Boruto: Naruto the Movie, is the first film to focus on a new set of characters within the Naruto universe. The lead character this time is Boruto, the son of Naruto. He and his friends are on the verge of taking the Chunin Exam. Boruto has come to resent his father for neglecting him and his family due to his duties as the Seventh Hokage. He makes it his goal to beat his father someday, and he decides to take some shortcuts towards getting stronger. He secretly acquires a ninja tool that allows him to use powers that are beyond his ability. Meanwhile, an evil force is making its way to Hidden Leaf Village, with the goal of taking Naruto’s chakra away from him.
It is the last part of that synopsis that is most troublesome with this movie. There is, of course, a formula to these films. Almost every one of them has the characters facing off against some world-ending threat. And this is fine if the story really calls for it. But this is a movie about a young ninja and his relationship with his father. There is a very clear arc in here, and having a super powerful bad guy show up in the middle of all of it doesn’t feel like the most natural fit. It’s an understandable choice, given what people want out of these movies, but the filmmakers could have tried a little harder to make those elements mesh together.
The villain of this film pretty much comes out of nowhere. He seems to be connected to the villain of the previous film, and his powers are all things we’ve seen before. He isn’t so much a villain as he is a plot device, just a random collection of villainous clichés meant to facilitate the dramatic arcs of the characters. He just isn’t very interesting as a character himself. The film is forced to squeeze in some backstory and some mumbo jumbo about the chakra fruit or whatever, before making an awkward, naked bid for thematic resonance in the personal struggle of Boruto. It doesn’t exactly work.
Without him, of course, there wouldn’t be the big action set pieces that a movie like this demands. But it might have been more interesting to keep this movie working on a smaller scale. For all the flash that the action brings, it isn’t really anything we haven’t seen before. Much more intriguing are the interpersonal relationships. The film has something in how Naruto turned out as a parent, his responsibilities as Hokage turning him into a neglectful father, effectively making his son as lonely as he was when he was a kid. A more modest crisis might have given this movie the space to explore that idea.
Given all that, it’s hard to fully dismiss what the action brings. This is a pretty well animated film, though you can see the seams in certain portions. You can see where the animators cut corners sometimes, choosing convenience over clarity of movement. There is a big sequence in here that is just a succession of still frames, which really does feel like cheating. The voice cast is pretty good. The new characters quickly establish really distinct personalities. Boruto isn’t his father, and that’s a really good thing if this series is to move forward.
It’s easy to see why Boruto: Naruto the Movie wouldn’t want to stray from the formula. Fans have certain expectations, and it is reasonable for this film to try to meet those expectations. Still, it’s kind of disappointing that the movie just throws a random villain at the character. There is actually an interesting story in here that is completely separate from what the big bad guy represents. And it appears that the people behind the movie have the tools to pull it off. But it is never the choice that they’re going to make.