Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: Dragonball Evolution

Okay, so full disclosure: I am a Dragon Ball fan. Mostly.  I actually hate the anime for all sorts of reasons but I do very much so enjoy the manga.  Although I find Akira Toriyama to be an extraordinarily poor character writer, especially in regards to women, I do think he’s crafted an incredibly interesting world.  Obviously with this in mind I’m likely biased against Dragonball Evolution, the American live-action adaptation of the comic.  It can’t be helped, but I’ll try to keep things as objective as possible.
Screw this movie!
Okay, okay, I realize that’s not professional.  Released in 2009 and directed by James Wong this film may well be the first of several dubious Hollywood live action remakes of popular anime and manga (Along with the Speed Racer movie).  Akira is apparently in preproduction and now I hear rumblings of a Star Blazers film (Though Japan just recently released a live action film based on Space Battleship Yamoto, the original series Star Blazers is dubbed from).  Apparently 20th Century Fox wanted to snag writer/director/actor/comedian Stephen Chow to helm this film and I suspect that, judging from Chow’s comedic timing and the fact he’s (Clearly) a fan of the source material, that movie would have been at least a little bit entertaining.  Alas he turned it down instead coming onboard as a producer, which makes him at least an accessory to the crime.  And yes, a crime was indeed committed here: a crime against intelligence and a crime against cinema. Ignoring what alterations to the story it may have made this movie is horrifyingly bad.  I mean beyond “So Bad it’s Good” and into “Holy Christ, what in God’s name am I watching?”  If you ever wanted to know exactly what makes a terrible movie then look no further.
Full review after the jump.
[WARNING: There are so many spoilers in this review it’s not even funny!  But really, who cares?  If you haven’t seen it yet you’re better off.]
Justin Chatwin is just barely not the worst actor in the flick
Goku (Justin Chatwin) is a high school student (!) trained by his grandfather Gohan in the martial arts.  At home he trains with the old man to become a truly awesome fighter while also being regaled with stories of Piccolo (James Marsters), a malicious being who tried to conquer earth 2000 years ago but was sealed away.  At school however he is bullied by other students (!) and crushes on his pretty classmate Chi-Chi (Jamie Chung).  However things quickly take a turn for the disastrous when Piccolo resurfaces, looking for the mystical Dragon Balls in order to rule the world with their wish granting powers and kills Gohan in the process.  Swearing revenge Goku sets out find the collecting the balls first but is warned that he must do so before the solar eclipse in two weeks.
So let’s talk about the liberties taken on the source material before we do anything else.
So first of all I’d like to point out that judging by clues in the script I believe that the writer, Ben Ramsey, probably had at least working knowledge of Dragon Ball while writing it but I suspect that James Wong either had no clue about it or just didn’t care.  If you are a DB fan you might as well accept that this flick doesn’t resemble the manga in any meaningful way.  In fact the Chinese film Dragonball: The Magic Begins is about a thousand times more faithful than this and that flick is so goddamn awful that it makes me want to hurt myself and others.   First of all the Goku in this movie is completely different from the main character of the comic, Son Goku, and thus it’s actually hard for me to refer to him by that name.  So I’ll take a cue from the high school bullies and call him “Geeko”.  So Geeko's age is referred to as eighteen years old and he’s in school which already drastically changes the tone from the comic.  Clearly Hollywood was going for a certain demographic by aging the character and putting him in that setting.  After all Geeko can’t be bullied by jocks if he lives alone in a cottage in a mountain.  In general most of the characters here have only  passing resemblance to their comic counterparts.   Bulma is a genius, Yamcha steals things, Piccolo is evil, and Master Roshi is an old perverted martial arts master but aside from those traits they might as well be new characters created for this film.  Seriously, Bulma’s hair isn’t even blue/green/purple (It varies depending on whether it’s the cartoon or the comic).  They could have, and maybe should have, just declared this a whole different film and cut ties to the franchise.
I don't want to sound like a fanboy, I really don't
But how the hell is Chatwin playing this child not a miscast?
Man, we haven’t even gotten t the content of the movie yet.  This is going to be rough.
I liked the setting of this movie.  The futuristic version of Erath with high level technology was not only interesting but reminiscent of the comic which also featured such a world form very early on in its existence.  I wish we got to see more of it, but we spend most of the film away from civilization so it just doesn’t happen.  I kind of liked Emmy Rossum as Bulma partly because she was not overacting or blandly reading her lines near as badly as her cast mates (Which isn't saying much) and partly because out of all the characters Bulma seemed like the closest to her comic book counterpart (Although to be fair there isn’t really all that much to her character in the comic). Likewise James Marsters was decent as Piccolo.  He didn’t steal the show or save the film like Raúl Juliá did in Street Fighter and he’s not really the same character as in the comic he did come off as a menacing villain much different from other roles I’d seen him in.  Of course there are a ton of problems with Piccolo here but none of them have anything to do with Marsters’ performance.
Obviously gorgeous, Emmy Rossum may also be a decent actor
More research is required
None of that stuff balances out the following:
The major problem with this film is that it has one of the worst scripts I’ve ever seen on screen.  The dialogue is horrendously bad almost all around and nothing the characters say seems anything close to natural, especially everything Geeko says and especially everything he says to his classmates.  This is made much, much worse by the fact that for the most of the acting is awful.  Damn near the entire cast (With the above exceptions, I suppose) read the lines like robots or overact like crazy (Looking at you Chow Yun-fat).  The worst offender is likely Joon Park as Ymacha who may be one of the worst actors I’ve ever seen (He’s a singer, damn it!)  and all his lines are extremely painful to listen to.  Also his character is almost 100% superfluous so the whole time I was just wondering why he was even there.  I hear that Jason Kyson Lee was up for the role as well but lost to Park in the end somehow.  So I can only assume that the casting director decided Lee was too good to be in the film and decided to go with someone sufficiently terrible instead.   Also the “romance” between Yamcha and Bulma?  Completely pointless, unsatisfying and out of place.  Good job, guys.  The characters development is mostly non-existing and we barely explore anyone’s personality.  Now to be fair the original manga was not really great about this either when it came to secondary characters but with, let’s say for example, Chi-Chi she goes from having a  very shrewish and controlling attitude in the original comic (Which is lousy) to having no real personality traits to speak of (Which is much worse).  It’s hard to like a character that the movie doesn’t even bother to properly showcase but it’s even harder when the dialogue they’re spouting is the verbal equivalent of garbage wrapped poop dipped in hatred.
On the other hand Jason Kyson Lee can now  proudly claim he wasn't in DBE
The plot moves at an amazingly fast pace, which is likely the main factor of the lackluster character development.  Scene progression tends to make little sense and it almost seems as if the heroes are literally driving around the world in the span of two weeks.  The story sucks as the film decides not to bother answering crucial plot points.  The big example involves Piccolo’s part in the story.  According to the back-story Piccolo and his minion Oozaru tried to conquer the Earth two thousand years ago but were defeated when a coalition of wise men sealed the villain away.  And now he’s returned.  How has he returned?  THEY NEVER TELL US!!!  It is never explained how Piccolo managed to escape his prison because I guess the director thought that the movie already had a little too much plot going on.  Similarly the “big twist” (That everyone saw coming a mile away) of the film reveals that [Spoiler Alert] Geeko is Oozaru and that the reason he was supposed to collect the Dragon Balls before the eclipse was because apparently it will turn him into the “Great Ape” (Although he’s clearly a monkey, not an ape).  HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?!  Piccolo claims that Geeko fell from the sky as a baby and that Gohan raised him as a human.  If that’s the case WHERE THE BLEEDING SHIT WAS OOZARU FOR ALL THOSE GODDAMN YEARS?!?!?!?!  Was he sleeping the last one thousand eighty-two years?  In space somehow?  Did the wise men seal him as well?  Why did he only come back eighteen years ago?  Why was he in human form at all?  They never go into anything resembling details as to why or how this happens!  It just does!  “IT’S A KIDS’ FILM! WE DON’T NEED TO EXPLAIN IT!  MWAHAHAHA!”
"After 2000 years I realized they hadn't locked the door to my cell"
Screw you, James Wong!  As director you’re to blame for allowing any nonsense in the script to make it to film.  If this movie was supposed to be for a younger audience then that means that Wong has a very low opinion of the intelligence of children because this movie talks to you like you’re a moron.  To make things even worse the film is short; less than ninety minutes.  So there’s no time for character development or plot development apparently.  Hell, I looked at the deleted scenes and all of them seemed to be pointlessly cut. They weren’t great scenes at all but they would have helped the audience get to know a few characters a little better and explain few scenes that made zero sense in the final cut.  Why did they leave them out?  For time?  Was 88 minutes their time limit or something?  Plus the special effects look terrible and the fight choreography is some of the worst I’ve seen a martial arts film.  How in the world is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World a better looking fighting movie than a film based on Dragon Ball?!
Also, as a minor nitpick, what’s up with the name of the film?  Why is it called Dragonball Evolution?  Is this the evolution of the Dragon Ball franchise?  That sort of implies that the producers thought this movie was somehow an improvement on the source material.  If by “improve” they meant bring it to the third-dimension then success!
Proof the director never read, and possibly never heard of, the comic
I’ve been hard on this movie.  From the perspective of Dragon Ball fans this will be viewed as a bad film, but for non-fans…IT’S STILL A HORRIBLE FILM!  There’s nothing redeeming about this flick.  It’s overly goofy, it talks down to its audience, the plot is full of holes, the fight scenes are lame, the CGI is shit, the acting is subpar, the characters are flat and uninteresting, the dialogue is an unrealistic mess, and the plot moves way too fast.  There is nothing good about this movie; merely things that aren’t as bad.  If your biggest Pro is that some aspects of your movie aren’t as horrendously bad as the majority of your movie then you fail as a filmmaker.   This movie is so bad it’s not even worth renting to laugh at.  Avoid this piece of shit with your life and also boycott James Wong films from now on.  If you see this movie on your friends’ shelf you are morally obligated to beat them.
I’m giving Dragonball Evolution my lowest possible score: 1 Adorable Panda out of 5.  And may God have mercy on its soul.
-Some of the actors aren’t horrible
-The setting isn’t terrible
-Awful script
-Awful dialogue
-Awful acting
-Awful pacing
-Awful special effects
-Awful everything!


  1. After feeling like kicking myself for buying the live action Blood: The Last Vampire movie, I'm glad I didn't repeat my mistake and get this. I was tempted, just to see how it turned out, but I resisted because I had heard some iffy things and I'm not really a Dragon Ball Z fan. This doesn't even sound like it's worth buying from a bargain bin.

    1. It’s fine. But that’s the problem. It’s just “fine”.
      A movie as big as this should be amazing.

      At least the visuals were though.
      I think all of the work went into that.


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