Dragonball: Evolution Review

Published 6 years ago by , Updated May 10th, 2009 at 9:41 am,

Short version: Dragonball: Evolution is a badly written film with horrible dialogue, lackluster action and a sense of fun that’s nowhere to be found.

dragonball evolution review Dragonball: Evolution Review
Screen Rant’s Ross Miller reviews Dragonball: Evolution

When you head to the theater to see a movie called Dragonball: Evolution, you obviously aren’t expecting Shakespeare. From the advertising, the whole thing gives off a feeling of light, campy, action-packed fun that you would hope would allow you to just sit back, relax and turn off your brain for 90 minutes or so.

Yeah, well, that’s why we have words like “hope” as a counterpoint to “guarantee.”

Dragonball: Evolution may very well be one of the worst films of the past 12 months or so – I am actually struggling to think of the last movie I thought was quite as bad as this one was. And it’s not one of those cases where it’s just not my cup of tea… No, this is a flat-out bad movie in pretty much every area that makes up a motion picture.

Based on the popular anime series of the same (or at least similar) name, Dragonball: Evolution follows Goku (played by Justin Chatwin) who carries out his grandfather’s dying request to find Master Roshi (played by Chow Yun-Fat) and locate all seven of the powerful Dragon Balls. He already has one of them, but with the help of Bulma (played by Emmy Rossum), Master Roshi and Yamcha (played by Joon Park), he must find the others before the evil Lord Piccolo (played by James Marsters) does, whose intentions are to use them to take over the world.

Now let me just point out that I very much represent those who are not fans of the source material, and in fact know next to nothing about it. I can say without reservation that I am in the majority – if you’re a fan it may feel like everyone in the world is a fan of the cartoon, but trust me, most of the general movie-going population (who will be exposed to this through TV and other marketing) will barely even have heard of it, never mind having seen any of it.

So I then have to judge the film purely on its own merits, without having the prior knowledge to be able to compare and contrast it with the source material. Some fans of the cartoon may get a kick out of seeing such things as a certain costume or a hairstyle appear in some form, but as a movie this thing flat out stinks. And not even in a yeah it was bad, but kind of fun in spite of that” kind of way – in pretty much all areas you can think of, it is awful.

The main problem with the film is the script, meaning both dialogue and the story. First off, I can’t believe how bad the dialogue was in this movie. From the very first scene in the film, which sees the movie starting off with a short back story explanation, the dialogue is painful. Near the beginning of the movie we see Goku being trained to fight by his grandpa while balancing on two ropes – and the back and forth exchange of dialogue is like something written to sound cool, but is delivered and pulled off so poorly that it’s cheesy and downright cringe-worthy.

That’s pretty much representative of the entire movie right off the bat – everything comes off as cheesy, nothing can be taken seriously, not even when Goku is supposed to be upset right after his grandfather dies (which happens within the first 10 minutes, so that’s not really a spoiler). Every time a character opens their mouth and delivers this atrocious excuse for dialogue, I felt like covering my ears and shutting my eyes in embarrassment (which I did do a handful of times, I’m not even kidding).

Well, you might be thinking “so what?” Who cares if the dialogue is bad and high on the cheese-meter? The action has to make up for that, right? Well, wrong. Actually, dead wrong. Action is the one thing that could have saved this movie from the abyss, but they even manage to muck that potential up. The action is not just mediocre or even sub-par – oh no, it’s worse than that – it’s terrible. Director James Wong clearly doesn’t know how to direct the needed action (although he seemed to do okay with Jet Li’s The One), and the attempts he makes are reminiscent of a young kid having fun in a special effects studio, just randomly pressing any of the fancy buttons on display.

They attempt to have 300-esque action scenes of things going from normal speed to slow-motion and then suddenly speeding back up to normal again. But for such a technique to be effective you have to know what you’re doing, and it’s evident from this movie that Wong doesn’t. Zack Snyder, although using it a bit too flippantly in 300, timed the slowing down thing pretty much perfectly, matching up exactly with the action on-screen and giving that extra bit of kick. But here it’s used far, far too often for no reason other than to just have it in there for the sake of it. There’s a strange sense that the movie thinks what it’s doing is cool… but “laughable” is more the accurate description.

You probably want to know how the cast did… Well unfortunately, like the rest of the movie, pretty awful. Justin Chatwin is completely miscast in the role of Goku (for some reason an American playing this character just doesn’t feel right), Emmy Rossum is hot but nonetheless terrible as Bulma, and I feel embarrassed that Chow Yun-Fat has gone from amazing stuff like Hard Boiled and The Killer to eye-rolling stuff like this. The only actor who did all right (and I stress, just all right) was James Marsters as (an underused) Lord Piccolo – he’s not in any way good, but, let’s just say… he was less terrible than the rest of the cast.

The only thing I can think of that’s even remotely positive about Dragonball: Evolution is that the special effects are pretty cool at times. Not during some of the hand-to-hand combat scenes (where the effects are so obviously… effects, if you know what I mean), but when they use what is known as “KI attacks,” which are basically blasts of different colored energy from their hands.

Props go to Amalgamated Dynamics for creating special effects which are, on their own, quite visually stunning. Also, the movie is really quite short, so at least I didn’t have to sit through the pain for all that long.

However, that’s pretty much where the positive stuff ends – you just know a movie is in trouble when you are literally straining to think of something you liked about it.

I don’t know if the story they used here in any way resembles the original cartoon/anime stories, but how they told it in the movie was abysmal. There were clearly elements taken from the source material, and it is then clearly a story (or one of the stories… I don’t know, I’m not a Dragonball fan) that may work well in a cartoon but it does not work well on the big-screen. Not for even the slightest moment.

I lost count of the number of times I rolled my eyes, snickered, groaned, and shook my head in embarrassment and shame during this movie. I can’t actually believe the filmmakers looked at the script and thought, “Yes, this is good stuff. Let’s go ahead and make it!” It’s probably just one of those cases where they saw the popularity of the source material and thought that they could make a quick buck by just throwing anyone in the roles, sticking together bits and pieces from the cartoon to form something resembling a story.

So needless to say I don’t recommend Dragonball: Evolution. I wasn’t expecting this to be any good, but I don’t know if I was expecting it to be this bad. Please, if you believe in the magic of cinema, avoid this with as much effort as it takes.

Our Rating:

0.5 out of 5

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  1. Lord Thanos wrote:
    “@KEN J
    Actually it was the Red Ribbon Gang b4 Piccolo, and it was about the adventures about him and the quest for finding The 4 star dragonball after someone made a Wish. It just seem like you trying to nitpick and how simple the story is. There are ways to edit a story to make it better.”

    Uh, sorry for the late reply, but just wanted to point something out. I’m not nitpicking about how simple it is. I’m saying that it all sounds completely preposterous. But then again, it is an anime, so can’t really expect anything NOT completely crazy… But hey, crazy can be good if you’re into that. :-)

  2. I am sorry, but you must know next to nothing about films, unless your a dinosour that is about 50 years old. That may be the reason that you fail to understand the film’s depth. This movie is supposed to be an introduction to the characters because there are people, like yourself, that have not even heard of the anime series you don’t know who is who and what they mean to the plot as a whole. For example you may not be aware of this, but later picolo becomes the good guy with a comletely new image. Goku also goes through changes as he finds out more about himself and the planet that he is really from.

  3. Let’s just hope the team behind the sequel reckons the mistakes in the first one and actually does something about it…

  4. @Gabby

    The movie sure did fail doing that.
    None of the characters fully resemble the ones in the series.
    And I’m not talking about the fact goku isn’t a kid(which doesn’t matter, because he’s a teenager in the last saga of dragonball anyway), but the way they act and the way they should’ve acted.

  5. @ Gabby

    The film has no depth, besides some events from DB and name sake. The plot and characters are as waffer thin as the Dead or Alive movie which is also somewhat better than this film. Before you make inaccurate accusations about what some one has heard and not heard of , ASK. The information of DB world is not a coveted secret that can only be viewed on dvds and in the mangas. I doubt you have anymore knowledge about films than the person you are trying to attack.

  6. LOL, the film’s depth.

  7. @ T-Grave

    I don’t think anyone expected the the characters to be dead on reflections of the anime character (except maybe Piccolo), but they could have definitely done better than the actors they went with the exception of Chow Yun Fat because he is a good actor, but the dialogue, and effects still bring it down.

  8. 50 years old are dinousaurs and know nothing about films??

    The majority of critics are dinosaurs then!

  9. wow………comment much?

  10. Wow, i thought this movie was pretty cool, it was funny and had good action. Some people just want too much.

  11. oh yea, and it only had a 75 million dollar budget, hopefully a sequel does get made cuz im positive it will be even better. Flame all you want but i enjoyed this movie better than Watchmen.

  12. Well, I think that the fact the a little known website (no offense) such as this can strike such a strong showing from so many people says enough about the DBZ universe. What I find amusing is how people are saying the source material is postperous for making a movie, is hard to make into a movie, etc. just re-affirms that people will defend anything in anyway they want. How is it an alien from a different planet that has super human powers can be considered outlandish? Ever heard of Superman (at least DBZ has cool names, lol)? Or that an object can be used to summon a super being? Ever heard of Alladin (yeah, I’m reaching a little here, but work with me)?

    Now, I will admit that I am a fan of just superheroes in general. They are just cool. I like pretty much anything that deals with good and evil, which is the core of the DBZ universe. Now wether that is as simple as just humans, like a WWII film, or something as far out there as Transformers.

    It matters not which franchise is bigger then another, what matters is the marketing and orginal fanbase of a film. Take X-Men, Spiderman, etc. Do you really think these movies would have done as well if they didn’t receive the marketing that was behind them or the money that was spent on them? Granted, being Americana helps their cause here in the States.

    I am a huge fan of the DBZ universe because it intrigues the imagination for myself. If they would have put the effort into this that they did for say the Spiderman movie franchise, I would go as far as saying this movie would have had just as well a showing. Not everyone knew what Transformers, Spiderman, Batman, etc. was until it was put into the mainstream that is known as theatre.

    Anyway, I am a fan of DBZ, will be seeing this movie even though it has gotten horrible reviews because I want to support something that I enjoy. After I see it, I will probably personally send everyone involved with the film a death threat for ruining what could have been a good eye candy film (because let’s face it, that’s all this genre is) and making it into the worst hour and half of my theatre life.

    Flame on!


  13. Hey Scott,

    Well maybe you could poke around here and if you like our site, spread the word and help make it not so “little.” :-)

    Thanks for stopping by.


  14. And one more thing about the Star Wars comparsion. I think they are very comparable because the have crossed into many medias. They both have TV shows, comics, anime movies, real life action movies, trading cards, trading card games, dedicated fanbases, etc.

  15. Vic you make it sound as if there were people in the workd that thought this movie was going to good. I could have told you what was going to happen to the overbloated pile before it even came out.

    You know I really do feel bad for poor Chow Yun Fat. I think it all started going downhill for him after Bulletproof Monk, although CTHD did manage to pull him into the spotlight again. And for the sake of all that’s Holy, can we try some special effects without “wire-fu”? If you want to GOOD hand -to-hand combat watch “The Elventh Hour”. Now there is a fight scene for people that enjoy a well thoughtout and choreographed fight.

  16. Vic you make it sound as if there were people in the worked that thought this movie was going to good. I could have told you what was going to happen to the over bloated pile before it even came out.

    You know I really do feel bad for poor Chow Yun Fat. I think it all started going downhill for him after Bulletproof Monk, although CTHD did manage to pull him into the spotlight again. And for the sake of all that’s Holy, can we try some special effects without “wire-fu”? If you want to GOOD hand -to-hand combat watch “The Eleventh Hour”. Now there is a fight scene for people that enjoy a well thought-out and choreographed fight.

  17. its 2009 and this film had 1996 or 97 which ever one it was, spawn special effects. i have seen been effects in 80’s movies

  18. better special effects in 80’s movies

  19. Well, I went to see it because my wife and kids had other things to do. I would give it more than 1/2 star, maybe 2.5 stars. If you are a DB fan and expect this to be like that cartoon, forget it. For the DB fans; did Piccolo have anyone helping him before he was split? I don’t remember a woman helping him and defanitely not Oozaro. I can live with some of the changes but some of the effects and acting were just downright horrible. I doubt if they will get their money back on this one.

  20. @ Scott

    You are saying that DB is not mainstream? Because I feel like Fox would not have gambled on the film with what some people call as lack of marketing. Again please stop with the numbers, they really serve no purpose, if this was about how much revenue this film can pull or is pulling or trading company stocks then ok, but this about a crappy movie, that’s crap due to poor scripting, acting, acting choice with a few exceptions, and crap CGI. Also word probably got around the movie sucked so bad that theaters decided not to show it, which does happen. It already has been proven that budget really has minimal bearing on overall quality of a movie. No one is arguing that this worthless pile of excrement called DB Evolution could have been a better movie in the right hands, but it just appears to be aimed at a mainstream/fan base primarily under the age of 16. Also the Watchmen comment holds true for any movie, but like Marvel and DC Universe characters (the well known ones) they were already in the mainstream through other forms of media mostly comics. People will also make a decision to not want to delve further into the DB universe or Watchmen or whatever universe based on a film, book, or series. Most people don’t base wanting to know more about things such as DB universe or Pokemon or whatever on revenue figures. They just choose to do so. I can’t imagine some one saying oh wow u have to become a fan of this or that because it made $1 million in revenue last year, or them going to check the daily stock figures of a commodity and saying yep stocks are up on this so Im going to be a fan. Throwing large sums of money at everything is not always the answer. I must commend you though, you are the first fanboy on this thread that has not become overly enraged and childish about a differing opinion.

  21. Honestly I have loved Dragon Ball Z all my life and went in thinking this was going to be a complete letdown, but I was wrong. Sure the fights needed to be more intense, and longer, but I think everyone was cast pretty great. I don’t know if anyone even watched this show but Goku is an alien, we all understand that right? How is it wrong that he is an American actor? Also if you have ever watched the show you would realize how goofy it is, and this movie follows suit. I don’t even care if I am the only one, but I for one am looking forward to the follow-up movies. I hate how people think these movies will ruin one of their favorite shows, why not just look at it as a re-imagining of DB or DBZ? That’s all I did, and I enjoyed almost the entire movie, even though I figured it would suck completely. Everyone has their own opinions obviously, but I think everyone should be more open-minded about this movie!

  22. Stepping into the mud-fight here if I may to clear some things up:

    I grew up with Dragonball. I first watched it when I was around six, back when anime didn’t exist outside of Japan and a few Asian countries (I watched it with Chinese dubs on television in my grandparents’ house in Taiwan). Even as a kid I didn’t think it was great, but I watched a part of the series because of the original source material it was taken from.

    Dragonball was revolutionary because it was one of the first cartoons to retell the incredibly popular Chinese novel, Journey to the West in a new and interesting way. For those unfamiliar with the name, it’s one of the four great Chinese classics, written in the 16th century. Practically every East Asian kid, boy or girl, was raised on its tales, and is probably on par with the Odyssey in terms of epic, though its comedic quality and tales of magic, kung-fu, and Chinese folk gods appealed to very young children as well as adults. Movies, dramas, books, and comics are still being made in reference to it.

    The name Son Goku is taken directly from the main character in the novel (The Japanese pronunciation of Sun Wukong, who is a monkey god in the novel). The Ox King, Fire Fire Mountain, and other characters were all taken, or derived from the various episodic tales told throughout the novel. Those of us familiar with the original work enjoyed seeing the parallels: Goku riding a nimbus cloud, carrying a stick that can grow or shrink at will, etc.

    Of course, this is virtually meaningless to a western audience. That’s why when anime and the Dragonball series was first introduced to America it wasn’t with Dragonball, but with Dragonball Z.

    Dragonball Z is a whole other ball game. It’s fairly pointless, with lots of powering up, endless fight scenes, and tons of ass-kicking. I enjoyed it in a brainless kind of way, but let’s not try to draw any deep meanings from it. However, if all you wanted was to see stuff blow up, lots of blood and guts, perverted humor, and tons of action, it was perfect. That’s fine.

    Dragonball Evolution made the mistake of trying to start from the beginning, with Dragonball. You simply cannot stay to the material (without making the plot sound like the result of a retarded man on crack, as several of the above commenters pointed out) that was Dragonball because there’s too much backstory and too many references that would have required explanation. Not to mention that Dragonball was less action and more light-hearted fun, and a lot of the plot is absolutely ridiculous.

    They should have started with Dragonball Z and made it a purely action/fighting film mixed with familiar characters recognizable to the fans tacked with a shallow reference to some Asian ideas. Base it not off any of the arcs in the anime, but its own, say some in-between storyline not yet told.

    I would have watched a movie like that, and maybe even several others. As it stands, I cannot bear to even see a picture of the film without wanting to cover my eyes and crying, “Nooooo!”.

  23. @Harumi

    I totally disagree with you on that part about the western audience comment(to a point), because it appears you trying to compare two different cultures. I wouldn’t expect a “western” audience to know those things, just like I wouldn’t expect an “eastern” audience to know about certain events or literature specific to “western” history. Besides it doesn’t take much to open up a book or internet if people really wanted to know. Plus I can remember watching a few episodes of DragonBall before DBZ, It just wasn’t my cup of tea to get totally into. And also anyone who doesnt about DB and watch this will more than likely agree on its crappiness.

  24. I’m not sure what you’re disagreeing with me about, since you basically reiterated my point. I was addressing the complaint that the movie should have “stuck with the original storyline”, which wouldn’t have worked because of all the background in it. I don’t expect a western audience to know anything about Journey to the West (and Asians certainly don’t know much about the Odyssey), but it doesn’t take away from the fact that without such background knowledge, it often gets in the way of story enjoyment. Sure, we can research on the internet, but a movie shouldn’t require research unless it’s a pure niche movie dedicated to hardcore fans.

    I too, didn’t care for Dragonball. Actually, the entire series became the basis for all the other formulaic “power-up, arena battle” anime that we see so much of (and I hate). Realistically speaking, staying true to the original manga of Dragonball for this movie would have been a disaster. The original series was not… good shall we say.

    Dragonball Evolution is failing because it tried to do everything at once, and that simply isn’t possible, not with the original Dragonball. That, and miscasting, cheesy dialog, terrible action, and bad special effects. The plot would have been much easier if they’d kept to Dragonball Z, GT, or any other series that I never bothered to watch. I think the movie lacked focus.

    For the record, a white Goku in a Dragonball movie makes me shudder, but the idea of a white Goku in Dragonball Z doesn’t make me blink. I really do think it’s because of the ties the original series had to Journey to the West.

    They would have done well to have taken a leaf out of Transformers. It was about giant robots fighting other giant robots and blowing stuff up, and the movie delivered. As it stands the current DBE movie makes those of us who are Asian want to cover our eyes, the fanboys scream in rage, and the outsider to go, “Huh?”

  25. @John, as a matter of fact their was a moment Picollo got help from the ones that released him from that Jar like thing; Emperor Pilaf and his allies, which was a doglike person and a woman with black hair much like the woman in the movie.

    I disagree with your statement they should have started with DBZ instead of DB, I like Dragonball more than DBZ, and I don’t know anything about Asian history tales.
    They have to introduce Goku somehow, and its hard to do so in dbz because when they made the dbz anime,they assumed people knew most of goku’s background from DB.

    The script just sucked ASS. That’s a fact, I’m a 100% sure if they took a script from ANY db fanboy it would have been SO much better. Of course, they’d never do something like that, but at least have the script reviewed by people that admire or know dragonball somewhat more then themselves, and not just have seen an episode or two(I’m pretty certain none of team behind this movie have seen all dragonball episodes…).

  26. @Harumi

    I couldn’t figure out what your point was probably. Because most these fanboys have probably not read Journey to the West, especially before seeing Dragonball whatever. Sorry but to me that sounds like to have enjoyed Jaws people would have to know an in depth history of sharks, and would of had to read the original novel by Peter Benchley. Hell not many people could honestly say they knew about the actually history of the 300 Spartans/events that occured before they watched 300. And that is probably what I am disagreeing with you about is that to enjoy a film you have to have a whole background knowledge of something, when realistically most people don’t. Writing a script for a film is different. I am in agreement that Americanizing this film added to the overall suck of the film, but I still don’t think it would be as epic…THE FILM…. as people would want it to be if it was more from the original back story of DB (NOT DBZ). And probably this lack of marketing people are whinning about is because they don’t go to G and PG movies that often, which is primarily where the DB Fail trailer was shown.