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.
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.