20th Century Fox
At Quality 16 and Showcase
1.5 out of 5 stars
With every remotely noteworthy superhero and video-game persona making a big-screen debut in the past decade, it was only a matter of time before a classic anime series followed suit. “Dragonball Evolution” revives lovable characters from the “Dragonball” TV series — including Goku, Bulma, Piccolo and more — in live-action form. What it doesn’t revive, however, is the spirit of the timeless cartoon. Unlike the show, there is little character development and the fight scenes are cheesy and slow.
The plot centers on Goku (Justin Chatwin, “The Invisible”), an abnormal boy who can harness his “ki” (some sort of life force) but can’t fit into normal school life. Enter the newly escaped-from-banishment green demon Piccolo, who lays waste to everything in his path as he searches for seven mysterious orbs known as Dragonballs. The holder of all seven Dragonballs is granted one wish, so Goku, teamed with a few friends, goes on a quest to find the spheres and stop Piccolo. Like most TV series translated into a motion pictures, “Dragonball” tries to include too much in too little time. Characters are introduced willy-nilly with little background supplement.
Much of the appeal of the cartoon was the intricate storyline coupled with the unique personalities each character brought to the manga. The movie should have focused on just a few important characters and taken the time to really flesh them out. That could have eliminated many of the half-assed introductory scenes, thereby siphoning the extra time into a deeper, more linear storyline.
But the movie’s biggest letdowns are its action sequences. Fans of the series know the frequent encounters in the TV show between the forces of good and evil were epic and surprising. Contrastingly, the film contains few battles, and the battles it does have repeat themselves. They all involve the same moves and CGI effects, neither of which look polished. The only thing missing as the characters fly across the screen is the wire suspending them in the air. The heavy green-screen usage is extremely apparent (like a certain instance when Goku hops across a very “real” lava flow), leaving many scenes looking doctored and amateur.
Because there are only a handful of real fighting scenes, much of “Dragonball” is boring filler. Each new line of uninspired and unnecessary dialogue makes the hour-and-a-half long flick feel much longer than it rightfully should. The only slightly redeeming qualities of the movie are the striking Emmy Rossum (“The Day After Tomorrow”) and relative newcomer Jamie Chung. Given the rest of the movie’s shortcomings, it’s not surprising that it uses the age-old technique of hiring charming starlets to compensate for its lack of substance.
“Dragonball” will probably appeal to very few people — the fanboys, children under the age of 11 and most likely some randy, single men over 40. Future anime-based movies should learn from the atrocity that is this film, and hopefully evolve into something worth watching.