Dragon Ball De-Evolution: 'Dragon Ball Evolution' Retrospective
Original Film Poster
Dragon Ball Evolution, Which Is a Pretty Misguiding Title
For too many reasons to list, I am not a fan of Dragon Ball Super. Sometimes I wonder which is worse, the new anime that came out in 2015, or the poorly-made live action film that came out in 2009. Dragon Ball Evolution, directed by James Wong, is widely panned as the worst in Dragon Ball media.
The film's plot revolves around a young high school student named Goku, who lives with his adoptive grandfather Gohan. An ancient demonic entity named Piccolo appears who’s searching for seven mystical objects called the dragon balls to help fuel his sinister goals. Goku receives one of the dragon balls as a present, but not long after his grandpa is killed by Piccolo. Goku then goes on a trip with a young woman named Bulma to seek out the rest of the dragon balls. Along the way they encounter additional allies to help collect the remaining dragon balls and face the threat of Piccolo.
Sounds confusing doesn’t it? Of course it is! The story of Dragon Ball Evolution is based off of the Japanese anime and manga series Dragon Ball, created by Akira Toriyama, which in itself is based off the Chinese tale Journey to the West. This film focuses on the first series and if you’re familiar with it, it goes from Goku and Bulma’s adventures in collecting dragon balls all the way to the Piccolo Daimao saga. However, there are several story arcs in between that the film glances over, such as two tournament arcs and the story of the Red Ribbon Army.
My guess is that Fox, the studio behind Dragon Ball Evolution, wanted to focus more on Dragon Ball Z, the sequel series to Dragon Ball, which focuses more on action and science fiction elements than its predecessor. So they wanted to hurry up and get the the exposition of the first series out of the way, then focus on the latter.
The central character is of course Goku, played by Justin Chatwin. This version of Goku is a near complete departure from his original portrayal in the Japanese material. While he was originally a young boy with a tail, who wielded a magic pole, and never went to school, here he’s a boy in his mid-late teens, doesn’t have the pole, and goes to high school. Part of the reason Goku was so lovable was his naiveté towards people, since he lived an isolated life. In fact Bulma was the first girl Goku ever met. Here, he’s pretty familiar with people and is somewhat social, even going out to a party.
The leading lady Bulma, played by Emmy Rossum, is just as different. In the Japanese material Bulma is a genius. She develops the dragon radar, a special device designed to locate the dragon balls, but she’s somewhat of a coward. Here, she still develops the dragon radar, but is portrayed as an expy of Tomb Raider’s Laura Croft. She wields guns and has an attitude. Another defining feature is her trademark blue hair which has been reduced to a single blue strand in the film.
There’s Grandpa Gohan, played by Randall Duk Kim, who dies before he can have any character development. One thing is that he’s accidentally killed by a giant ape in the series. Here he’s killed by Piccolo. Later there’s Muten Roshi or Master Roshi, played by Chow Yun-fat, who was Goku’s second main teacher after Gohan. He’s originally an elderly man, also known as the turtle hermit who’s quite perverted towards women. Here he’s much younger, somewhat of a pervert still and ends up joining Goku and Bulma, which never happened in the original series.
They later meet the desert bandit Yamcha, played by Joon Park. He was originally Bulma’s boyfriend who was a pretty major character and had lots of development. Here he’s just sort of there. Honestly I sometimes forgot he was in the film. A minor character in the film, but major in the original series is Chi-Chi, played by Jamie Chung. In the film she’s Goku’s love interest. While they do get married and start a family in the Japanese material, Goku originally had to take time to come to like Chi-Chi. She’s also a princess of a fire mountain in the anime and manga, but in the film she’s just a party girl who just happens to be a martial artist.
The film’s villain is Piccolo, played by James Marsters. He’s called a demon lord, just like in the original series, is somewhat green and has pointy ears, which is where the similarities ends. He’s just a generic ‘take over the world’ villain, while his background and goals were much more in-depth in the series. His henchwoman is Mai, played by Eriko Tamura. Mai is originally a part of the Pilaf villain group in the series, who were minor antagonist. Here, she’s with Piccolo, probably for sex appeal. In fact, Pilaf is nowhere to be seen in the film, and along with Piccolo she just felt generic and forgettable.
Speaking of not appearing, there are tons of major characters in the series who don’t appear at all in the film, nor are they even mentioned, such as Krillin, Tien, Oolong, and Puar among others. With so many of the main cast being radically different from their original portrayals it’s a wonder as to whether the producers ever looked at the original source material.
There’s several plot elements that don’t make sense because they’re not explained. Goku’s signature technique, the Kamehameha, which in the series is a concentrated beam of energy shot from Goku’s hands at an enemy or an obstacle that causes mass destruction is somehow used as a healing technique in the film. While Goku can use it to propel himself in the opposite direction in the series, at one point in the film he travels towards the direction where the beam is fired, meaning the physics in the series are more accurate than the film.
Ultimately I cannot recommend this film to anyone. Fans of the anime series and manga are going to complain as to why the film strays so far away from the original source material and newcomers will not understand what’s happening or why it’s happening. One of the writers, Ben Ramsey went on record as to saying how horrible he felt being connected to something that's so critically hated. He said he went into the project to chase a paycheck and didn’t care to learn about the original material; he didn’t quite understand that it was such a beloved series that required more attention. While I myself have seen bad American adaptations of foreign media, this is by far one of the top 20 worst adaptations I’ve seen. With a story that makes no sense, flat characters, and plot elements that go nowhere, Dragon Ball Evolution is one film worth missing out on and not worth the time.
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