Dragonball Evolution, what can be said about it? Well, I can certainly call it a “movie.” It is a series of scenes placed one after the other on a film strip and shown in a sequential order. Dragonball Evolution: People involved in a production to put a form of entertainment in theaters.
Upon first hearing that a live-action Dragon Ball movie was being made, I had an image in my head full of cheesy lines and attempts to bring stories full circle, revisions to existing aspects of Dragon Ball designed to make it seem “cooler” and less “cartoony,” unfaithfulness to the source material’s characters and their personality, and awkward special effects. When the first trailer was released, and then the second, this prediction still appeared to hold true. Now, after having seen the whole thing, I can say that the movie was exactly what I expected it to be.
Where to start with this, “Evolution” of Dragon Ball as it wishes to be known? Well, how about the way in which it relates to Charles Darwin’s theory, or rather the attack on it by certain religious groups?
Proponents of Intelligent Design commonly state that there is evidence in the bedrock that shows that the Earth’s history is not a continuous chain of events, and that there are mass extinctions and sudden increases of certain types of animals, as if the history of the Earth and its wildlife are a series of islands connected by a higher power. This is in fact how Dragonball Evolution feels. You know it’s a story mainly because you’ve been told that it’s one, but while the events of the movie follow a chronological order, there is almost nothing which smoothly connects one scene to the next. Master Roshi will claim that going to the tournament is vital to their quest to defeat Piccolo. Then no one will participate in the tournament and then we never find out what going to the tournament actually accomplished. Yamcha and Bulma hate each other in one scene and in the very next they’re already falling in love. There isn’t even at the least a generic scene where Yamcha catches Bulma while she’s falling or something. Goku is in high school for some reason, and he gets picked on by jocks. He meets Chi Chi there. Then high school is never ever mentioned again. Master Roshi, the narrator, and Piccolo will all mention that Piccolo was responsible for nearly destroying the Earth until he was sealed 2000 years ago, but now he’s free and looking to enact revenge on humanity. How exactly did he break free from his confinement? Apparently NOBODY KNOWS OR CARES, at least not enough to tell the audience.
That’s not to say EVERYTHING is bad about this movie. Characters are occasionally true to their manga portrayals in certain ways. Goku is always naive, gets one or two nice lines to show how dumb he is. Master Roshi’s introduction feels very much like Master Roshi except in every scene after that he turns into generic old master. Also, sometimes the action scenes make it feel like a generic action movie, which is to say not super awful. Also my friends and I burst out laughing practically every minute at one bad line after another until we lost count.
An interview with the people who made Dragonball Evolution has members of the cast and crew defending the production, saying that the director succeeded in keeping the spirit of Dragon Ball alive and adapting it just enough to appeal to a wider audience. The problem is that they’re totally wrong and Dragonball Evolution is not faithful to the spirit of Dragon Ball at all. I can go into the many reasons why this is the case, but I’ll just give one: the core of Dragon Ball is represented by its main character Son Goku and his personality: goofy, often very dumb, loves to fight, and has a strong sense of justice when it comes down to it. There’s a certain kind of whimsy and humor that never leaves the series even when planets are being destroyed and limbs are being chopped off. That is to say, Dragon Ball is all about having serious fights never be too serious because it’s always been about the comedy as well. Dragonball Evolution throws all of this out and decides to be an action movie and coming-of-age story like so many others out there. Even if it succeeded in being a well-constructed story with brilliant direction, it would still not be Dragon Ball.