SECOND LOOK: Dragonball Evolution

Manga and anime have become one of the most popular forms of media on the planet, exploding into popular culture during the 1990s, despite first peaking in the ‘80s and originating in the 1950s. The most iconic has to be Dragon Ball, created by Akira Toriyama, first appearing in Weekly Shōnen Jump in 1984, and has been a huge success, gaining the equally popular sequel series Dragon Ball Z, three anime series, and too many video games to count.So, Hollywood decided to make a profit out of the franchise’s name and made Dragonball Evolution, a dull, lifeless, unfaithful film that no audience goer or fan deserves to be punished with. I’ve never watched or read Dragon Ball in my life aside from a couple of clips, and even I am bothered by how atrocious this film is. Akira Toriyama himself had admitted he disliked the film.

The film’s dream team consisted of producer Stephen Chow (who actually is a fan of the franchise), director James Wong (the mind behind Final Destination) and writer Ben Ramsey who was at one point going to write a Luke Cage film that never came to be. This film isn’t as bad as, say, The Last Airbender, which will eventually be annihilated from memory as it richly deserves, but Dragonball Evolution nevertheless disrespects its source material and does very little with what the series has to offer. Most of the actors do the best they can, but with such a poorly-written script, bogus story, horrendous editing, dodgy special effects and Goku becoming an angsty high school student, this film deserves no kindness.

In the hastily thrown together prologue, we learn the world was attacked by evil aliens called Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) and his gorilla minion Ozaru, but seven sages used the Dragon Balls to imprison Piccolo while Ozaru disappeared. Gathering the Dragon Balls will summon the wish-granting dragon Shen Long, and after Piccolo somehow escapes his prison, he begins collecting the Dragon Balls with help from his minion Mai (Eriko Tamura). Meanwhile, our protagonist Goku (Justin Chatwin) is to become eighteen and is given one of the Dragon Balls by his Grandpa Gohan (Randall Duk Kim). However, unlike the real Goku who is a competitive, energetic guy with a cheery disposition, this Goku is an angsty high school student who is bullied and dislikes his powers. Talk about going the completely wrong way with the character.

Goku tries to impress his love interest Chi-Chi (Jamie Chung), but Piccolo attacks and kills Gohan, prompting Goku to find Master Roshi (Chow Yun Fat), who can help him learn awesome martial arts moves and help re-imprison Piccolo before the next eclipse. Goku meets Bulma (Emmy Rossum), a research scientist who wants to find the Dragon Balls to use them as a source of unlimited energy. Teaming up with Bulma, Master Roshi and then thief Yamcha (Joon Park), Goku tracks down the Dragon Balls, most of which just happen to be owned by other members of the core cast and or otherwise placed in silly places, like a volcanic area in the middle of a desert. Master Roshi then takes the time to reveal the eclipse will bring about the apocalypse and the return of Ozaru.

After some shenanigans at the fighting tournament, and Ernie Hudson cameoing, the bad guys get their hands on all the Dragon Balls ready to bring about the apocalypse. Goku and co. swoop in, only for Piccolo to drop the plot twist, which has not been hinted at, foreshadowed, or built-up to, that Goku is actually Ozaru. After Piccolo was imprisoned, Ozaru died or something and was reborn as a human. Goku turns into Ozaru through some really, really bad special effects, but after Master Roshi dies, he has a change of heart and transforms back, and I mean literally, by rewinding shot-by-shot the transformation scene. What a lazy way to edit a film. Goku and Piccolo then cut to the chase and start firing energy blasts at each other, but even the film can’t get that right. Goku powers up a big energy ball of air, which he uses to slingshot himself at Piccolo and blows up Piccolo’s own energy attack. Goku uses the Dragon Balls to summon Shen Long who resurrect Master Roshi, and then the film has the nerve to give us a stinger revealing Piccolo is alive.

Just about everything in the film that is in anyway interesting is underplayed and not given much attention, and stuff that actually made Dragon Ball awesome is portrayed completely wrong. How can you get the Kamehameha attack wrong? It is a giant energy blast that brings about mass destruction. That’s the simplest thing to understand and they instead refer to it as the greatest technique of “airbending”. In this film, it is made out of wind and can be used to light candles and perform CPR. There was also a sense that the film wanted to make itself realistic, why else would Goku be in high school. Apparently, Piccolo was not going to be green so James Marsters and the make up artists had to convince James Wong to go along with Piccolo’s true look. Emmy Rossum dyed parts of her hair blue to honour Bulma, but why not just wear a blue wig?

The characters are one-note, one dimensional husks of the characters they are meant to be based on. Goku, as said before, is completely out of character, and Justin Chatwin’s acting was like watching paint dry. I think Chow Yun Fat was the only actor trying to honour his character, with James Marsters barely having any screen-time as Piccolo and when he did, it felt like watching the same one-dimensional cliché bad guy trying to take over the world I’ve seen a thousand times in equally rubbish films. This is the guy who played Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His acting talent is wasted here. And as for the romantic relationships, while Goku and Chi-Chi are at least established, Bulma and Yamcha suddenly become a couple out of the blue after sharing two scenes together.

One thing Hollywood should learn to do is to actually research the source material of the stuff they want to adapt, and above all, respect the material whilst making the film open enough for everyone to come and see it. Dragonball Evolution is a mess and a half, its suckage level is over nine-thousand, and it deserves to be buried at the bottom of the ocean under ten mountains of cement.

What are your views on Dragonball Evolution? Should Hollywood leave anime and manga alone without adapting them into films? Sound off in the comments section.

About the author

Mark Russell