It’s been one year since Dragon Ball Super: Broly hit theaters stateside. By all accounts, it should have been a disaster. A tired retread of one of Dragon Ball Z’s most prolific and infamous movie villains set after the hit or miss Dragon Ball Super had no business being as good as it was. It took risks, added new and interesting characters into the Dragon Ball world, and even managed to make us care and root for Broly of all people. One of the most daring things Dragon Ball Super: Broly goes for isn’t the most obvious story beat thrown in your face. It’s a film about fathers and how these fathers take care of their sons. Many of these fathers simply see their sons as a continuation of their legacy or an instrument for their revenge. One does not.
The film opens with King Cold letting the Saiyans know that his young boy, Frieza, is now in charge, and doesn’t share his taste for mercy or forgiveness. Stylishly offing a few Saiyan snipers, Frieza makes it abundantly clear how the pecking order is in this part of the galaxy. This pecking order does not sit well with King Vegeta, who has faith that one day, his own son will be the one who puts down Frieza for good (his grandson does it – close enough, I’d say). These intertwined story beats aren’t the center of Dragon Ball Super: Broly’s first act, but it does set up the incredible hubris that the likes of King Cold and King Vegeta carry. It’s all about legacy and dynasty with these two.
The film then cuts to Bardock, the father of Goku, who, along with all the other Saiyans, is being ordered to return to Planet Vegeta for some sort of announcement from Lord Frieza himself. Bardock isn’t a typical Saiyan. He’s a cynical, bitter wardog, sure, but that’s most Saiyans to a tee. His mind is full of doubt during his trek home, and he knows Frieza’s up to something when his men are asking about the Super Saiyan – a “children’s fairy tale” to most Saiyans, but a dire warning to the likes of Frieza. We’re then introduced to Bardock’s family life. His oldest son, Raditz is out conquering worlds with Prince Vegeta’s crew – a big deal for someone of his “class”.
While Raditz may be doing well for himself, Kakarot is still tucked away in the back of the house in his nursing pod, unable to survive on his own or even speak yet. Bardock tells Gine that they’re going to send his son off-world, and that they don’t have a lot of time to argue. While a lot of this part of the story in particular reeks of Superman’s origin story, it’s still presented in an absolutely gripping and harrowing way. Bardock knows there’s no dynasty, that his move is the only way to keep Kakarot safe. His send-off is full of emotional bite, which hits twice as hard when you realize that Goku will never know who they are. We know he bumps his head and loses all traces of who or what he is, and grows into the lovable doofus he is today. The inevitable happens, and Frieza swiftly makes his move. Bardock doesn’t get a loving send-off, or a last-second rescue. He’s actually the first Saiyan to die in Frieza’s iconic attack, with his only solace knowing that at least he’s given his meek, lowly son a place to call home.
Paragus is the moral opposite of Bardock. He’s an abuser in every sense of the word, and while a lot of Saiyans have probably done a lot worse things, it still paints him in a deservedly horrible light. Broly, quite simply, is an abuse victim, whose natural talents for power and adaptation are twisted and used by his father on a quest for revenge. Broly is soft-spoken and kind-hearted, something seldom found among Saiyans. Broly’s abuse is brought to the forefront when Paragus literally spells out to Frieza that they aren’t in any danger of Broly falling out of line because of the electrical collar around his neck. The visual cues that accompany Paragus simply holding the remote up are downright vicious, as you see the fear it puts in Broly, and subsequently Cheelai and Lemo, Broly’s rescuers. You might be thinking, well, this guy can blow up planets with ease, why can’t he deal with a small collar? Broly’s entire life has been dictated by his father to a meticulous degree. He wouldn’t disobey his father even if he wanted to. This life with Paragus is all he knows, and when you think something is “normal”, even when it’s very clearly abnormal, the mind can rationalize a lot of harsh circumstances.
Cheelai and Lemo, the two Frieza Force members who found Broly and Paragus, quickly form a kinship with Broly, who’s happy just to have some fresh water and rations to stuff his face with. There’s a very clear Tarzan and Jane dynamic going on between Broly and Cheelai, and while Cheelai is not spared from the occasional cheese-shot, it’s played completely platonically and in earnest. It’s during this time Broly talks about why he wears a stinky, old pelt around his waist. This pelt is the severed ear of an animal friend Broly made on his vile home, Planet Vampa. Paragus wasn’t too keen on fun and games, and considered Ba a distraction, so he shot Ba’s ear off and Ba was never seen from again.
This delicate relationship Broly maintains with his father comes to ahead in the film’s climax. Broly had already been keeping up with Vegeta and Goku, but Frieza wanted to push Broly to the next level. Evoking his own brutality from years prior that would see Goku becoming a Super Saiyan, Frieza offs Paragus and makes it look like it was Broly’s careless fight that caused it. It’s played for dark laughs as we see the mad emperor truly embrace his Joker status, but with the entire emotional backdrop of the film crashing down on Broly, we know where this leads.
Fueled by sorrow, self-loathing, and rage, Broly puts the fear of god into the Super Saiyan Gods and gives even the likes of Frieza a Super Saiyan beatdown. The emotional complexity starts to crumble as Broly keeps on fighting, trading all that turmoil for a visually stunning spectacle, but the seeds were still sowed all the same. These four sons are now, by far, the most powerful mortals in the universe.