- Rated PG
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here’s a small corner in Hell reserved for all the live-action movies adapted from TV cartoons, so why would anyone bother trying to bring Akira Toriyama’s “Dragon Ball” to the big screen? Quite simply, because the Japanese manga turned anime is perhaps the country's biggest pop culture phenomenon since Godzilla first wreaked havoc on Tokyo. That doesn’t mean it’s any more of a good idea than, say, “Scooby Doo” or “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” because no matter how close you stick to the source material, it’s always going to look like a cartoon starring real people. For fans of “Dragon Ball,” however, it’s much worse, as Fox was apparently in such a rush to green light the movie before the impending writers’ strike that not even the most basic story elements remain. Even the spelling of the title has been changed to "Dragonball," and they've added the "Evolution" just in case you didn't get the memo.
Justin Chatwin stars as Goku, a seemingly ordinary teenager with ordinary teenager problems like getting picked on by bullies and having trouble talking to the girl of his dreams, Chi Chi (Jamie Cheung). All of that changes on his 18th birthday when his grandpa (Randall Duk Kim) gives him his most prized possession: a magical sphere known as a Dragonball that, when combined with six others just like it, can grant its owner any wish. That’s exactly what the evil alien known as Piccolo (James Marsters) hopes to do when he breaks free from his 2,000-year-old prison. Now, Goku must team up with a martial arts master named Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat) and the tech-savvy Bulma (Emmy Rossum) in order to prevent Piccolo from summoning the ultimate weapon.
The story may sound vaguely familiar to those versed in the original anime, but it's just different enough to annoy diehard fans, of which it has plenty. The only people to blame for that are writer Ben Ramsey and director James Wong, and even though they might have made a few changes that were necessary (like Goku's age or the removal of the talking animal characters), they've gone so far in “evolving” the original idea that it's virtually unrecognizable. All the major characters are still there, but the end product feels more like a hyper-stylized version of “The Karate Kid” than an actual “Dragon Ball” film.
The dialogue is also pretty cheesy at times, and although that ultimately affects the performances, the cast is still one of the best parts about the movie. Justin Chatwin makes an excellent Goku – not only because he looks the part, but because he understands the humor of the character – while Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum and James Marsters are all clearly having fun in their respective roles. Unfortunately, that means very little when the people in charge don’t respect the source material, because while Fox has made a fortune off popular properties like this, they’re rarely any good. “Dragonball Evolution” is just the latest in a long line of promising disappointments. The title may suggest a necessary progression, but it feels more like a de-evolution.
Z Edition Blu-Ray Review:
As if the movie wasn’t a big enough disappointment, the single-disc release includes a rather unimpressive collection of bonus material. The standard “Fox Movie Channel Presents” featurettes – including a behind-the-scenes look at filming the Chi Chi vs. Chi Chi fight and an interview with star Justin Chatwin – are worth checking out, but the rest of the extras are a waste of time. The deleted scenes are nothing more than pre-existing moments from the film with an extra line or two of dialogue, the gag reel is over before it begins, and the “Goku’s Workout” featurette is as silly as it is short.