Batman: Soul of the Dragon – 4K UHD Blu-ray Review
Film Title: Batman: Soul of the Dragon (2021)
Release Date: 2021
Runtime: 83 minutes
Region Coding: Region Free
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
High Dynamic Range: HDR10
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Version Reviewed: 4K UHD Blu-ray
Release Date: 1/26/21
Director: Sam Liu
Voice Cast: David Giuntoli, Mark Dacascos, Kelly Hu, Michael Jai White, James Hong, Josh Keaton, Robin Atkin Downes, Grey Griffin, Patrick Seitz, Erica Luttrell, Chris Cox, Jamie Chung
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Full 4K Tech Specs found at the bottom
“Batman: Soul of the Dragon” is a 2021 animated DC Universe Movie that was directed by Sam Liu. Liu is best known for also directing or co-directing a lot of other animated DC Universe Movies such as “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies” (2009), “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths” (2010), “All-Star Superman” (2011), “Batman: Year One” (2011), “Batman: The Killing Joke” (2016), “Batman and Harley Quinn” (2017), “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight” (2018), “The Death of Superman” (2018), “Justice League vs The Fatal Five” (2019), “Reign of the Supermen” (2019), “The Death and Return of Superman” (2019), “Wonder Woman: Bloodlines” (2019), and “Superman: Red Son” (2020). That’s a total of five Batman films he has directed or co-directed in the past few decades as animated DC Universe Movies, and this makes the sixth.
The screenplay for this film, Batman: Soul of the Dragon, was written by Jeremy Adams. Adams has mostly worked as a writer on TV shows or TV specials like “Supernatural” (2005-2020), “Green Lantern: The Animated Series” (2011-2013), “Hot Wheels City” (2018), “Lego Jurassic World: The Secret Exhibit” (2018), and “Monkie Kid” (2020). Jeremy Adams has also served as the screenwriter or co-screenwriter on the following DC animated films “LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: The Flash” (2018), “LEGO DC Batman: Family Matters” (2019), “Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans” (2019), “LEGO DC: Shazam – Magic & Monsters” (2020), and “Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge” (2020).
The story for the film, an “Elseworlds” adventure, here is set in the 1970s. The main characters here are “Bruce Wayne” / “Batman” (David Giuntoli) and his old friend, a part-time master thief & martial artist, “Richard Dragon” (Mark Dacascos). Bruce and Richard, we learn, trained martial arts under the same master, “O-Sensei” (James Hong). Training with them were a group of other martial artists that namely included “Lady Shiva” (Kelly Hu) and “Ben Turner” / “Bronze Tiger” (Michael Jai White). When their master (O-Sensei) goes missing the former martial arts students will reunite and battle against a cult, obsessed with snakes, known as “Kobra” that is being led by a man named “Jeffrey Burr” (Josh Keaton). This cult knows martial arts as well and Burr has many people under his command, including a strange man named “Schlangenfaust” (Robin Atkin Downes). Burr keeps two of his most talented martial artists keeping guard of things with “Lady Eve” (Grey Griffin) and “King Snake” (Patrick Seitz).
This is a unique Batman film, where the character isn’t the entire focus of attention throughout the story and we don’t get to see him in his costume but on a few occasions. As mentioned, this is also an “Elseworlds” adventure and takes place out of the DC Universe. The character of “Richard Dragon” first originated in a 1974 novel and was created by Dennis O’Neil (writer) and James R. Berry (artist). The two characters of “Lady Shiva” and “Bronze Tiger” (aka “Ben Turner”) both first premiered in 1975 (in a “Richard Dragon” comic) and both were also created by O’Neil and Berry. The ethnicity of the Richard Dragon character has been changed to Asian for this film to resemble Bruce Lee and some may like or dislike that. Personally, I think it works for what this film is trying to do as a tribute to the seventies-era of martial arts action films.
Movie Rating: 4 (out of 5)
“Batman: Soul of the Dragon” on 4K UHD Blu-ray is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. So, let me get technical first for a bit here. This is on a BD-66 disc using 32.82 gigabytes total and 31.8 gigabytes for the film itself on the 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc.
Yes, this is literally using less space on the 4K disc than most modern Blu-ray Disc releases use. In fact, on the included Blu-ray version of this movie (which also includes all of the bonus materials), it is only using 22.74 gigabytes total and 11.1 gigabytes for the HD version of the film itself. How bizarre is that? Well, it’s not at all too uncommon for these particular series of animated films, actually. Looking at them, all of the modern Warner animated films, especially the DC Universe Movies, have factually always (dating back to the first Blu-ray releases) used lower disc space than other animated films. Now, unsurprisingly enough, they still use a low amount of disc space for their 4K UHD Blu-ray releases of these animated movies. They even use a lower bitrate than most other animated films do, in 4K, here in HEVC codec.
Don’t let that smaller disc use or file size for the film on this 4K scare you though, as the animation style just translates down to being below what most hand-drawn or CG animation contains in terms of visual data and that’s why you really get the smaller file sizes for these films. The art style is a simplified digital style of hand-drawn animation blended with occasional CG 3D animated objects like cars. It’s mostly simple textures and basic backgrounds and not really as much complex as some other forms of animated feature-length films. I mean that as no slight to the DC Universe movies either. It’s just how I see them and how the data comes back to basically justify my explanation above being as to why.
In regards to the DC Universe movies, I have really always loved the way this animation looks and how it uses, digitally, hand-drawn elements and pretty simplified bright colors, dark black outlines, and the occasional 3D via CG. This animation type translates over into some beautiful 4K material, especially with the addition of HDR, but I cannot help but think that perhaps these films are only being rendered in 2K and then perhaps are just up conversions? That being said, I chose to look at some comparisons of the Blu-ray version versus the 4K version via screenshots. Looking closely, I found that there was a huge amount of detail left behind resolution limitations and that leads me to believe that perhaps these films are now being rendered at true 4K resolution.
The animation style here in 4K looks awesome, there is no denying that. The black level is perfectly solid thanks to the addition of HDR (here on the disc via HDR10) and that helps to make the style of black outlines, as mentioned, look very sharp and stand out more than they do in HD (on Blu-ray). The shading, lighting, and textures all look much more exciting in 4K and the very same can be said for the colors, again many thanks to the addition of HDR. All and all, this 4K UHD Blu-ray release earns itself an impressive 4.5 rating for video quality.
Video Quality Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
“Batman: Soul of the Dragon” on 4K UHD Blu-ray is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround sound. This is the exact same audio mix that is found on the Blu-ray Disc release of the film.
This mix is very impressive from the very start with a great amount of rear channel use for the music and sound effects, as well as the music. The dialogue is delivered spot-on from the center channel speaker and there will be no need here for any volume adjustment. The primary amount of the sound effects, music, and such get driven from the front left and right channel speakers. There’s a nice amount of LFE from the sound effects and music combined here and you’ll be feeling it via the subwoofer a good amount of the film. For an animated film, this manages to deliver one very large sounding 5.1 lossless surround mix that does the film absolute justice.
It is the subtle little things like the sound effects of birds and such in the rear channels during some quieter scenes that really give this mix an authentic feel. When the big action sequences come there’s a whole hell of a lot of oomph to be felt, literally. The sound effects you’ll hear in the rear channels get a whole lot more intense than just birds as things progress, especially during a scene involving a martial arts fight that comes not long after. Then, around 38 minutes in you’ll hear an excellent representation of a helicopter overhead and that’s sure to leave you impressed. The use of a sword sounds really cool here, as well, and can get pretty intense at times. The basic hand-to-hand combat, via punches (mostly), is really impressive and proves to be one of the true highlights of the sound mix.
Personally, I don’t think this necessarily could have benefited too heavily from an object-based format like Dolby Atmos. There’s only so far that I expect an animated film to go and very few manage to really make the best use of that type of sound configuration. Whereas, using a lossless 5.1 mix can sometimes prove that configuration to just as well be able to deliver an excellent sound presentation. However, once Warner Animation and DC feel they’ve got a film that merits a Dolby Atmos mix I am all for them using the format. Until then, this manages to do the film total justice in just a 5.1 configuration. This is damn fun and at times ab intense 5.1 sound mix. Did I mention that? The music really sets the vibe of the seventies nicely all throughout and is represented well in the surround sound mix.
It’s a really fun and fitting mix that’s intense at times and is definitely all the more ways to help get you into this film. That said, this earns itself an impressive 4.5 rating for audio quality. I’m glad to see these DC Universe movies like this getting pretty powerful sound mixes.
Audio Quality Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
The bonus materials for this release include:
- A Digital Copy of the film in 4K compatible with Movies Anywhere is included. This will redeem on a large variety of streaming platforms such as iTunes (AppleTV), Vudu, FandangoNow, and Google – to name just a few. On services iTunes and Vudu you’ll get the film in 4K with the Dolby Vision form of HDR (high dynamic range) that you do not get here on the physical release.
- A Blu-ray Disc of the film is included which is presented in the very same 1.78:1 aspect ratio with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound. On this Blu-ray is where you’ll actually find all of the extras for the release and not on that 4K disc. It seems odd to me that the bonus materials are only on this Blu-ray disc, and not on the 4K UHD Blu-ray, despite the fact there was easily enough room, as I mentioned the disc usage further above (in the video quality section of this review).
The Blu-ray Disc features bonus materials, as mentioned, that are all presented in HD video quality with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound – unless otherwise noted below.
- “Batman: Raw Groove” (30 minutes, 30 seconds – HD) features a look back at the history of the 1970s and the counter culture such as TV shows and films like “Dirty Harry” (1971), “Billy Jack” (1971), “Superfly” (1972), and “Kung Fu” (1972) TV series. This includes lots of old news footage as well as clips from films in between interviews with folks like Bruce Timm (executive producer), Dr. Michaela Crawford Reaves (professor, History at Cal Lutheran), Michael Matsuda (president, Martial Arts History Museum), John Kreng (producer, director & writer, “Ninjas, Nunchucks & Shaolin Monks”), Timothy Dirks (senior historian & editor/manager, Filmsite), and Jeremy Adams (screenwriter). Lastly, oddly enough this serves as a bit of a love letter to filmmaker John Carpenter with lots of references to his films and even him specifically.
- “Producer Jim Krieg’s Far-Out Highlights” (18 minutes, 3 seconds – HD) features a lot of personal back story of how this film came to be from Krieg’s love for the 1970s which means that he helped inspire Bruce Timm to make this a reality. There are tons of early storyboards shown here all throughout as well as some glimpses of the finished scenes from the film itself. You also will be treated, and I do mean treated, to one classy interview (in costume, as always) with Jim Krieg (producer), Bruce Timm (executive producer), Sam Liu (director/producer), Jeremy Adams (screenwriter), Wes Gleason (voice director), David Giuntoli (“Bruce Wayne”/“Batman”), Mark Dacascos (“Richard Dragon”), James Hong (“O-Sensei”), Michael Jai White (“Bronze Dragon”), and Kelly Hu (“Lady Shiva”). This serves up as basically the real “making of” featurette for the film itself, whereas the aforementioned featurette is more focused on the 1970s era itself and its historical significance as to how it played a huge inspiration in the film.
- A Sneak Peek at the Next Animated DC Universe Movie, “Justice Society: World War II” (8 minutes, 7 seconds – HD) features some clips from the film, storyboards, and interviews with Jim Krieg (producer), Liam McIntryre (“Aquaman”), Matt Boomer (“Flash”), Jeremy Adams (co-writer), Geoffrey Arend (“Advisor”), Meghan Fitzmartin (co-writer), Chris Diamantopoulos (“Steve Trevor”), Stana Katic (“Wonder Woman”), Omid Abtahi (“Hawkman”), and Matthew Mercer (“Hourman”).
- A Preview of “Superman: Red Son” (11 minutes, 21 minutes – HD) features clips from the film, storyboards, glimpses at the original comic, along with interviews from Bruce Timm (producer), Ames Kirshen (vice president, interactive and animation at DC Entertainment), Wes Gleason (voice director), Jim Krieg (producer), Diedrich Bader (“Lex Luthor”), Amy Acker (“Lois Lane”), Jason Isaacs (“Superman”), Paul Williams (“Brainiac”), and Sasha Roiz (“Hal Jordon”). You’ll even get a short glimpse here at some of the voice recording sessions for actors Jason Isaacs, Diedrich Bader, Paul Williams, and Sasha Roiz.
- A Preview of “Batman: Gotham By Gaslight” (8 minutes, 30 seconds – HD) features clips from the films along with interviews from Bruce Timm (executive producer), Mike Carlin (creative director, animation at DC Entertainment), and James Krieg (writer).
- Two bonus cartoons:
- “From the DC Vaults, Batman: The Animated Series – Day of the Samurai” (22 minutes, 19 seconds – HD)
- “From the DC Vaults, Batman: The Animated Series – Night of the Ninja“ (22 minutes, 21 seconds – HD)
- Trailers (5 minutes, 42 seconds – HD) features Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound on two out of three of the trailers it includes for the films “Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons” (2020), “Justice League Dark: Apokolips War” (2020), and “Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge” (2020).
The bonus materials here are solid and give you a nice glimpse into the making of this film as well as offer up some bonus cartoons, a new preview of an upcoming animated DC Universe Movie, and also two other previous ones. All of these extras total up to just a bit over two hours in length. Plus, there’s the digital copy of the film in 4K with Dolby Vision included which is nice to see, considering that form of HDR (high dynamic range) is not included here physically on the release.
Bonus Materials Rating: 4 (out of 5)
“Batman: Soul of the Dragon” is a new DC universe movie that takes “Batman” and puts the character at the front of the title but also puts him in the backseat of the vessel that is a film. Still, with that being said, it still manages to prove to be a good film. Sure, it is flawed and feels to put the character of “Richard Dragon” as well as the others way ahead of “Bruce Wayne” and Batman.
Looking at IMDb user reviews, I’ve seen a lot of complaints about that very same thing. I can see why, but as most of us realized the film does manage to be fun with all of the seventies martial arts and a slight spy movie type of theme. The Richard Dragon character, regardless of it being a fictional creation in the DC comics universe, is obviously inspired by Bruce Lee in films like “Enter the Dragon” (1973).
Honestly, this is a cool film but it will leave you wanting to see a Richard Dragon stand-alone DC universe movie with an origin story in the future. The character really kicks some ass, literally, making nice use of the R-rating, and the thin plotline is forgivable here as it makes up for it with its impressive share of mostly hand-to-hand martial arts combat for action. I truly wanted this film to be much better than it was, and that’s not to say that it was any disappointment, because it is actually a good film. I just feel it could have been a tad bit better and maybe include Batman a bit more since it used his name in the title. Do not get me wrong, it is a film that is equally including Bruce Wayne mostly (out of costume) but he does eventually put on the seventies-era Batman outfit for the final big fight. So, there is that. It just felt odd with Bruce Wayne/Batman having such a small role in this and, looking at the internet reactions so far, I’m not the only one who felt this way.
It is still good popcorn fun action or what you’d expect from a decent comic book. The fact this is yet another animated Batman film to receive an R-rating doesn’t really mean as much as you’d think considering the character isn’t the one doing most of the things that merit this rating — as you will later see. However, it is nice to see Warner animation be able to get an R-rating release of yet another one of their animated films. Perhaps in the future, we could see darker DC animated features as well as more from the now-defunct imprint Vertigo. Darker stories could be told with R-rated animated features based on comics or graphic novels owned by DC is my real point here, and this film attempts to do that but just falls a tad bit short in terms of its story. That’s not to say the action and slight plot didn’t make for some nice action that we wouldn’t have seen in a PG-13 animated feature-length film.
In terms of video quality, this delivers a nice 4K presentation that feels to certainly be an improvement over the Blu-ray Disc (HD) counterpart, especially with the addition of High Dynamic Range (here in the HDR10 form). In terms of audio quality, you get a lossless 5.1 surround sound mix that does this animated feature justice and comes with some pretty intense action at times. It’s a 5.1 mix that will leave you satisfied.
The bonus materials on this 4K UHD Blu-ray release are actually all on the included Blu-ray Disc. There you’ll get over 2 hours of extras, including a good amount about the making of this specific film, a preview at an upcoming animated DC Universe Movie, as well as previews of two already out and trailers for some as well. It’s a solid set of bonus materials and is well-rounded out by including a 4K digital copy that comes with the Dolby Vision form of HDR, not found on this physical release.
Overall, “Batman: The Soul of the Dragon” proves to be a 4K UHD Blu-ray release that comes with both impressive video and audio presentations. I have to recommend it first on that basis, and then the film itself is fun and I consider it good so that’s another reason I’d give it a recommendation. I know that Batman fans will likely be upset, as I mentioned, that he takes a backseat in a film where he’s in the title, but perhaps some can look past that and just enjoy it for what it is: a tribute to the days of seventies-era Batman thrown in with the original fictional characters of Richard Dragon and others that are a tribute to martial arts movie stars of that era such as Bruce Lee.
In terms of 4K UHD Blu-ray release, this gets:
4.5 (out of 5) for video quality
4.5 (out of 5) for audio quality
4 (out of 5) for bonus materials
2021 4K UHD Blu-ray Release