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Review: Dragonball Evolution

In On Film on April 11, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Warning!  The following review may contain SPOILERS!!

Dragonball Evolution movie posterDRAGONBALL EVOLUTION

Starring: Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, Jamie Chung, James Marsters, Joon Park

Director: James Wong

Writers: Ben Ramsey (screenplay), Akira Toriyama (novel)

Long time fans likely remember that this site was, once upon a time, “The Anime Homeworld”, and it contained a rather large fan site dedicated to Dragon Ball Z; this, of course, was at the height of that series’ popularity. Now, several, several years after it became a cultural phenomenon, the Dragon Ball franchise has finally reached American silver screens with “Dragonball Evolution”. Unfortunately for fans and non-fans alike, everything endearing and charming about the franchise has been stripped, leaving a hollow, empty attempt at cashing in on a beloved story.

Gone are the clearly Asian roots, the fun settings and mythical elements, the epic battles and plot which merely existed to hold together the next bout of clashes. Instead, we’re left with something that could have been a completely original story and, for all intents and purposes, could have shone on to something great. The classic story of a young boy seeking to find mythical elements and aiding his friends is replaced essentially with a revenge story. The plot revolves around Goku, a young boy who is “different”. On his 18th birthday, Goku is given a Dragonball by his Grandfather Gohan, only to have the old man killed shortly afterwards by the newly released Piccolo.

Herein begin the problems. Piccolo was established as imprisoned in the center of the Earth 2000 years earlier during the films prologue. How did he escape? Hell if I know. Its never actually detailed in the story, Piccolo simply shows up, and just in time for the solar eclipse necessary to aid him in taking over the world. The character is incredibly one dimensional and barely there in the script, and has no back story whatsoever. In fact, most of his actions are carried out by his accomplice, Mai. Piccolo exists only to give Goku a reason to find the Dragonballs and drop the one not-so-big revelation of the film. When the main villain is your McGuffin, you’ve got a problem.

Goku is, of course, a high point of contempt in the film. Justin Chatwin is far too little and awkward to be a master martial artist, and his performance is too wooden and broken. He’s obviously trying to emulate what was done on the original anime, but that’s one of many, many things from the series that simply cannot translate to a live action medium. This actually seems to be the main issue with most of the actors. The only one who seems to pull it off is Chow Yun-Fat, who is probably the only casting of this movie that makes sense; his performance as Master Roshi easily steals the show, and is the closest to his original anime counterpart.

The tragedy of the casting is its other three leads. Emmy Rossum is on her way to big things, with leads in The Phantom of the Opera and Poseidon, but she seems to be blundering her way through here. Joon Park’s Yamcha looks and acts too much like Jeff Anderson in Clerks. I was waiting for him to “do a Randal” over to Piccolo and save the day at any moment. And Jamie Chung seems lost somewhere as she tries to be a popular High School student/top secret martial arts master. Which also makes one wonder why ChiChi and Goku seem so concerned with keeping their fighting skills a secret, since in the one fight sequence there is with other students we see that most of the student body are also martial arts masters.

The actual fighting in the movie is pretty decent, by far not the best we’ve seen. The wire work is uneventful and clumsy, and the actual combat feels slow in comparison to other martial arts films. Its pretty evident the actors have a fairly limited knowledge of martial arts, which is a shame, because in this movie you really need epic fight sequences. The one fight sequence to especially be scrutinized would be Goku vs. Piccolo, which is far too brief for Piccolo to truly be considered a real threat. So far as techniques and Ki attacks go, they don’t look horrible. The only one from the show you’ll really know is the Kamehameha Wave, but there’s so much going on at the time you don’t get a good look at it.

All in all, this was a pretty wretched attempt. The story was bland and spent too much time with the group running in circles and trying to figure out what to do next. What it needed was something truer to its roots. Where most adaptations falter from trying to emulate the original, Dragonball Evolution attempts to go in the other direction and fails completely. There’s rumor of a sequel already being written, but judging by the looks of this one, its highly unlikely we’ll see it.

Final Grade: F. It breaks my heart to say that, as I was a huge fan of the anime, but this isn’t a good movie in any capacity.

  1. Krillin would’ve made that movie about 10 times better, I guarantee you.

  2. I’d love to believe that, but Krillin would probably be played by Haley Joel Osment or some such. This movie really had no handle on the characters in any capacity. You can’t even argue that they’re attempting to recreate the characters.

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