To get this started off, I like Dragonball. I like it, a lot. I liked it so much that when I had my first go at making a webpage, I used a Dragonball Z wallpaper for the background. When I snapped shots of my computers, a number of people commented on the number of wall-scrolls I had with Dragonball characters. I collected the Saturn and Playstation import games when there where no plans to ever bring any form of Dragonball games to the US. I own over 20 imported Bandai boxed DBZ / DBGT figures, most which have never left their boxes, and which remain hung on one of my walls. Most people upon entering my quarters make jokes about the sheer amount of Dragonball, DBZ, and DBGT stuff I own.
So, literal years ago, when I heard that a Dragonball movie was in production by Fox, I didn't know what to think. On one hand I was excited that Dragonball was going to the silverscreen. On the other hand, comic book movies tend to get treated badly in the conversion from animation to live action. One might say it wasn't until the latest crop of comic book movies, starting with Spiderman and Dark Knight, that comic book movies shook off their relationship with B-grade material.
Fox's Dragonball was also complicated by the very short list of actors that fit the roles. Fox wound up seeking mostly unknown actors, and while many agreed Jackie Chan was the perfect person for Muten Roshi, Chow Yun-Fat got the part instead. So, against all hoped for expectations, the movie was doomed to suck.
Only it doesn't. I'm not going to say that Dragonball Evolution is a good movie. It's production values and acting are somewhere along the lines of Hellboy II or Bulletproof Monk. I'm also not worried about spoilers. At over 20 years of age, anybody who really cares about Dragonball already knows what is going to happen.
While Chow Yun-Fat does a middling job of portraying the perverted Muten Roshi, he just isn't believable. As the only well-known justified star in the movie, that normally bodes badly for the rest of the actors. James Marsters appearence as Lord Piccolo was also stunted and lacking in any expression of emotion. For the most part he just glided around on wires, with only one in-movie scene allowing him to express any sort of emotion or feeling.
It was with some surprise then that the unknown cast did a much better job. Justin's performance as Goku couldn't have been easy. Dragonball is over 20 years old, with the original launch way back in 1985. Dragonball readers know who Goku is. They know what he becomes. They realize that his story in Dragonball is just the start of learning to control his power. Those who have watched the anime's know how Goku is supposed to sound given that Akira reportedly handpicked the voice actor(s) for the DB and DBZ animes. Call it the Anakin Skywalker effect if you will. Having to live up to a reputation and legacy that is just really beyond reach. Justin takes that legacy, and makes it his own. He doesn't try to be just like the Goku of the manga's and anime. He tries to be his own Goku, and when he masters the Kamehameha, he nails it.
In a similar effect, the actors behind Chi Chi, Yamcha, and Bulma all give convincing performances of who they are. Bulma's position as the action girl is carried out to great effect, and her introduction with Goku sparks a chemistry that one wouldn't expect. Emmy and Justin spark, but not as well as Justin sparks with Jamie Chung. The interactions between the two in their school and at a party will spark rememberences of awkward high-school moments in the past, and those to come. Rather than being a faked clumsy, Justin and Emmy's scenes as Goku and Chi Chi feeling each other out come across far more natural than I expected they could.
The biggest problem with Dragonball Evolution though, isn't exactly itself. It's Matrix Revolutions. The final fight scene between Neo and Smith were ripped almost straight from the pages of action animes. However, the final Matrix movie had a budget of $150 million dollars, while DBE was reported to weigh in at a third of the cost earlier this month. The lack of a budget really shows towards the end of the film. For a movie based on a manga that primarily about kicking butt, the lack of fight scenes is rather noticable. The fight scenes that do occur are rather short, and the final fight takes after the anime far too much. While you won't be waiting a week to see the end result of somebody's ultra-powerful attack, the final battle has a lot more standing around than it needed. Many of the cool special effects come early in the film, such as Bulma revealing the real-life version of the famed Capsule Corp vehicles, and when the final fight comes around, instead of getting treated to a knock down drag out fight between Goku and Piccolo, there are one or two good punches and... that's it. Next up is the massive energy balls of doom, and Justin nailing his main attack... and the movie is over.... after the extremely cool special effects scene with Shen Long.
Coming away from the movie, I was shocked at how clean it wound up being. Seriously, this is a flick you can take your children to, and that is a rare event in today's movie world.
There is also the hope that enough interest could convince Fox to continue the movie as a franchise. I think if they (Fox) push Chow Yun-Fat off to the side and let James actually do something more than stand-around and look evil, a second DBE film could be quite good.