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Box Office Most Wanted Ep. 2: #126 – Dragonball Evolution

Box Office Most Wanted is a series dedicated to discussing some of the lowest grossing films of all time. The list of films can be found, and are ranked according to, the Box Office Mojo list of the “Worst Openings – Very Wide,” which is to say the lowest grossing opening weekends from films released in 2,000+ theaters domestically (U.S. and Canada).

Dragonball Evolution

  • Release Date – April 10, 2009
  • Production Budget – Unknown (est. $45 million)
  • Size of Release – 2,181 theaters
  • Opening Weekend Box Office – $4,756,488
  • Total Box Office – $9,362,785
  • 126th lowest box office opening in a wide release ever

 

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The writer apologized for it. The creator of the property from which it was based refuses to even use the property’s name to describe itDragonball Evolution was a major creative failure. Let’s talk about it!

Dragon Ball, one of the most popular and successful multimedia franchises on the market, the multiple anime series adapted from manga titles still a pervasive pop cultural force, was destined for a live action feature film release. It only seemed right that the anime would get such a live action facelift.

In 2009, we got just that. Only, it wasn’t the action tour de force fans had hoped for. Instead, it was a flaming bag of dog doo dropped at our feet, and watching the 85-minute snooze fest was akin to stomping out such a bag: effort we feel we shouldn’t need to take for such an unfortunate result.

The film opens on a voiceover narration laying out the backstory needed before the film can truly begin. And, given it is the first thing we hear, it isn’t easy to follow. A warlord named Piccolo (James Marsters) came to Earth long ago, bringing darkness and chaos to the planet with his companion Ozaru (Ian Whyte). Seemingly, they wreaked havoc to near apocalyptic levels (although this has been forgotten in time somehow), until a group of warriors used the “mafuba” to bury Piccolo into the Earth, and Ozaru fled. Thousands of years later, Piccolo and Ozaru return.

It all makes some amount of sense, but need it be so complicated? Do we need to get all of this information in the first 30 seconds? It all gets re-explained later, after all (except, it makes less sense there).

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The first real shot we get from the film is one of Goku (Justin Chatwin). It is an extreme close-up on just his eyes, Sergio Leone style, as he sweats what is painfully obvious CG drops of sweat. Speaking of which, the backgrounds are also painfully obvious green screen. They couldn’t get a tactile set that looked like a house and some trees? Did everything have to be green-screened? Didn’t we learn our lesson after The Phantom Menace?

Goku and Grandpa Gohan (Randall Duk Kim) spar on tightropes, culminating in Goku being flung into a random pile of watermelons. This is our introduction to both characters, a tepid fight sequence ending in a faceplant into fruit.

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By the way, I should probably mention that Goku, a character directly taken from a Japanese manga, perhaps the single most globally recognized character in manga, is played by a white guy. His grandpa is Asian, but he is 100%, no doubt about it white. How? Why? Much of this film is westernized, which I can understand to an extent, but why would you cast the lead character of the story as a white kid? Was the actor just that good? (the answer is a resounding no).

Goku is also in high school (Unitech High School?). To put this in perspective, Goku is a child in the run of Dragon Ball and an adult in Dragon Ball Z. Instead of being the cool and witty, powerful and positive Goku from the anime, this Goku is an angst-filled, girl-obsessed teen whose personality does not reach far beyond that. The first act consists of Goku fighting bullies with douchy one-liners and chasing after Chi Chi (Jamie Chung). But hey, change isn’t always bad. So the writers wanted to take a new approach to the characters…by making a completely different character. Goku, here, is just kind of..lame.

While Goku tries to get laid at a party, Piccolo returns (how, I don’t know. They go out of their way to explain how he was trapped in the Earth without explaining how he got back out?). He breaks into Goku’s house, killing Gradpappy Gohan in search of the Dragonball, which Goku owns. Goku returns (because some otherworldy force from the moon tells him that his grandpa is in danger) to find his house reduced to 2x4s.

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Later, Goku’s “house” is broken into by Bulma Boxers, I mean Briefs. Bulma (Emmy Rossum) attacks Goku in search of the Dragonball, then they make an alliance out of thin air to find Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat). And Goku eats comically large turkey legs.

Even later, Goku and Bulma break into Roshi’s house (why?) and Goku gets his “clock cleaned” by Chow Yun-Fat. Note the line reading of Goku here: “Now, I am going to end it.” It’s like he doesn’t know how words work.

Chow Yun-Fat here is unfortunately boxed into the zany Master Roshi role, which offers him nothing in terms of range. Not that any actor here is engaging in any sort of “range,” but if any actor could have done something worthwhile here, it was Chow Yun-Fat.

Roshi tells them that they must find the seven Dragonballs before the solar eclipse in one week’s time or bad things will happen. Does this refer to Piccolo? If so, why is he in search of the Dragonballs? Wouldn’t he just need one then wait out the week until the eclipse? If it is in reference to him but he needs the seven Dragonballs in order to fulfill the prophecy, what if he doesn’t get the Dragonballs in time? Is the prophecy moot then? What if he gets them the day after the eclipse? Shouldn’t the Dragonballs work on their own once brought together, like in the anime, regardless of an eclipse? Also, what will Goku having all of the Dragonballs do to stop Piccolo? Or the solar eclipse prophecy? What is going on!?

O.K. so I guess the solar eclipse will signal the return of Ozaru (why?) and they need the Dragonballs so that Piccolo can’t generate Shenron and end humanity…I guess. I still don’t understand.

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Let’s take a moment to think about this. This shot is in a Dragon Ball movie.

In search for the Dragonballs, our clan of fighters travel to CG hellscapes of lava, where they fight mutant clones of Piccolo (?) who are similarly CGI-d, poorly.

Fight scene throughout are similarly poor. Nothing in this film feels real. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are simple enough to be stunt-acted, but they look and feel so augmented to the point of being comically fake. I obviously understand CG-augmenting things like the Kamehameha wave, but there are plenty of scenes of simple fighting that could be executed with real fight choreography and aren’t.

Dragonball Evolution is 85 minutes long, but it easily feels like two hours. Goku and friends search for the Dragonballs while Piccolo essentially does nothing, so much so that it hardly matters when we get to the climax.

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Yamcha: We did it, bros.

This climax is exactly what one would expect given what has come before. A disgusting CG monkey, green screen set pieces, and uninspired acting brings this movie to its finish, which couldn’t come soon enough.

Dragonball Evolution got nothing right. The film abandons any attempt at using the heavily respected source material for the sake of poorly imitating The Matrix style fighting and making Goku a “relatable” human teenager. The film also somehow confuses Dragon Ball with Avatar: The Last Airbender, as the use of the Kamehameha technique comes down to harnessing air bending. Seriously, how could they get those things mixed up? Speaking of the Kamehameha wave, it is used as a defibrillator to resuscitate Goku. What? How? Why? Wouldn’t it just blast a hole through his chest?

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This is without mentioning a handful of integral characters to the manga and anime do not even appear in this movie. Krillen, Tien, and Vegeta are nowhere to be found, but this is probably for the best because Yamcha (Joon Park) is transformed into a frat bro with ham-fisted line readings and no reason to be in the movie at all save for his name. And Bulma is turned into a static nothing of a character with no memorable qualities save for her hair (which looks nothing like Bulma’s hair in the anime, nor anyone’s hair for that matter). At least Piccolo is a total embodiment of the pure evil that is the Namek race. Wait, the Nameks are an incredibly peaceful people? Oh, well in that case, Piccolo looks like a green Ivan Ooze (or, for a more current reference, Apocalypse from X-Men: Apocalypse).

 

Verdict

Dragonball Evolution is a cash grab film if I’ve ever seen one. Even the writer of the film, Ben Ramsey, admitted to that. It refuses to remain faithful to where it came from, enraging fans in the process. Fan or non-fan, most would agree that the film is an incoherent mess that goes nowhere fast. And when the creative team behind the film doesn’t even listen to the suggestions coming from the property’s creator, you know something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

In the end, Dragonball Evolution is: Unwatchable.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

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