So why am I reviewing Dragonball Evolution of all films today? Because it was on TV yesterday so i ended up watching it and so I must review it as per my blogs rules. Every now and then a film comes along that everyone hates before it’s even out. Usually because it is based upon some beloved franchise that fans hold dear. They bemoan the slightest change made to the story or look and as such decide it sucks before it’s even released because fanboys can obviously see the future. Dragonball Evolution is one such film. Does it prove them wrong? No, not really. But is it the worst thing ever. Not by some long shot. Click on to read…
Here’s a film which, as best I can tell, was doomed to fail from the start. Not because of the license, the Dragonball storyline has plenty of potential for an enjoyable action romp, but because it likely never got the backing it needed. Now financially it had plenty of backing, $100million backing apparently, but it seems the studio themselves weren’t behind it. At some point they made the decision to start chopping the film up to squeeze extra showings out each evening. Because of this the already struggling story begins to snap due to a mass of editorial cracks.
Story elements seem to go untold, for example, how did Piccolo escape his imprisonment? How is the girl that travels with him in his search for the Dragonballs? Why do characters seem to be able to move position in the environment between edits? None of these questions are answered, but I get the feeling at some point they were.
The story goes as follows… Goku is a just turned 18 year old high school student how has great strength and martial arts skill far beyond anyone else. He is trained by his grandpa Gohan to master his Ki and to avoid fighting where possible. Goku can’t get the girl he is in love with because despite his physical strength he is an awkward goofball who has his confidence crushed by the school bullies who he could easily crush if he was allowed. This is all stuff explained in the films opening scene (well, after a pre-credits rush of backstory exposition in narration form). This is your first clue that something is up. Either James Wong is one exceptionally efficient writer or he had to go reshoot the opening scene to fit in approximately 10-15 minutes worth of character descriptive narrative and the world in which the film is set. in the space of one scene we see Goku get trained, attempt to use his Ki, be reminded that he is not to fight, that he can’t get the girl of his dreams, that he has turned 18 and his grandpas gift to him is a 4 star Dragonball, what the Dragonball is and that there’s some sort of prophecy that Goku may have to fulfill. It’s a lot to take in in the first scene and it’s so sloppily thrown about that most people will likely not notice what they’re are being informed of.
As the film progresses Piccolo (the film’s villain played by James Marsters of Buffy fame… and nothing else) turns up out of nowhere to get a Dragonball from a small Japanese town. Last we heard of him in the opening narrative was that he had been trapped in a jar 2000 years ago after he and a creature named Oozaru tried to take over the world, so how he’s walking about now is a mystery. Anyway, on with the show. Goku get’s invited to his dream girls (Chi Chi) birthday party after she spots him using his Ki to make the school lockers open, see he can use it to help her, and whilst there he get’s into a fight. Actually this sequence is pretty damn cool. See he doesn’t want to fight them so he doesn’t throw a single punch, kick of even a Kamehameha. Although that might have been overkill. He dodges their attacks making them look like fools and in the process they knock each other out and trash their car. It’s a very Jackie Chan-esque sequence and if I’m honest the standout fight scene in the film just because of how unique it is. While this is going on Piccolo pays a visit to grandpa Gohan in an attempt to find the 4 star Dragonball he gave to Goku earlier. because he doesn’t have it Piccolo manages to move from inside the house to across the street in one cut and then uses some of his power to bring the house down on Gohan. Goku feels this happen because that’s what martial arts types can do and he rushes home.
This is where the story kicks off. Goku learns that he must collect all 7 Dragonballs before Piccolo can and he must meet Master Roshi (Chow Yun Fat) in order to continue his training. Goku is attacked in his home by Bulma (Emily Rossum) and the both set out to find the Dragonballs and Master Roshi together. Bulma wants them to harness as a source of energy although we never see her develop that idea so yeah, her goals kinda pointless. Here’s an odd little plot hole, Bulma has no idea that there is more than 1 Dragonball. She had one that was stolen by Piccolo’s mystery woman (It’s Mai by the way) and she had picked up Goku’s on here Dragonball Energy reader. So, if she could pick up her’s and it could also pick up Goku’s how did it lead her to Goku and not show both of the Dragonballs being nearby. Surely the range is wide enough to pick up both or she wouldn’t have come to the city presumably following her Dragonball and at some point end up tracking Goku’s. So surely she would know there’s more in the world because from this point on they are following her DBE reader and there’s no mention of any events leading to the locations they head to. Either she can see where they all are in the world, they’re running blind just hoping to pick one up or there’s something missing from the film where the characters discover where they should be heading next. Or more likely it’s a gaping plot hole.
So they meet Roshi, he’s a weird old perve like in the anime. they go to a tournament place to meet some monks in the hopes they can trap Piccolo again. Chi Chi is inexplicably there fighting in the tournament. Yes she fights in the series but there’s been zero indication that she’s a fighter. She just knows about Ki which in the Dragonball universe can mean many things. She doesn’t join them on their quest, she just seems to crop up when they need to remind you that Goku likes her or he needs to learn how to throw fireballs. Well the film moves along at a brisk pace and they meet Yamcha. He and Bulma have the worlds shortest love interest arc ever, literally going from hating each over and barely talking to apparently being in love in the course of one scene. It’s not even one of those realisation things, it just happens.
Thankfully the films only 90 minutes long so before more plot holes can crop up and the editing jumps can get any more annoying we’re at the finally. Turns out (SPOILERS) that Goku is Oozaru and he must master his inner belief in himself to overcome the monster within or something. There’s a big fight with lots of fireball throwing that lasts all of 2 minutes and the day is saved. They thwart Piccolo’s evil world domination plans and the day is saved.
I know I’ve not done much to convince you this isn’t the worst thing ever but there is good in here. The world the film is set in is full of little touches that make you wonder just how fleshed out it was supposed to be. All the cars are solar powered, the cities are all futuristic and clean, technology allows them to have a small capsule that can transform into a bike, magic and technology exist in the same world. It’s as though they had plans for a more defined environment but at some point those plans were pulled and the film got scaled back.
Justin Chatwan isn’t the most charismatic of actors but there’s moments when he’s pretty good at being Goku. He pulls off the goofy side of the character well he just can’t do the dramatic stuff. The girls in the film are all stupidly pretty but they’re one dimensional barring Chi Chi and her slightly more evolved character as a high school student on the surface but a martial artist on the inside. Shame she wasn’t on the quest with Goku and Roshi instead of Bulma who adds nothing to the film bar a tracking device. You’re already in a world of magic, I would have done away with Bulma (screw the fanboys) and have explained some sort of mystical device for Goku and Roshi to be able to use their Ki to track down the Dragonballs. Then they could have Goku learning to refine his Ki to find them and become a fighter while at the same time taking Chi Chi along for the ride to help develop a love interest more fully. Also Yamcha would have been a cameo at best. He also serves no purpose.
Overall it feels like the film was the victim of cuts and a studios attempt to rush through a product they didn’t fully understand. The editing is terrible all around, the acting is never beyond average although the goofier moments do work well. Characters are under developed or serve no purpose and it ends up looking like an episode of Power Rangers but without so much lycra. Don’t get me wrong, you can watch it and get some enjoyment from it’s simplicity and the odd fight that isn’t too generic, but in the end what you’re seeing is a broken mess of a film that needed more time in development and a stronger cast.