Lupin III: Dragon of Doom

With American releases of a vast array of Lupin III titles, it can be hard to know where to start. The title thief and his friends have been around for over 30 years, and the variety and scope of their adventures range from broad comedy to serious spy thrillers. Lupin III: Dragon Of Doom is a 1994 adventure that boasts some crisp, clean animation and a solid plot. However, for every other purpose, this is definitely lesser Lupin.

As it begins, swordsman Goemon is watching a four-hour theatrical presentation about the history of his family when everything breaks loose with a bunch of mercenary samurai. He soon is off in pursuit of a family scroll that's been in his lineage for years. Meanwhile, in his absence, Lupin and his gunslinger friend Jigen go off in search of a legendary Dragon statue that sunk with the Titanic many years ago. Mafia kingpin Chin Chin gives the boys some clues about it, but they soon find themselves on his bad side. Eventually, we learn that Goemon's scroll and the Dragon of Doom have a shared past, and he must protect both at all costs...even if it costs him his best friends in the process.

Dragon Of Doom is an enjoyable film to simply take in, filled with rich colors and excellent action sequences which are remarkably animated. From that perspective, I can give it some high marks. Also, the plot isn't complex, but it's appropriate for the story. It doesn't bog down like some of the Lupin stories have a tendency to do; it's simple and clean.

However, Dragon failed to really capture my imagination or fancy for a few reasons. Although the plot is dependable, it adds nothing new. With a minor twist or two, it comes off very much like an average Bond movie (the franchise that in many ways the whole of Lupin is comparable to). Predictability can be deadening.

This ties into the second problem: the comedy in Dragon Of Doom lapses into the absurd. Characters are able to pull off the impossible with not even a scratch in several spots throughout the picture. I can appreciate the concept of stunts, where the seemingly ridiculous is somehow accomplished. But in Dragon Of Doom, a superglue bomb instantly sticks fleets of ships together. Lupin is able to personally decompress his body at 2000 feet underwater. Goemon can apparently fly. Our heroes escape not by their wits but by deus ex machinas that are too ridiculous to take seriously. In my case, they spoiled a lot of the fun.

Lupin III: Dragon Of Doom is not a terrible film, but certainly a lesser one in the canon. When this film started, I had high hopes that Goemon would be the main character as he was in Plot of the Fuma Clan, arguably the best Lupin film ever made. But that sunk quickly under the weight of the goofiness of the happenings and the inevitable sameness of the story. I'm really hoping that someday we'll see another Lupin story as good as Fuma or Cagliostro, but I'm convinced the best days of the master thief may be behind us.

Lupin III: Dragon of Doom -- violence, brief nudity -- B-