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Batman: Soul of the Dragon (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray +Digital)
Batman: The Soul Of The Dragon is the latest Batman animated feature, an ‘Elseworlds' story that takes place out of established DC Universe continuity and not adapted from any specific comic book. Set in the 1970's, the story takes place in the present when a gang of ninjas steals a sacred sword. This ties into Bruce Wayne's (David Giuntoli) past, specifically the time when he was training to become Batman by learning martial arts from a man referred to only as O-Sensei (James Hong). Wayne wasn't the only student at this time, as he learned alongside fellow students Shiva (Kelly Hu), Richard Dragon (Mark Dacascos), Ben 'Bronze Tiger' Turner (Michael Jai White) Jade (Jamie Chung) and Rip Jagger (Chris Cox), that last character being a nice nod to Charlton Comics' Judomaster character.
Since those days have past, they've all gone their separate ways but the theft of that aforementioned sword sees the team put aside their differences and get the gang back together to stop the fiends who have it from using it to open a portal to another dimension and wreak all sorts of havoc for all sorts of people, not the least of which his poor old O-Sensai himself.
Batman: Soul Of The Dragon is okay, but never great. It has some nice action set pieces and there are a few fun nods that comic book fans will pick up on as well as a few other nods for fans of seventies martial arts films to geek out over (Michael Jai White is basically playing Ben Turner as Williams, Jim Kelly's character from 1973's Enter The Dragon, the writing makes this obvious!). The animation style is slick and nice to look at, the characters all ‘move' well and there's some very cool set and costume design work on display throughout the movie. You've got to appreciate the fact that the Batmobile in this movie is essentially a tricked out seventies muscle car! There are moments of effective humor present throughout Jeremy Adams' script as well, that help add to the fun.
That having been said, the first half of this Batman movie suffers from a pretty obvious lack of Batman. Yeah, it's interesting enough to see Bruce Wayne doing his training and getting to know some of the supporting characters and all that, but these scenes do tend to drag a bit and the film suffers from some pacing issues for this reason. The Caped Crusader himself gets only a minimal amount of screen time until the last third of the movie. At this point, Bruce suits up and gets down to business, but at that point things do start to feel a bit rushed. The ending, without wanting to spoil it, does leave plenty of room (too much room, some might say) for a sequel, and there's potential to deliver a follow up that could improve on some of the shortcomings noted above, but this one never quite reaches the heights that you hope it will.
There's still enough working in its favor to make it worth watching, however, even if it isn't a stone cold classic. The voice acting is strong across the board and James Hong steals pretty much every scene that he's involved with, adding some welcome humor to the proceedings without making it seem forced or corny. There's some impressive scope and noticeable ambition in a few of the action set pieces, a car chase scene with that muscle car Batmobile standing out as noteworthy, if maybe not so realistic. You could definitely do a whole lot worse than spend an hour and a half with this picture. Just don't go into it expecting a masterpiece.
Warner Brothers presents Batman: Soul Of The Dragon on UHD in an HEVC / H.265 transfer in 2160p framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. The HDR10 enabled disc looks very good even if there isn't a massive difference here between the 4k UHD disc and the included Blu-ray disc (which uses an AVC encoded 1080p transfer, also framed at 1.78.1). As you'd expect for a brand new animated feature there's not a trace of damage or dirt to find, the image is spotless. There are no noticeable compression artifacts on the UHD at all and some scenes really exhibit some excellent depth. Black levels are nice and colors are beautifully reproduced here (as you'd expect, this is the area where the UHD most obviously surpasses the Blu-ray disc), and this is in spite of the fact that large portions of the movie take place inside dreary looking Batcaves and exteriors at night. While this isn't a massive leap forward for UHD over Blu-ray, the 4k transfer does offer some noticeable improvements in the areas you'd expect it to.
Audio is handled by way of an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. A Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is also provided and subtitles are offered up in English SDH and French on the UHD and English SHD, French and Spanish on the included Blu-ray disc (which includes audio options identical to those found on the UHD disc). The lossless mix for the feature is very strong. There's plenty of immersive surround activity noticeable throughout the movie while the dialogue sounds clean and clear from start to finish. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and there's nice, strong bass noticeable throughout that provides some nice punch during the film's many action set pieces.
There are no extra features on the UHD disc at all, but the included Blu-ray disc does include some supplements, the first of which is the thirty-one-minute Batman: Raw Groove featurette that takes a look back at some of the pop culture phenomena of the seventies that made their way into the feature either directly or indirectly. It's an amusing and interesting piece that points out a lot of influences that you might miss the first time around. The eighteen-minute Far Out Highlights lets producer Jim Krieg talk about some of the feature's highlights while A Sneak Peek At The Next Animated DC Universe Movie: Justice Society World War II is an eight-minute preview of the upcoming feature with some cast and crew interviews cut in to add some context. The disc also includes an eleven-minute preview of Superman: Red Sun as well as a nine-minute preview of Batman: Gotham By Gaslight.
The Blu-ray disc also contains two episodes from the Batman: The Animated Series show that tie in, thematically at least, to the feature, they being Day Of The Samurai and Night Of The Ninja as well as trailers for Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons: The Movie, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War and Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge in addition to menus and chapter selection options.
In addition to the two discs in this set, this release also comes with an insert card for a digital HD download version of the movie and a nice foil slipcover.
Batman: Soul Of The Dragon really could have used more Batman. Either way, this is okay. Not amazing, just okay. The action scenes are done nicely and there are some neat ideas at play here. The voice acting is pretty strong, James Hong is always great, and the animation style is very nice to look at. Warner Brothers' UHD/Blu-ray combo release looks and sound quite nice and has some decent extras on it as well. It's just a shame that the feature itself wasn't a bit more gripping. Either way, fans of the animated Batman features will find something to appreciate here, even if it's unlikely to unseat some of the better entries at the top of the list. Recommended to those in that category, a worthwhile rental for the rest.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.