Dragonball: Evolution DVD review

Ropey VFX and a by-the-numbers teen action template do no favours to this little-anticipated movie...

Dragonball Evolution

Some spoilers…

Thousands of years ago, the evil Lord Piccolo came to our world from across the stars with his demon buddy Osaru and waged war on Earth. Thankfully, some powerful people defeated him, trapping him for all eternity. Except, he’s escaped and he’s a bit miffed and intent on destroying the world by bringing together seven glowing, orange balls.

Thankfully, we’ve got a hero to stop him, a young man who is only just becoming aware of his power, but that’s not a problem when you’ve got a co-writer of X-Files, Millennium, Final Destination and a few other things.

The first rule is: There are no rules, so says Mister Miyagi as he tells Daniel-San…oops, wrong film…that “The first one to touch the ground loses.” So much for no rules, then. We’re then introduced to some half-decent wire work and some okay CGI as the two characters – Goku, played by Justin Chatwin, and his grandfather, Gohan, played by Randall Duk Kim – fight it out on two clothes-lines only to have Goku lose in suitably embarrassing fashion. A few mystic-sounding statements, a quiet introduction to a dragonball and then we find that Goku isn’t too cool for school (as the saying goes.)

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So, we get to school, Goku tries to stand up to the bully and fails miserably. He clenches his fist. There you go, we’ve got anger and pent-up rage but he doesn’t want to use his powers because his grandfather told him not to. That’s okay, because Goku is a good lad and not really well respected at school anyway.

In the meantime, it looks like Piccolo is back and preparing for the solar eclipse on his evil looking on his CG flying machine. He’s hunting for the Dragonballs because they’re a bit rare and once he has all seven he’ll be able to bring about demons and other such stuff. He wants to rule the world, by destroying it, I’m guessing. Thankfully, he has his faithful assistant, Mai, to help him. She’s a bit kick ass and doesn’t get to say much.

Goku, being a teenage boy, fancies a girl called Chi-Chi. We know this because he stares at her, and when he gets his first opportunity to speak to her he babbles like a moron, before inviting himself to her party… which means missing the birthday party that Gohan throws every year for the pair of them.

Chi Chi’s party is being held at what appears to be a theme park-style castle. It’s a pretty tame affair, with a bit of music going on, conversation but absolutely nothing that you’d expect at the party of a senior.

Thankfully, the bullies change that as they don’t like Goku being there… he might spice up the party or something with his wacky hair that even the toughest gel can’t control. So, words are exchanged and Goku decides to not fight the bullies, instead dodging their every blow and getting them to beat up each other. Goku’s a bit like Ghandi, you see.

Piccolo decides to pay a visit on Gohan, looking for a Dragonball. Gohan doesn’t have it, so Piccolo lays waste to the old man and the house, demolishing it with a gesture and storming off in a bit of a strop.

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Realising that something is wrong with Gohan by looking at the moon, Goku rushes home just in time to be told that he has to search out Muten Roshi, and find all seven Dragonballs before the eclipse otherwise Picollo will be all powerful.

After burying his grandfather in the backyard, Goku decides to go on his mission escorted by the gun toting Bulma Briefs, played by Emmy Rossum, who becomes Goku’s friend after fighting him. She’s hunting for a particular Dragonball that was stolen from the Capsule Corporation. Together, they track down Roshi in pretty quick fashion and, after a quick fight scene, they become good friends. Perhaps the bullies would have been Goku’s friend too if he’d have only fought them.

Roshi takes them all to a secret training place, where there are tons of people training in martial arts for a big martial arts tournament that really isn’t that important. There, Goku is reunited with Chi Chi and must overcome Piccolo without anyone else getting involved (perhaps all the other fighters were at lunch whilst the big showdowns take place.)

In between being reminded of the burden placed upon Goku quite regularly, we get walking, running, driving, more fights and a bit of tensionless dilemma as we suddenly arrive in the last act. You see, Mai steals three of the Dragonballs, whilst Piccolo has managed to get the other four. Our heroes are set for the final CGI showdown and Goku gets to wear his garish yellow outfit, after his day clothes get a bit dusty… at least that seems to be the reason why he gets changed

In the last act, there’s a bit of an unoriginal twist, where we find out the truth about Goku and his heritage (including why his grandfather is Asian, whilst he’s clearly not) and he turns into a strange looking wolfman creature. A few cut-scenes of other activity, and it all boils down to a far-too-short energy ball fight.

Oh god, this is really, really bad.

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Seriously, it’s a mess of a film. Chatwin and Rossum do what they can with some really bad dialogue (“To be at one with myself, I must be two,” emotes Goku), some of the CGI would look out of place in a TV miniseries, and they try to cram so much of the Dragonball mythology in that every other line pretends to have some significance.

James Marsters gets precious little screen time in the first 60 minutes of the film. Heavily made up, Marsters is only recognisable for his voice. Even in the big showdown he’s given very little to do but pose and say the odd line in between poses.

The special effects are a bit of a mixed bag. The transformation of Brief’s bike is pretty funky, some of the cityscapes look pretty futuristic, if just a bit too clean, and even the opening scene, with the Elfman-esque music, is almost impressive.

On the flipside, there’s some green-screen stuff, however, that isn’t as impressive, and some of the technology looks hokey. The wire work and fight sequences are okay, but rely on bullet-time far too much. In places, it’s like watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

A constant with the film is its lack of emotion. Death and love, honour and destiny are all dealt with in the same, cack-handed way, ready to be swept aside by the next moment of nothingness. I wasn’t expecting any real depth to any of this, but an understanding of tension and emotion would have made up for some of the bigger holes in the plot. Even the ending of the film, in which a death is reversed, love is found and (during the end credits) a sequel is set up lacks any real sense of drama.

It’s clear that the film-makers don’t know whether they want to make a fast moving action flick or something deeper, so they successfully achieve neither. There are some action sequences, followed by a leisurely stroll around various locations leading into the next action sequence.

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I can’t imagine Dragonball: Evolution being a crowning moment on the CV of any cast member. As Chatwin says about Dragonball (in the Life After Film School extra) “it will (either) allow me to stretch my muscles… or it’ll be the last movie I’ll ever do.”

ExtrasThere’s a bunch of deleted scenes which range from silly (Goku lifting a car) to quite interesting (Brief’s reason for wanting the Dragonballs, and telling Goku what her name is.) In some cases, the scenes are alternate takes.

As with many DVD releases, it makes you wonder why they don’t just incorporate the scenes back into the film. It’s not like the film over-ran and there’s the whole “scenes not seen in the theatre” angle to exploit.

In under five minutes, two of the fight co-ordinators show us how we can work out to be just like Goku (I’m assuming without the dodgy CGI energy balls and crazy hair.) It’s like a really, really short keep fit video that has to be the cheesiest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

There’s also a music video for Bryan Anthony’s “Worked Up.” I don’t recall this being in the film, but it’s possible I’d glazed over at this point.

A two-minute gag reel mainly consists of outtakes of stunt sequences. Jamie Chung (Chi Chi) being embarrassed at her screen kiss is quite endearing, though, and some of the fight choreography is interesting.

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Making a Scene is a Fox Movie Channel presentation. It looks at the making of the Chi Chi versus Chi Chi fight scene featuring interviews with Jamie Chung and some of the production staff. It’s interesting to see that, despite the possibility of CGI, the decision was made to have Chung perform both halves of the fight over and over until they could put together the scene using a motion control camera. It would have been nice if this feature ran for more than ten minutes and covered more of the fight scenes and general stunt work.

Life After Film School With Jason Chatwin is another Fox Movie Channel production where “film theory collides with the reality of film making.” It’s presented by three film students and takes the form of an interview, running for just shy of 25 minutes. It’s actually quite interesting as Chatwin answers a variety of questions about his experiences as an actor, not just in Dragonball, and he seems quite open and honest. This is the best of the extras.

Coming Soon gives us trailers for Ice Age 3 and Night at the Museum 2.


2 stars
3 stars

Dragonball Evolution is released on the 7th of September


2 out of 5