I was surprised by Dragonball Z: Resurrection F. I liked it. Wasn't expecting that. Why? What kind of "fan" would expect Dragonball Z to suck? Try this: What's your favorite food? Eat that every night for the next six months, no substitutes, and you might get an idea why my expectations were so low. More Dragonball means more Dragonball. There will be training, open-mouth choking noises that indicate intimidation, Goku being the last guy to arrive at the fight, lots of aerial combat, ki blasts, after-images, etc. And while I can appreciate those tropes, the one thing that never changes is the story--bad guy is strongest they've seen yet; Goku gets even stronger and gets a new hair color. Rinse. Repeat. So what made this movie different?
Dragonball movies (excluding Deadzone) have always followed a rule to use villains that are not part of the main storylines from the TV series. They created proxies of those villains, but they never brought the actual TV villains into a movie, until now. Bringing Freeza into a movie was a great move, especially for the devoted fanbase, because it's deviating from the usual pattern and reintroducing an old grudge match. Goku's original fight with Freeza was legendary. The rematch does not disappoint. While the Dragonball people are still serving up the same Dragonball plate, they've perfected it. The animation was superb, and the combat was enjoyable.
The writers even seem to be getting used to the characters now because they gave us more candid moments than we typically see in a Dragonball Z story. I particularly like Bills and Whis. In the original story, Goku and Vegeta were always underestimated, and even the gods were in awe of their might. But Bills and Whis are so powerful that Goku and Vegeta may never catch up to them. What's more, these characters are critiquing our beloved heroes, and it's refreshing. There's a scene in which Whis analyzes the weaknesses of both Vegeta and Goku (yes, Goku has a weakness -- a big one), and he even goes as far as to criticize them for being too proud to cooperate to defeat greater opponents, which is a criticism I've made in the past. He suggests that if they learned to work together, they might be able to overcome Bills. I was let down at the end of the movie when both Vegeta and Goku agreed that they'd "rather die than do that again."
All in all, not much is really different. Vegeta still has a big chip on his shoulder; Goku still uh-hyucks like a doofus, and they're both obsessed with training and getting stronger. I (perhaps foolishly) had higher hopes for this movie. I'd hoped that someone might learn a new technique or new fighting style that gave him the edge over the vaguely "stronger" opponent. I suppose all the characters have already mastered technique and fighting style so the only thing left to work on is getting stronger and faster. (Although it was pretty rad to see Goku give Freeza the one-inch punch.) I'd hoped Freeza might try to do something besides beat up Goku, like kidnap his family and hold them hostage, or uncover some ancient lore that revealed a saiyan weakness that no one knew about, like some fruit that takes away their fighting spirit or something. I just wanted Freeza to present Goku with a problem that he couldn't pummel with his fists. I'd hoped that the ki blasts would be refined in some way to make them distinct from one another, since there's not much difference between a Masenko and a Big Bang besides the name, color, and gesture made when it's shot. They both do the same thing. It's really just a glorified repulsor blast. I'd hoped that something would deviate from the normal pattern, but it didn't. Dragonball is stuck on an elevator that can only go up. Punch faster! Punch harder! Blast better! New hair color! Sigh. Still, the presentation was crisp and gorgeous, and the dialogue was snappy and fresh. It's still fun to watch, kind of like pro wrestling -- as long as you don't expect it to deviate from the typical formula, you'll like it.