TR Review: Dragonball Evolution

By Rob Bricken in Anime, Movies
Monday, April 13, 2009 at 12:13 pm
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Short version: See picture above. For the long version, I want to try something: You guys know I'm a Dragonball fan, of course. But I think I can talk about how Dragonball: Evolution is a phenomenally shitty movie, not as an adaptation of its source material, but by itself. Of course, understand that it is a terrible, terrible adaptation of the beloved manga and anime -- I mean, the Dragonball franchise is intensely popular around the world and earned more than a billion dollars since its debut, so if you can make a live-action theatrical film of that franchise and debut in 8th place at the U.S. box office and earn less than 5 million your first weekend, you have fucked up hard. Even Fox has given up on the film; other than a few TV spots during the kiddiest of the Saturday morning cartoons, the studio has been determined to spend as little money as possible on marketing as to minimize the losses. Hit the jump for hopefully well-supported hate.




If you've read any other reviews of Dragonball: Evoution, you've likely heard how clichéd it is. Although Akira Toriyama's original story was wonderful weird, director James Wong nixed all that and made Goku a highschool student picked on by bullies whose story begins on his 18th birthday when his sole guardian, his grandfather Gohan, dies at the evil villain Piccolo's hands. Take out the pronouns and you have several dozen kids' movies of varying quality. But I don't want to get into that -- I really just want to focus on the many, many things in the movie that made no fucking sense whatsoever. Join me, won't you?

Things that make no goddamn sense in Dragonball: Evolution

• Goku's crush Chichi, after ignoring him for years and hanging out with the bullies who pick on him (and call him "Geeko," sigh), suddenly decides she likes him on his 18th birthday and invites him to her party.

• Piccolo's return to earth after a 2000 year imprisonment is never explained.

• Piccolo is supposed to destroy/conquer the world in seven days (he says both at different times), when there'll be an eclipse, despite the common sense that it's really just when he gets his hands on all seven dragonballs and gets granted a wish. The dragonballs have nothing to do with the eclipse, or at least none of the characters ever mention that.

• Piccolo knows where the Dragonballs are, except when he doesn't. He knows where the ones in a remote Japanese village and one at the bottom of a lake are, and then he knows one is supposed to be at Goku's grandpa Gohan's house (and knows where the house is), but has to go there and destroy the house and kill Gohan before he realizes the dragonball is gone.

• Even though Piccolo can wipe out villages with a wave of his hand, he send his minions Mai and some shitty monster straight out of a mid-'90s Power Rangers episode to get dragonballs sometimes, for no particular reason.

• While searching for the dragonballs during their epic cross-country journey, Goku and crew happen to run into a martial arts tournament where Goku's fellow student Chichi is fighting. This proves of no consequence whatsoever.

• While traversing the open country, Goku and crew fall into a hole dug by Yamcha. Now, this is exactly how they meet Yamcha in the comic... a comic which at that point included evil rabbits and ninja dogs. If you're going to put Goku in high school and take out virtually all the fantastic elements of the original series, then having a bandit who digs a hole in the middle of the desert and waits for someone to drive over that hole IS THE STUPIDEST FUCKING THING EVER.

• Although they apparently only have seven days to stop Piccolo, Roshi waits until after nightfall to jump out of the hole. The first thing he does is says "We don't have time for this," although he apparently had 8 hours to chill in the hole since he clearly could have left at any time. Then he asks Yamcha to help them find the dragonballs, and Yamcha agrees... ALTHOUGH THIS NEGOTIATION COULD HAVE EASILY TAKEN PLACE 8 HOURS AGO WHEN THEY FIRST LANDED IN THE HOLE. It is only after that occurs that Bulma checks her dragonball radar and discovers the dragonball is buried nearby and accessible only by the very hole they're in. If that coincidence wasn't enough, Yamcha just happens to have drilling equipment.

• Did I mention every time Goku touches a dragonball, it shows him glimpses of the future? It's really dumb and never explained. It also points out he's going to kill Roshi and Bulma, which isn't true. More on that later.

• Piccolo's henchwoman Mai appears to steal the dragonball in the hole/cave, and kicks Goku's ass. That is, the hero's ass, the guy who's supposed to believably beat the infinitely more powerful Piccolo later.

• After the loss of a dragonball and despite Roshi saying earlier the only way to defeat Piccolo is use the dragonballs and wish for him to be defeated, Roshi suddenly brings up another way: the Mafuba, a jar in which Piccolo can be contained. According to Roshi's master Eddie Ernie Hudson (an utterly needless character who shows up for this one scene) using it will "drain all of Roshi's life force" and kill him. It doesn't, for the record.

• While hanging out in the city with Master Roshi's master, there's another martial arts tournament in which Chichi is also fighting. Ignore that ridiculousness, because here's the great part -- Piccolo's henchwoman Mai fights her in the tournament to steal her blood in order to transform into Chichi (a power seen only in one scene and never explained). Now Chichi has not been traveling with the heroes and has had nothing but a few friendly exchanges with Goku at this point; Mai should have no idea who the hell she is. But instead she knows somehow that Goku and Chichi will go out on a date later that night and thus she can sneak in wherever the hell Goku and crew are staying and steal their dragonballs. Despite her nonsensically elaborate plan, Mai still gets caught almost instantly, resulting in a shitty fight scene between Chichis, the real point of this belabored bullshit.

• Oh, also: Bulma and Yamcha -- a character introduced 20 minutes previously, who spent most of that time watching the heroes from the top of a hole he personally dug -- fall in love and kiss.

• Piccolo gets all seven dragonballs. Instead of making a wish, he just hangs out until the protagonists show up.

• I'd say Piccolo does nothing, but instead he watches an incredibly nonsensical series of special effects. Although no one has said anything about needing to use the dragonballs in a special location, Piccolo has found some rocky crag with seven indents for the balls. When he puts the balls on the rock, the rock rises from the ground into this huge stone building, much like the thing Dr. Manhattan built on Mars, because why the fuck not. Assemble the seven dragonballs, get a free rock sculpture. This takes forever, and the dragonballs do some spinning around while Piccolo refuses to make his wish.

• The heroes show up. Roshi tries the Mafuba which doesn't work and doesn't kill Roshi even though we've been told it would. Just wanted to remind you.

• So all this time, we've been told that Piccolo has a minion named Oozaru which Goku vows to beat along with Piccolo. Piccolo announces that Goku is Oozaru, and the eclipse  transforms Goku into the were-monkey Oozaru, which Piccolo controls. Goku/Oozaru strangles Master Roshi to death. Despite the dragonball prophecy of Goku killing Bulma, this doesn't happen.

• Meanwhile, Bulma is having a gun-fight with Mai. It ends when a hidden Yamcha shoots Mai in the back. Yay.

• Goku decides not to be Oozaru any more. Seriously. That's it. There's something about having "faith" in one's self, but I have no idea how it applies here. Is Goku supposed to have faith he's not a weird were-monkey? Because he is. We just saw it.

• And, despite everyone insisting that only a wish from the dragonballs could defeat Piccolo, Goku defeats Piccolo with a kamehameha.

• Goku summons the dragon to wish Master Roshi back to life. The pure-CG dragon looks significantly shittier that the dragon from The Storm Riders, a Hong Kong martial arts film from 1998.

• Oh, and last but not least, all the old men in the film -- Gohan, Roshi -- say the dragon grants "one perfect wish." What the fuck does that mean? A "perfect" wish? How was Piccolo's wish to destroy/rule the world "perfect"? For that matter, how was Goku's wish to bring the guy he strangled as a were-monkey much better?

And that's just the shit that made no sense. That's not mentioning the horrible editing -- you may get whiplash from some of the cuts -- exacerbated by the epic 80+ minute run time, which ensures all the meager character development seems ridiculous and unearned. The dialog is... well, have a few "memorable quotes" the film's IMDB page:

• Goku: We have to find the Dragon balls before the eclipse.

• Master Roshi: You are the only one who can do it.

• Bulma: Lets go.

• Goku: [after Bulma's briefcase turns into a motorcycle] Cool!

• Grandpa Gohan: [battling Mai] Hah! Come on!

• Chi Chi: [confronting a duplicate of herself] Who the hell are YOU?

• Chi Chi: Did you do that?

THESE ARE THE MEMORABLE ONES. The rest of the lines are even less inspired.

So this movie is not at all for fans, because other than a few names and the barest aspect of the premise -- the dragonballs themselves -- this movie has nothing to do with Akira Toriyama's hit manga and anime. It's not for older boys or teens, because it's of infinitely less quality than movies than even the Pixar knock-offs like Monsters Vs. Aliens. I have to suspect that even five and six-year-olds would find the movie lame and incomprehensible unless they has severe Attention Deficit Disorder. 

So director James Wong has succeeded in making a film for absolutely nobody, and one that should prevent mass audiences from checking out the original manga and anime for the rest of their lives. It's a horrible adaptation of one the world's most popular franchises, and it's a shitty movie besides. Given the popularity of the source material, it's absolutely amazing that so few people in Asia and America have seen or are willing to see this film -- that's how amazingly terrible this film is. Well done, Dragonball: Evolution -- that's quite an impressive achievement. You did what no android or alien could do. You defeated Goku.

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