest or deadliest hero to have an impact.
Director Sam Liu and screenwriter Jeremy Adams overkill the seventies schtick. They could have dialed it back a little. The disco score started to grate on my nerves after a while. The plot is good, but there are some scattered weak points. The training scenes and a thrilling third act make up for the lulls. The character development is decent across the board, but Richard Dragon needed more exposition. He's the star of this show. It's never explained how he got to the monastery and became O-Sensei's best pupil.
Batman: Soul of the Dragon earns it's R-rating with bloody violence, mature themes, and a disturbing sex scene. This is not a film for younger children, but should be fine for teenage audiences. The animation gets the job done. It's not too eye catching, but the fight scenes are well-staged. The ending will definitely surprise audiences. Batman: Soul of the Dragon is a production of Warner Bros. Animation. It is currently available for digital download and will be released on Blu-ray/DVD on January 26th from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.