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“Dragonball: Evolution”-(Chris)
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date:
Special Features:

Deleted scenes / featurette / 2 Fox Movie Channel specials / gag reel / music video


There’s surprisingly little evolving going on in “Dragonball: Evolution.” If anything, it de-evolves, taking an archetypal hero’s journey and stripping it down past the bare minimum. So many details are either quickly alluded to or altogether overlooked, which essentially leaves us with a fairly bland action adventure story that throws in a little self-discovery for good measure. ***

Based on the “Dragon Ball” graphic novels written and illustrated by Akira Toriyama, “Dragonball: Evolution” is an airy, innocuous fable with a minimalist plot that doesn’t require the audience to use their brains. It’s really just an excuse for impressive visual effects and intriguing costume designs, and even then it doesn’t quite work because not enough time is spent on them. ***

First, a little back story: During a solar eclipse 2,000 years ago, the evil alien warlord Piccolo (James Marsters) and his henchman, Oozaru, came to Earth with the intent to destroy it. Fortunately, a group of monks were able to imprison Piccolo with the aid of a spell. No one knew what happened to Oozaru, but it seems he’s useless without his master’s influence. As time goes on, Earth goes back to normal. ***

During this introduction, we also learn about dragonballs, billiard-sized spheres that glow like fire. There are seven in total, and each have a specific number of stars floating over the surface. When all have been collected and brought to a hidden temple, they have the ability to bring forth a magical dragon that can grant one wish. ***

Now, the story proper: We meet a teenage martial arts student named Goku (Justin Chatwin), who’s picked on at school and always fumbles his words when around attractive girls. He was raised his whole life by his grandfather, a martial arts instructor named Gohan (Randall Duk Kim). As we meet them, the two are engaged in hand-to-hand combat while balancing on a pair of elevated ropes, which must be some kind of pale reference to the gravity-defying stunts of films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” or “House of Flying Daggers.” ***

As they fight, they draw strength from their Ki (in other words, they conjure up balls of light out of thin air and hurl them at each other). After the fight, we get a real sense of the film’s dialogue; for Goku, this means an awkward series of one liners, and for Gohan, this means hopelessly cliché proverbs about having faith in yourself. Goku knows nothing about where he came from or why he never knew his parents, although Gohan insists that he’ll get all the answers come his eighteenth birthday. ***

And lo and behold, his eighteenth birthday arrives. So does Piccolo, and while we never learn how he managed to escape, we do learn that he plans to track down all seven dragonballs and use them for his own sinister purposes during a solar eclipse. As he flies through the clouds aboard a strange metallic ship, he relies on a young and deadly servant girl named Mai (Eriko Tamura) to actually retrieve the dragonballs, which are apparently scattered all over the world. ***

When Goku inherits a dragonball from his grandfather, it becomes his mission to track down the remaining dragonballs and save the world from total destruction. Along the way, he meets: Muten Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat), the martial arts master who instructed Gohan; the ridiculously named and technologically well-equipped Bulma Briefs (Emmy Rossum, who I remember much more affectionately as Christine from “The Phantom of the Opera”); and Yamcha (Joon Park) a desert bandit whose sole motivating force is a share of the profits. They’re eventually joined by Goku’s high school crush, the sweet-natured Chi-Chi (Jamie Cheung), who competes in martial arts tournaments in her spare time. ***

Never once does this movie pause to offer an explanation for anything. For starters, where exactly does this story take place? The exotic temples and village names hint at somewhere in Asia--a nighttime shot of a neon-drenched city skyline suggests Hong Kong. But since there’s absolutely no language barrier, not even for an alien that’s thousands of years old, it’s hard to know for sure. Revealing that Yamcha talks like a surfer dude will probably be of no help, and don’t get me started on the fact that the movie was filmed on location in Mexico. ***

Moving on (and I alluded to this earlier), how exactly did Piccolo escape? How did Mai come to be in his service? What exactly is this Capsule Corporation that Bulma works for? ***

Special Features:

The DVD includes eight deleted scenes, a gag reel, and the featurette “Guko’s Workout: Stunt Work.” Two specials from the Fox Movie Channel, “Making a Scene” and “Life After Film School with Justin Chatwin” are also included, as well as the music video for Brian Anthony’s “Worked Up.” The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen format and features Dolby 5.1 Digital Sound. ***

Final Words:

The ending is a nightmare unto itself for two very specific reasons: (1) it relies on a plot twist that the story wasn’t building up to; (2) it culminates with an act of charity so PG-rated that it’s downright anticlimactic. And what of the PG rating? Could that be the reason why a story about the threat of annihilation seems so unthreatening? It’s probably the reason why I wasn’t able to take Piccolo seriously--his pale green skin, dome-like bald head, and muscular black suit make him look more like a goofy invader from Mars than a frightening warlord from beyond. I know it’s the reason why Chow Yun-Fat’s dialogue was laughably bad. If there’s one thing this man shouldn’t have to do, it’s recite lines that mention the collectability of a swimsuit magazine. I could be mistaken, but I have a feeling that most audiences will not expect such dialogue from a film like “Dragonball: Evolution.”


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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