I’m sure many people will beg to differ (and I’m sure I’ve already mentioned this somewhere before), but accuracy isn’t strictly necessary in order to make a great movie from an existing property. Take the 90’s adaptation of Spawn – fairly accurate, yet a shitty movie and yet on the other hand, Jaws fucked around with countless aspects of Peter Benchley’s original novel to eventually become one of the greatest blockbusters of all time. It’s just not a necessity, is what I’m trying to say…
I only bring this all up because I want to admit that I had precious little experience with legendary anime Dragon Ball Z before settling down to watch the live action Hollywood mauling; an adaptation that angered fans of the original so much, it caused The Last Airbender levels of fanboy rage before collapsing into a movie that’s existence is rarely ever mentioned. But is it that bad? Maybe my lack of knowledge might find a sweet spot that fanboy outrage missed and prove that the adaptation actually went full Super Saiyan for the less demanding viewer… yes, I looked that term up.
Apparently, 2000 years ago, a demon lord named Piccolo came from space to fuck some shit up, but a group of seven mystics managed to seal him away in the centre of the earth by the creation of an enchantment dubbed the Mafuba. After this rather vital information is delivered in the standard way history is delivered in this kind of movie: voice over and title cards, we’re introduced to awkward, big haired teen Goku, who is bullied in school despite the fact his grandfather has taught him a devastating martial art and on his birthday is given a glowing, orange orb dubbed a Dragonball. Sneaking out on his grandfather’s celebrations to hang out with cute crush Chi-Chi, the old man is attacked by Piccolo who has managed to free himself (off-screen – which is a bit lazy if you ask me…) who is now searching for the other Dragonballs (seven overall) in order to do the usual supervillain bit and take over the world.
Teaming up with slinky scientist Bulma of the Capsule Corporation who is also looking for her missing Dragonball, Goku searches for cranky, horny, martial arts guru Master Roshi and heads out to continue his training and find all the seven powerful orbs before the green, big-headed, bad guy – gotta catch them all, I guess… oh no wait, that’s the other thing.
Randomly picking up bandit Yamcha on their travels and stumbling on a World Martial Arts Tournament in which Chi-Chi is competing in in an attempt to cram in as much stuff as it possibly can in the hope of possibly including as much of this universe as it can into an hour and a half running time before the basic saving the world stuff kicks in.
Directed by James Wong, who had some experience directing garishly lit martial arts, sci-fi/fantasy after making Jet Li vehicle, The One and produced by comedy legend Stephen Chow, watching Dragonball: Evolution is like listening to an obnoxious child, filled to the brim with sugar, trying to tell you the plot of his favorite cartoon while omitting the use of any full stops whatsoever. A rambling, bastardization of the original anime that tries to harness the kinetic energy of the medium and turns it into a 90 minute hurricane of chaotic noise and distracting gurning that takes the original concept and makes it as appealing as a hot sauce eye wash.
We’ll forgoe the painfully obvious act of white washing that goes on with the vast majority of Hollywood anime adaptations and skip straight to the fact that Goku actor Justin Chatwin (Tom Cruise’s unbearable son from the War Of The Worlds remake) is required to gurn relentlessly under a voluminous wig while Emmy Rossum’s impressively boring warrior scientist has nothing else to do but continually point guns at people. Chow Yun-Fat (bless him) does marginally better at contorting his features into comedic reactions and coasts through on goodwill alone while Jamie Chung turns her already sizable cuteness levels into overdrive to harness such impressive levels of male wish fulfilment, she becomes the human equivalent of one of those anime full body pillows. But maximum pity must go to James Marsters who is not only buried under pounds of green latex to play Lord Piccolo, but is also entombed within a role so uninteresting, he’s utterly eclipsed by everything else in the movie despite being an emerald, alien antagonist with godlike superpowers.
Pandering awkwardly to fans while never giving a reason for newbies to care, the movie insists on battering you with story points and characters that hint at a larger universe, but have nothing to do with the story you’re actually watching (audaciously, a trilogy was originally planned – pfft, you’ll be fucking lucky) and even when the film hits you with a massive twist, it’s so poorly set up you more likely to be confused than surprised. The fact that our hero turns out to actually be an alien ape creature called Õzaru who looks like a hairy, CGI Rawhead Rex is more annoying that shocking and it’s a feeling that’s amplified even more when this sizable matter is resolved in under five minutes…
The righteous, gatekeeping anger of incensed fan boys is often poked fun at and usually with good cause, but here you can completely understand it, because if I decided to base the entire Dragon Ball Z experience off of this one movie, I’d never go near the remainder of this franchise ever again to the point that I’d actively warn people away like it was a poorly signposted minefield.
Despite my Dragon Ball related ignorance, one aspect of the original show I am familiar with is the notoriously long, pre-fight discussions characters have that span entire episodes; and while this is seen as somewhat of an in-joke, we actually could have used a bit more of that sober chat during the movie to help dilute all the adolescent energy and actually explain what the hell is going on, from one moment to the next.
Once again, Hollywood takes the live action anime adaptation and boots it square in the Dragonballs.