I mainly wanted to focus on Beerus's motivation decay over the course of the franchise, but I seemed to fall down a bottomless rabbit hole that has lead to this thread being far, far too long for a TL;DR to accurately cover, hence why I've just decided to call it "The Beerus Thread".
It's almost easy to forget that in his debut movie/arc, his primary motivation for coming to Earth was to find a worthy rival in the form of the Super Saiyan God after receiving a clairvoyant vision in a dream. After some dithering with the Dragon Balls to find whether or not this legend even existed, Beerus finally met his match in Goku, who achieved the legendary form with the help of his friends. Except... not really. While Super Saiyan God Goku gave Beerus an entertaining scrap, it's established towards the end of their duel that in reality, Beerus had still been holding back most of his power. Goku was nowhere near close to truly challenging him.
While you would think that Beerus would still be hankering for more worthy challengers, especially with the wellspring of mighty warriors who subsequently pop up throughout the Super era, this aspect of his characterisation has all but vanished, among others. Let's analyse what exactly happened.
Battle of Gods
First off, let's analyse Beerus's initial characterisation in Battle of Gods. His character is established excellently throughout the film, but several aspects of his persona have either been forgotten, ignored or "Flanderised" in later material.
Part of what made Beerus so refreshing was the fact that he wasn't a one-dimensional Dragon Ball Z supervillain by any means. In fact, he's downright pleasant for most of the film -- pompous, entitled and ill-tempered when provoked, granted, but his lighthearted quirks and overall chill demeanour counterbalance his foreboding moniker as the God of Destruction, making him an unlikely perfect fit for the established cast. While many Dragon Ball villains eventually reform, few could be imagined dancing merrily alongside the Dragon Team at a birthday party in their debut appearances. While he threatens to destroy Earth for the pettiest of slights, he has a worldly, erudite wisdom and curiosity that gives way to his growing compassion for Earth, inspiring him to spare it in the end. While he may be an unrepentant destroyer, he destroys not out of any particular malice, but out of a divine imperative to maintain cosmic balance. "Before creation must come destruction." In true godly fashion, he's inscrutable to the heroes' simplistic moral binaries, a genuine neutral player.
In Battle of Gods, Beerus has many traits that reflect typical Dragon Ball hero sensibilities, making him a foil to Goku and the others. Like them, he has a great love for food (though with slightly more haute cuisine tastes), he enjoys good company, has a selfish, irresponsible streak, but above all, he has a healthy appetite for martial competition. Beerus, unlike many previous gods, is a fighter through and through, and has grown bored from a lack of challenge in life, causing him to travel halfway across the universe just for a small glimmer of hope that he can finally get one.
If we consider the premise that Battle of Gods was intended to be a one-off celebration of the franchise, which by all accounts it seemed to be, Beerus can be seen as an effective post-final boss after Majin Buu, slotting neatly in the timeframe between Kid Buu's defeat and the distant finale at the 28th Tenkaichi Budokai. The tone of the film is very fitting. Beerus represents a larger-than-ever threat but he's never shown destroying anything or seriously harming, let alone killing, anyone. He reminds Goku of Kame-Sen'nin's first lesson: there will always be somebody stronger out there, by revealing the sheer scale of power difference not just between a Hakaishin and a Super Saiyan God, but between Goku and the entire multiverse of other gods, angels and powerful mortals that must be out there. Before Beerus and Whis take their leave, Bulma invites them to their next party, but after arriving back on his planet, Beerus appears to go back to bed for three years, indicating that his role has ended for the time being.
Resurrection 'F'; or, How I Learned to Stop Fighting and Love the Dessert
However, the runaway success of Battle of Gods wasn't exactly impossible to predict considering the franchise's pedigree as a pop cultural milestone and, naturally, the show must go on. But what would become of Beerus?
What transpired past Battle of Gods for Beerus's character and role in the ongoing narrative has already been talked to death, but to summarise, Beerus's very presence poses quite a large problem for retaining a sense of stakes and tension, as his enormous power would allow him to dismantle almost any threat Goku and Vegeta face with minimal effort. This could first be felt in Resurrection 'F', where Beerus and Whis return to Earth during Goku and Vegeta's rematch against Freeza.
This is where we get to a sumptuous strawberry-flavoured elephant in the room, Beerus's obsession with Earth cuisine. What started as just one of many personality traits ascribed to Beerus quickly became the focal point of his entire character. His love for food is used as the token excuse as to why he doesn't get involved with the film's climactic showdown as Bulma presents him an enormous sundae to lure him back to Earth. He, or more pertinently Whis (more on that later), is kept around on the sidelines as a convenient plot device to give Goku and Vegeta a timey-wimey "do-over" when they inevitably screw up. While the film already struggled to build tension effectively to begin with, as we had to suspend our disbelief that Freeza of all people could truly pose a threat to two Super Saiyan Gods, Beerus and Whis's presence killed any trace of it dead. In the meantime, Beerus and Whis stand around making unfunny observations at how amazing Bulma's strawberry sundae is. It does look pretty damn tasty, to be fair.
While this isn't exactly inconsistent with Beerus's prior portrayal, it is rather questionable that he's suddenly utterly disinterested in engaging with the action going on right in front of him. Earlier in the film, he treats Goku and Vegeta's training under Whis as a mild irritation to his beauty sleep, and seems a little threatened by the prospect that they may be trying to overthrow him as God of Destruction. While it stands to reason that he probably witness them achieve the form during their training, Goku and Vegeta showcasing a brand new transformation orders of magnitude stronger than Super Saiyan God doesn't spark any interest, nor does the revelation that Freeza has somehow reached a comparable level without any godly supervision. To paraphrase a legendary quote from one of my favourite video games ever, Disco Elysium: "The fuck does Beerus care?" *Beerus doesn't care*
There's no point in sugarcoating it (there's some irony there), Beerus is a joke in this movie. This isn't inherently bad or anything, though I will argue that the limited material overstays its welcome already, but that's how it is.
This set a precedent for how Beerus would be characterised throughout most of Super, to his own detriment. I will admit, I do enjoy some of Beerus and Whis's "food moments" -- like a good cookery show, they help to get the stomach rumbling. However, both as a joke and a device to keep Beerus out of the action, it's been done to death.
Dragon Ball Super: The Dark Side... and the Light
Let's reverse gear for a moment and bring it back to the first two arcs of Super which adapted the two Toriyama-penned Z movies. Both Toei's anime and Toyotaro's manga give a jarringly different establishing moment for Beerus compared to Battle of Gods -- instead of a funny scene of him being awoken by his alarm bombs, we're introduced to him sampling some food from a random planet before casually destroying half of it with a mere tap of his finger, simply because the alien palate isn't quite to his taste.
Arguably, this was a side to Beerus that should've been established in his debut movie. Beerus's status as the destroyer of worlds is mostly an informed atribute in the films when you look at it, though his sheer strength which allows him to flick away a Super Saiyan 3 backs up his fearsome reputation. Seeing as it's present in both versions of Super, it may have been a scene Toriyama left on the cutting room floor that he always intended to show. Who can say?
The anime presses the more malevolent angle harder than either the film or the manga. Aside from the planet-destroying scene and some extra relevant details, the manga is for the most part a faithful, hassle-free recap of the Battle of Gods movie (though with some notable twists that directly foreshadow later events). Anime Beerus, in contrast, is a prick. He comes across as much more sadistic, petty and unhinged than we've ever known him up to this point. As widely detested as the movie-adapted arcs may be, a part of me appreciates this notably different angle as we truly see the murkier side to destroyer work and Beerus's personality flaws, though it does seriously detract from Beerus's likeable qualities that made him a fan favourite in the first place. There did seem to be a somewhat noble intention here, though. Rather than a fully-formed Beerus right out the gate, this Beerus will have a slower arc of character development over the course of Dragon Ball Super. His initial motivation for coming to Earth is the same, but this Beerus is established as more violent, unruly and unpredictable. Beerus's more malignant personality means that he'll have more opportunities to believably dip out of the action out of sheer pettiness and spite, possibly creating more interesting conflict with the heroes, while also participating in conflicts that interest him...
...At least, in theory.
In reality, Beerus doesn't really have a clear arc in Super. He starts off as a giant asshole, then he just kinda morphs back into his lazy, harmless movie self, doing the same old gags and leaving the action with unsatisfactory explanations. In the Future Trunks arc, he abstains from the action mainly out of disapproval of all the time travel shenanigans. While he memorably steps in to Hakai Present Zamasu during his investigation, he flatly refuses to travel to the alternate future timeline to confront Goku Black directly, citing that he is forbidden from doing so as a Hakaishin. This doesn't stop Gowasu and Shin from travelling to said alternate timeline later, though. Funny, that.
Later non-tournament adventures such as Dragon Ball Super: Broly and the recently concluded Galactic Patrol Prisoner arc have cursorily involved Beerus, only to once again have him skimp out on any action without clear explanation, reducing him to a glorified cameo role. In Super: Broly, he stays behind at Bulma's place to babysit Bra out of sheer laziness, not even a token food gag. He just flat-out can't be bothered, even though Broly represents a greater rival than a Super Saiyan God ever could. When Moro's gang of convicts rampage across the galaxy, Beerus literally sits there fishing in a pond, bristling at the suggestion that he should intervene and justifying that Moro has done him a favour by destroying on his behalf. When he finally arrives on Earth, he decides to once again sit back to witness Goku's growth, which is fair enough, but he doesn't acknowledge Moro at all. Only after Moro pulls a 180 on the situation by merging with the Earth itself does Beerus finally consider acting, though not before he is suddenly summoned back to Zeno's Palace, at which point he yeets himself outta there.
That said, there are outlying examples of Beerus taking action in both the anime and manga. In a filler anime episode, he has a slapstick rematch against Goku while disguised as Monaka, and Whis even states that Beerus has been eagerly awaiting the chance to fight after Champa's tournament, though this is never brought up again. In another, he is summoned to Earth by Bulma as a last resort to defeat an amok Arale Norimaki, and demonstrates the unbelievable extent of his power by destroying the ghost of Dr. Masahirito, confirming that even the dead are not safe.
Toyotaro has consistently done more to keep Beerus in the loop, however. Beerus has a memorable rematch against Vegeta after the Future Trunks arc, in which he proves to still be leagues above the Saiyans even with their fancy god power ups. When Vegeta scores a good hit on him, Beerus utterly demolishes him on the spot. This is the good stuff, more of this please. Later, Toyotaro brings Beerus back to the ring in an even bigger way by changing the Zen Exhibition Match into a mini battle royale between all twelve Hakaishin. Whereas Anime Beerus's place on the godly tier list is left ambiguous, with hints that he may be one of the weaker ones due to having lost an arm wrestle with Belmod, the manga instead showcases that Beerus is definitely among the upper echelons of power even among his own destroyer kin. Using a pseudo-Ultra Instinct, he manages to survive a gauntlet as the other Hakaishin gang up on him, with only Quitela and Belmod lasting to the end alongside him before the match is prematurely called off by Daishinkan.
However, there's a disappointing trend with most of these examples. Rather than acting of his own accord and desire, Beerus usually has to be pressed into action, either by someone else or the situation spiralling out of control until he can no longer excuse his own inaction. He will no longer fight simply for the sake of it. In fact, he seems to detest fighting. It leads to the unflattering interpretation that Beerus is, well... a pussy. Figuratively and literally. Alas, this seems to be a natural evolution of his current role as the non-action bystander.
The Whis Effect
Finally, we get to his loyal attendant Whis. What I've intentionally left unmentioned until this point is that Beerus's role has for the last few years been treated as little more than Whis's purse-puppy. Whis has all but totally eclipsed Beerus in narrative relevance, increasingly demoting Beerus to a comic relief sidekick, humiliated at every turn. In most occasions where Beerus has kept out of the action, Whis has usually taken a much more active role. There are several reasons for this:
- Whis simply represents a higher milestone of power, which was firmly established all the way back in Battle of Gods. On a point-based scale deciding the characters' threat levels relative to Goku, Toriyama infamously rated Whis as a 15 compared to Beerus's measly 10.
- Whis's borderline reality warping powers make him a far more useful asset and they have proven vital to the heroes' success numerous times.
- In spite of his non-interference rule as an Angel, Whis is consistently the more active, dependable character that the heroes can always call on to help.
- Whis is portrayed as far more intelligent and wise than Beerus. Although he often gets things wrong, his advice is always heeded.
- Whis is considered more of a mentor figure to Goku and Vegeta, teaching them the principles of god ki and Ultra Instinct, with the latter ability being Goku's ultimate aim as a martial artist.
I'd argue that diametrically making Whis superior to Beerus in every way has resulted in, and I don't use this term lightly, a character assassination of Beerus. Beerus, the guy who was originally the real star of the show. While Whis has always been stronger, Beerus has always been the more immediate 'measuring stick' that Goku and Vegeta been working towards. Fans still clamour for that eventual serious rematch. As the goal posts seem to shift with each arc, it seems that Beerus is still a rung above the Saiyans. But even with Goku's mastery of Ultra Instinct, Beerus still doesn't seem especially interested. What's more galling is that Beerus has a perfect motivation for wanting to kick Goku's ass after he was humiliated by Zeno while Goku partied with the resurrected Merus.
Second, Beerus was never stupid. Silly and eccentric, sure, but never dumb. As shown in his debut movie, he has an eloquence to him, as he accurately observes that Goku is unsatisfied by Super Saiyan God. Going by that movie alone, Beerus appears to be interested in mentoring Goku himself, but he defers that role to Whis in the sequel and most of Super. However, on top of Whis upstaging him in intellect, subsequent reveals throughout Super have only served to undermine Beerus, making it all the more clear that he's not even remotely competent at his job compared to the other Hakaishin.
Now, I don't mean to come across as a party pooper here. Beerus can and has been great in "butt-monkey" roles throughout the series. Seeing the two Zenos riding him and Shin like horseys will always be hilarious. But I feel that it's been a bit of waste that he's been reduced solely to this when his character has more to offer. Above all, I wish he'd be more proactive in mentoring Goku and Vegeta rather than letting Whis do all the work. Funnily enough this leads me to...
... the latest chapter, Chapter 68. We have hope, lads.
So, without spoiling too much, Beerus finally seems to get thrown a bone. A small bone, barely even a chunk of marrow, but it's something. After Goku spars with Whis, revealing that the power gap of Ultra Instinct between the two is still vast, Beerus reveals to Vegeta that there are indeed other paths to strength as a Hakaishin, and cheekily hints that he will give Vegeta a demonstration soon. This is a good sign that Beerus may finally pull his damn finger out and teach Vegeta "the Hakaishin way", in contrast to Goku going down the graceful angelic path with Whis. Considering Vegeta's personality and distaste for Ultra Instinct, this seems to be a natural path for him to take, but we'll have to wait and see how things will pan out.
So... damn, that went on way longer than I intended, but I hope it was worth the read.