April 19, 2009

Movie Review: Dragonball - Evolution

dragonball7_largeI am curious as to why they thought it necessary to add the "Evolution" tag to the title? It is not like we have had a Dragonball live-action feature prior to this. Perhaps it is just me, but I find it odd for a movie to feature a subtitle when it is not a sequel. I believe everyone would have been all right if the movie had simple been titled Dragonball. Another possibility is that it is meant to tell you that you will see Goku (Justin Chatwin) evolve into the heroic character that fans have fallen in love with over the years Of course, it could also mean something entirely different, as I am not a fan, rather I never bothered to watch the animated series or even look into it on any level.

dragonball12Why see the movie when I am not a fan of the source? Curiosity? A love for movies? I don't know, it looked sort of interesting and I am always a sucker for this sort of film. I mean, it couldn't be any worse than Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, could it? So, off I went, into the theater, not quite sure what to expect aside from what I saw in the decidedly uninspiring trailers.

What I know about Dragonball or any of its various incarnations you could fit on the head of a pin. That's right, nothing. I can claim to have heard names like Goku and Piccolo in reference to the franchise, but who the were, I could not answer. To that end, I entered the experience free of any baggage that fandom would have brought with it. Believe me, I heard enough people coming out complaining about changes that I was glad not to be in that position.

Dragonball: Evolution turned out to not be all that bad of a movie. It is no classic to be sure, and it will likely be forgotten in a short amount of time, but in the moment it is fine escapism. Not quite what I expected, but it was short enough and focused enough to make lack of background knowledge no handicap at all.

dragonball14As the story begins, we learn of an ancient battle with a character called Piccolo. The evil force was defeated through the creation and use of seven Dragonballs, which have kept him prisoner or thousands of years. Jump to present day, the location of the dragonballs is unknown, and Piccolo is back and ready to resume what he began so many years before.

Goku is introduced as a picked upon outsider taught to fight by his wizened grandfather, Gohan (Randall Duk Kim), but with the caveat that he not fight. Of course, a promise like that can only go so far and before long we have Goku showing off is skills when pushed a step too far by the school bully (not to mention showing off for the popular girl he likes). Sounds familiar so far, doesn't it? Yes, it is not all that different from The Karate Kid.

Shortly after these events, all Hell begins to break loose as Piccolo shows up at Gohan's home. Perhaps taking cues from Star Wars, our protagonist sets off on a journey of self discovery and a mission to save the world following a tragic personal experience and in the company of a disparate group of characters each with their own agenda.

dragonball20Everything plays out in the expected fashion. No real surprises are found, and at times the whole exercise seems all too familiar. Still, the short length kept the movie from ever becoming boring and there was a fun visual look to the feature that kept me interested.

The performances were generally decent. None of them are particularly special, but considering the general approach taken for the project as a whole, they are not that much out of line. Although, Chow Yun Fat seems terribly out of place, so much as to make me wonder what happened?

James Wong is the director responsible, and while it was a serviceable job, however he seems to be on a slide ever since he made his debut with an episode of The X-Files. He worked from a script by Ben Ramsey, who was also behind the wildly over the top action film The Big Hit.

Bottomline. This is an entertaining diversion, sure to upset fans of the series while those on the outside looking in will wonder what the big deal is. It has fun visuals, goofy (but appropriate) performances, and a tale that will bring other, better, stories to mind, thus lifting this project, if only a little.

Mildly Recommended.


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