Dragonball Evolution Review
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I could, if I were so inclined, spend the next 500 words telling you why Dragonball Evolution simply isn’t a good movie. I could talk about the clichéd plot, underdeveloped lead villain, choppy action choreography, and groan-inducing expository dialogue. I could talk about the way it attempts to cram a 153-episode anime series into a film running only 85 minutes. If those are the things you’d like to hear, there are plenty of reviews that have done just that, and with perfectly valid reasons. But if you’re still with me, I’d rather tell you why, in spite of all these things, I found this to be an enjoyable, light-hearted action-comedy.

First, let’s get the story out of the way, as it’s admittedly not one of the film’s stronger features. Adapting Akira Toriyama’s long-running manga and anime, Dragonball Evolution is the first adventure of Goku (Justin Chatwin), a young martial artist who’s destined to save the world from the evil demon/alien Lord Piccolo (a nearly unrecognizable James Marsters) by collecting seven mystical orbs called Dragonballs, with which he can summon the spirit dragon Shen Long and be granted one wish. Along the way, he’s joined by the tech-savvy Bulma (Emmy Rossum), fellow fighter and high school crush Chi Chi (Jamie Chung), opportunistic thief Yamcha (Joon Park), and the slightly off-kilter Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat).

  
 
In the brightly colored world of the anime, this fusion of silliness and life-or-death epic struggle can be very entertaining. Trying to translate and capture that balance in live-action is no easy feat, as many, many failed cartoon adaptations can attest. Two important factors that made this one work for me—and that I think many others have undervalued—are the fantastic and detailed environments surrounding the characters and the actors’ willingness to try to walk the line between earnestness and outright goofiness.

Backgrounds usually get attention only when they involve impressive on-location cinematography, but here the CGI-enhanced cities and landscapes help create a world that’s fantastical enough for these very broad characters to inhabit. The geography makes no sense, going from high-tech metropolis to vast desert wasteland to lava-filled volcanic caldera in the blink of an eye, but it’s all gorgeous, and it adds a dream-like quality to the action.

Similarly, the actors have to balance between playing real people and the exaggerated caricatures that inhabit a cartoon. For the most part, they’re successful, and when they fall short, it’s not from lack of effort. Justin Chatwin makes a surprisingly charming Goku, keeping the character’s optimism and good nature intact without devolving into slapstick. The rest of the cast follows suit, especially veteran Chow Yun-Fat. I just wish they’d given James Marsters a bit more to do as Lord Piccolo, especially given the actor’s enthusiasm for the source material—he’s been quoted describing the “Shakespearean” overtones of the anime. There’s no denying that the man takes his work seriously.

There are also references and call-outs to the manga and anime scattered throughout, but regardless of your familiarity with the source material, none of it makes much sense. For me, at least, the wonderful thing was that it didn’t need to.

The DVD also includes a few deleted scenes, mini featurettes, and a gag real, but nothing that really adds too much to the film. As I said at the beginning, Dragonball Evolution has more than a few flaws, but it’s also a lot more fun than I think most people would expect.

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