The first attempt at a Dragonball movie was always going to be a disappointment, especially in the hands of a Hollywood studio. Unless they were willing to spend an Avatar-style budget on a movie adaptation of the classic manga/anime series, the project was basically doomed to fail from the start.
And so we waited years and years for... Dragonball Evolution.
Taking the basic Goku-centric plot of Dragonball and taking out of it key elements and dozens of iconic characters, Dragonball Evolution was about as lazy and generic of an adaptation as you could have possibly expected. Justin Chatwin, known previously for his part as Tom Cruise's rebellious son in War Of The Worlds, plays Goku and, although he's likeable enough, he's just not given anything tangible to work with and that ends up affecting his performance quite a bit. Yes, he's strong-willed and always hungry but he's pretty skinny, his haircut's nowhere near what it should look like and he's just... way too American. What I mean by that is that the whole Saiyan nature of the character is basically ignored or purposely misunderstood and overall, Goku, as a character, loses all of his iconic badassness to the point where we're left wondering what makes him so special. He's just basically Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid except slightly older and taller. Luckily, by the end he does turn into Osaru and wears the famous gi so there's always that but it's too little too late, unfortunately. The rest of the cast is perplexing. Master Roshi is played by Chow-Yun Fat, who brings some welcome star power to the proceeding but who not only looks nothing like the character but isn't given enough cartoonish moments to have fun with. Then you've got Emmy Rossum as Bulma and Joon Park as Yamcha, both actors who could have done their characters justice had they looked right and been written properly. As they stand: they're completely forgettable. Finally, we have James Marsters as Lord Piccolo and although it's cool to see Spike from Buffy play a main villain in a movie, his make-up is as plasticky as it gets and he is given nothing to do but churn out exposition until the very end. Oh, also look out for Ghostbusters' Ernie Hudson cameoing here as, bizarrely, Sifu Norris.
It's strange to think that a Dragonball live-action film is talked about so little when you know how many fans there are of the various anime series, the manga and the games, but at the same time it makes complete sense. Dragonball Evolution is a dire movie, for sure, but it's not the kind of awful that's particularly memorable. This is the kind of disappointing adaptation that fans choose to either ignore or forget straight away. It's not violent, funny, smart, entertaining or epic enough, it misses the point of the entire source material and rushes its way through an over-simplified version of one of anime's most popular stories but it's not completely boring, it's short enough that, at least, it doesn't waste too much of your time, it has the occasional humorous moment (intentional and non-intentional) and it shows, here and there, that the people making it at least saw an episode or two of the show. James Wong's Dragonball Evolution is a huge misstep but it feels like one of those late 90's game-to-movie adaptations that make up for how clunky they are by being just colourful and silly enough to be watchable, not so much like a complete, hilarious catastrophe. The special effects especially feel 90's and are easily the worst part of this entire movie. The CGI is messy, shapeless and underwhelming: plasma rays which should impress and shake you out of your seat are reduced to nothing more than fuzzy lights and volcano settings remind you of Spawn's badly dated video game-style visual effects. The green-screening is embarrassing and basically ruins any car or flying shot and anything where part of the set is present as the two don't gel at all.
All they had to do was make a brainless movie about topless monkey aliens with big muscles who scream a lot and blast each other with energy beams as future landscapes and desert settings crumble around them. Even if the film had just been one long battle scene between all the characters you know and love with the occasional subplot and flashback, as long as the spirit and the look of the characters had been respected, fans would have lapped it up. As it stands, Dragonball Evolution is a reboot waiting to happen: a forgotten stain on an otherwise epic franchise. A franchise which deserves much more than this half-baked effort.
Although there are far worse movies out there, this is by no means any good and, unless you're curious about how they messed up Dragonball or you feel like pissing off a friend of yours who happens to be a fan of the show, then there's no real reason for you to watch it. It's a terrible adaptation and a forgettable, below-par movie.