You know, I almost didn’t want to write this review because it meant I had to keep thinking about this movie, and all I want to do is forget that it exists. My immediate thoughts after viewing Dragonball Evolution were: “LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED.” Sentiments haven’t changed much since then, but I’m pleased to hear that it’s bombing at the box office. I
hope pray this means that they’ll put to rest their undoubtedly terrible sequel/trilogy plans. Anyway… this review. It’s obviously not going to be pretty, but I’m going to at least try and shelf some of the fan rage in favor of a coherent analysis. Try.
STORY & PACING – Honestly, I don’t even know where to start. This movie is about a kid who has to fulfill some (lame) prophecy and save the world from an evil alien before the next solar eclipse. That already sounds pretty recycled and uninspired, but the worst of it all is that nothing is ever explained. Ever. Our main character Goku is a high school kid teased by his classmates for being different, but we never see how or why he’s different. He just is. Why is this alien Piccolo here? Why is he hellbent on destroying the earth? How did he escape his previous imprisonment? Why is the deadline to stop him the solar eclipse? Beats me. Who is this henchwoman of his and why is she obeying him? No idea. It makes for a troublesome movie when your villains have absolutely no motivation to speak of.
And the protagonists’ motivation? Goku wants revenge. Bulma wants fame. Yamcha wants money. Predictable, but it’s kind of funny that those three “good guys” should have three of the most popular villain motives, and they act just as one-sided as stereotypical villains. Master Roshi and his saving the world bit seems wonderfully secondary to the others’ primary motivations. Way to teach values to the kids, right? Except that there are those awful, inspirational one-liners repeated throughout the movie — you know, the generic “believe in yourself” stuff, which might have been fine if they could deliever them convincingly, which they couldn’t.
The pacing in this movie is also astonishingly bad, which makes it even more obvious just how absurdly weak the story is. I mean, I expected the movie to be bad, but I never expected it to be this bad. We jump from scene to scene with little or no transition; everything seems rushed and cobbled together. There’s never a comfortable lull in the action where the viewer’s allowed to gather his thoughts, so my impression is that they didn’t want the viewer to stop and think too much; having time to think would make it too easy to tell that everything on screen is complete and utter trash. Because of the constant push for mindless action, I couldn’t get a good sense of time. Has it been an hour or a day since the last scene? They mention early on that the solar eclipse is in x number of days, which gives a frame of reference for the film on the whole, but that still doesn’t help the scene-to-scene pacing.
At times, I wasn’t even sure how seriously I was supposed to be taking the movie. Some scenes could have been funny if you knew that they were just making fun of themselves, but the fact that you couldn’t tell made it even more confusing. Some scenes were just so over-the-top and ridiculous that you’d think, “This has to be on purpose!” But that feeling of uncertainty remains and kills the humor completely. Some scenes reminded me of the 90’s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: they were campy, but didn’t seem intentionally so, and just all around reminiscent of silly, children’s action shows with gimmicky fights, familiar plot devices, and hilarious costuming. The sad part is, of course, that Power Rangers was superior.
Even before you start trying to compare it to the source material, there is nothing attractive about the story in this movie. Once you start the comparisons though, the disaster becomes markedly worse. There are very, very few similarities between DBE and Dragonball. Those that are there are mostly superficial things — characters’ names, the word “Dragonball,” a trademark costume, and some portions of the character designs. The story is not recognizable. If you take away those names and Goku’s bright orange gi, it could be billed as something completely different and no one would be wiser. The things they included for the fans’ sake were pointless, really. Yeah, everyone made a fuss when initial photos of Piccolo showed him as not being green, but really? I would have much preferred they put some more effort into making the story not a piece of shit than bother with a fancier make-up job. Bulma had a few strands of blue hair and mentioned Capsule Corp in passing. Great. How about making her less generic of a character?
I think the main problem with Dragonball Evolution’s story is that Fox didn’t know who to aim the movie to, so they tried for everyone at once. All the generic plots were to tempt the mainstream audience, but it was way too much and the story just started looking like every laughable B-movie ever. Halfway through, they realized they were pissing off every existing Dragonball fan on the face of the planet and tried to tease in some actual references to their source material. By then though, it was too late and the story had been twisted so far out of recognition that the forced references to things like Namek, Oozaru, and Roshi’s pervertedness just seemed out of place and stupid. And thus, DBE was born! And we even get a dumb reference to the name of the film in the crappy dialogue of the movie!
CHARACTER & ACTING – My kid brother could probably write a deeper, more rounded, and more relateable characters than any that appear in this film. They single out Goku as being “different” somehow, but how is anyone supposed to relate if they don’t know what makes him different in the first place? Is it because he has no parents? Because he lives in the middle of no where? Because his name is weird? (Well, Chi Chi’s is too, but she’s popular!) Goku is adorably eighteen, but he faces bullies in school. Seriously? Where does this grade school bullying come from? Who in high school really faces these kinds of stereotypical bullies? All he wants is to be left alone and to get the girl! Once again, I can’t imagine a further departure from Dragonball’s Goku, but even without that comparison, there’s nothing redeeming about the movie’s character.
In some half-assed, roundabout way, I suppose the movie was trying to have a “coming of age” theme. As such, Goku would need to learn to accept and believe in himself before he could save the world. Dandy. But as much as the movie tried, I remained unconvinced that he had serious self-esteem issues to begin with. He was able to stand up to his bullies fine, and his progress with Chi Chi was only a matter of time. Where’s the struggle here? As soon as he realized that Chi Chi was a “fighter” also and knew what ki was, there was very little self-doubt left, which made the climax of the movie very anticlimatic.
Goku also had a few endearing, manga-like traits sneak into the movie, such as his unquestioning devotion to his grandfather (“He said he’d tell me what happened to my parents when I turned eighteen!”) and silly daydreaming, but those qualities clashed so much with his otherwise modern-day, typical high school student character that I kind of wish they’d just left them out completely, especially since Justin Chatwin completely failed to capture the child-like innocence and ignorance of Toriyama’s Goku. Toriyama’s Goku was cute stupid. DBE’s Goku is just retarded stupid.
Goku was a flat character, but the rest of the cast was worse. Bulma, Chi Chi, and Mai were all gimmicky fillers for character archetypes. The techy ally, the girlfriend, the evil henchwoman. Yamcha was a completely useless character that served absolutely no purpose beyond becoming Bulma’s five minute love interest. Master Roshi got to recite a prophecy, turn a monestary into a bed n’ breakfast, and train Goku to paladin level in all of a week. All of these people were (bad) plot devices more than characters. Not to mention Piccolo, who has all of a dozen lines in the entire movie, no motivation, and no purpose beyond giving Goku an obstacle to overcome (except not really). All of the acting was sub par as well, though it might have been because all of the actors were so bewildered at the monstrosity they’ve signed on to play that they had no idea what to do.
It also bothers me immensely that the best derogatorive name that the bullies could come up with for Goku was “Geeko.” /facepalm
MUSIC – I was too shocked and offended at how terrible the story and acting both were to really pay attention to the music, but I suppose it was about average. There were no lyrical inserts in the film, and if Ayumi Hamasaki’s “Rule” played in the credits somewhere, I didn’t stick around to hear it. As I said all along anyway, Ayu can’t save a shitty movie all by herself. (And I feel sorry for her for having her music attached to such an abomination.)
ANIMATION & EFFECTS – I’ve seen better effects in Disney Channel and Sci-fi original movies. I’m not kidding. The dragonballs and ki blasts were shiny, but poorly integrated into every scene that featured them. They felt out of place and exceedingly silly. More and more, you just feel like the transition from manga and anime to live action was something that should have never been attempted in the first place. Even if the story wasn’t terrible and the characters weren’t uninteresting, things that work in other mediums don’t always work with live action. Dragonball Evolution didn’t work visually either. The Kamehameha can suddenly be used to light (and douse) candles and to bring back the dead, but it wasn’t much to look at.
Matrix-style slow motion for fights just looked stupid and overdramatic. Bulma’s Capsule Corp. vehicles were kind of interesting, but never focused on long enough to be relevant. Piccolo still looks like he walked onto the set for the wrong movie, but decided to stick around for shits and giggles. And he had a giant, floating can opener building with no explanation. Oozaru looked like he came out of a crappy 70’s werewolf movie. Shenlong was a hilariously Western-looking dragon. That’s just insulting.
OVERALL – Dragonball Evolution was the worst movie I’d seen in a long, long time (arguably the worst I’ve ever seen, but I can’t be sure since I habitually block out all memory of other shitty movies I’ve seen), and I’m confident that I could make that claim even if I knew nothing about Toriyama’s Dragonball. Fox’s first mistake was deciding that Dragonball could be adapted in live action at all. Being a weird fusion of myth, sci-fi, and campy humor was fine for a comic and a cartoon, but live action as a format destroys many of the illusions we come to accept in the previous incarnations of the franchise. Ki blasts and green aliens just don’t translate well.
Still, the fact that it was doomed from the beginning doesn’t excuse Fox from the terrible product that just debuted at #8 in the States. It doesn’t excuse the amateur writing, the poorly developed characters, or the horrendous special effects. (I am running out of synonyms for “terrible.”) I just hope that a lesson is learned in all this. Some things just weren’t meant to be adapted. Dragonball was one of them.
Zac Bertschy of ANN, in all his snarky glory, probably summed it up the best: “[T]his movie appeals to nobody. It was made for no one. People who aren’t familiar with the Dragon Ball story at all will be so flabbergasted by what’s happening that they will likely tell everyone they know that it’s one of the worst movies they’ve ever seen. Fans who do know what the general story is will be furious at just how unbelievably badly they screwed this entire thing up. Kids are used to better writing than this in their weekday afternoon cartoons. It’s a clunky, tiresome, badly executed, horribly written pile of shame that deserves no quarter.“
Now. Let’s just pretend this never happened.