13 April 2009

Movie Review: Dragonball Evolution


Dragonball Evolution
2009, 84mins, PG
Director: James Wong
Writer (s): Ben Ramsey, Akira Toriyama (novel)
Cast includes: Justin Chatwin, Emmy Rossum, James Marsters, Chow Yun-Fat, Jamie Chung, Joon Park, Eriko Tamura
Release Date: 10th April 2009

I had no prior knowledge or attachment to the “Dragonball” mythology before sitting down to view “Dragonball Evolution” the Americanized version of the popular Manga series. My only clues as to what to expect came from the fact that the Asian release a few weeks prior had been greeted with venomous response and that it was not screened for critics, two indications that my expectations should be checked for the duration. So the fact that “Dragonball Evolution” still turns out to be rubbish despite absolutely no hype or hope is maybe the most condemning fact of all.

I don’t know how faithful or reverent an adaptation of the source this is, but if the Manga series is anything as tired and uninventive as the screenplay on show here it’s hard to see the cult appeal. The film follows 18 year old Goku (Justin Chatwin), who 15 minutes into the film is already looking for vengeance. The feared Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) has risen again, and in searching for the 7 Dragonballs, he kills Goku’s grandfather. The Dragonballs in question allow as a collective whole the bearer one great wish, and shortly before his murder Goku’s grandfather had passed it on to the 18 year old himself. As a result Goku is burdened with guilt and proceeds to plot his revenge, accompanied by scientist Bulma (Emmy Rossum ) and his grandfathers old friend Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat). Together they hunt for the Dragonballs themselves and try to thwart Piccolo.

The performances in “Dragonball Evolution” are predictably weak; nobody acquits themselves to a degree that exceeds the average in their respective roles. Chatwin isn’t a terrible choice as the sprightly and idealistic lead but he’s not a great one either. He has an agreeable charisma and handsome face but at times his acting is perilously wooden, marking for an ultimately forgettable leading debut. The numerous women who inhabit the film are worse; Emmy Rossum grows into the role a little before the end but ultimately just equates to an attractive face, and her first scene is laughably bad. Jamie Chung and Eriko Tamura on the other hand are purely about the cleavage, all of their outfits seem designed to exploit their busty physiques. Chow Yun-Fat again hams it up and cruises for the paycheck, whilst James Marsters seems half asleep as the supposedly terrifying Lord Piccolo. As a diehard fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” I know Marsters can do good work, but that’s not on display here.

The film kicks off with a few decent small scale action moments, but everything that follows is a consequence of generic ideas and dodgy CGI. The film is a lot like George Lucas “Star Wars” prequels in that nearly every landscape is digitally generated, only in those movies the environments didn’t look like bad cartoons. I don’t know if the post-production effects stage was skipped or if the budget simply couldn’t support the idea but something just isn’t up to scratch concerning the special effects in “Dragonball Evolution”. The action is directly scarred as a consequence but based on the dull premises each one boasts, I doubt even the most advanced CGI in the world could have rendered them exciting.

The mythology is plodding but not as utterly ill explained as the worst genre examples, whilst at 84 minutes at least the picture can claim to be a swift experience. Again not being in anyway familiar with the source means I can make little comment on a fans reaction, but bad filmmaking is bad filmmaking and this is a fairly obvious example. The picture is helmed by James Wong who rose to some success with the “X-Files” and first “Final Destination” film, but since his career has dissipated down the crapper. He returned to helm the neutered and tired third entry in the “Final Destination” franchise and produced the lukewarm 2006 redo of “Black Christmas”, hardly the route a determined and career minded filmmaker should tread. “Dragonball Evolution” probably represents a new low; it’s an exercise in futile genre convention and shoddy craftsmanship. Against any sort of half decent competition at the Box-Office and “Dragonball Evolution” along with parent studio 20th Century Fox are in trouble, because this isn’t worth your time, let alone money.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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