Dragonball: Evolution or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragonball

dragonball

Based on the cult Japanese manga of the same name, Dragonball Evolution manages to do what no other film before it or since has accomplished: it makes The Last Airbender look like Citizen Kane. Strangely enough, both films require some element of air-bending as a key plot device, which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that cinema is just not ready for the ancient and arcane art of bending.

Set in a universe without irony, without self-awareness, without anything approaching wit or panache, this martial arts cum fantasy epic struggles to live up to the promise of its source material. For the uninitiated of you, the main thrust of the Dragonball universe centres around seven glowing orbs that look a little like stress reliever baoding balls, but assembled together they have the power to summon a giant wish-granting dragon. Yes… really.

The film opens with a brief prologue – two thousand years ago the Earth was menaced by an alien warlord called Piccolo, (James Marsters of Buffy fame), a large green humanoid with the face of a praying mantis. To combat this apocalyptic threat seven mystics joined forces to imprison Piccolo deep in the centre of the Earth. Fast forward to present day and we meet our hero, Goku, an eighteen year-old senior in a weird hybrid Oriental/Western high school.

Despite possessing Matrix-style martial arts skills and a funky hairdo, Goku finds himself a social pariah at school, targeted by bullies and ignored by hotties. The only companion he has is his wise-cracking grandfather who presents him with a shiny dragonball for his eighteenth birthday. Cue the commencement of carnage and mayhem aplenty as Piccolo, who has somehow inexplicably been freed from his fiery prison, cuts a bloody swathe across the world in trying to find and unite all seven dragonballs.

Goku’s grandfather becomes a casualty of Piccolo’s Ahab-like quest to claim the power of the dragonballs. With barely enough time to mourn, Goku is charged with his own mission of stopping Piccolo and saving the earth, which is a pretty big ask of an eighteen year old with no social skills to speak of.

Hong Kong action legend Chow Yun-Fat continues his chequered Hollywood career by appearing as Master Roshi, an ageing martial arts guru who helps train Goku to achieve his destiny of ridding the world of the menace of Piccolo and his crazed henchman, the villainous Ozaru. Phantom of the Opera star Emmy Rossum also dices with career suicide by appearing as the gamine Bulma, a pistol-wielding scientist also in search of the dragonballs.

After much ado about nothing with very little action, intrigue or suspense to talk about, Piccolo and Goku gear up for their final confrontation. With Goku all set to challenge the evil greenie and his minions, Piccolo has a nasty shock in store for him. It turns out that Goku is actually Ozaru! He undergoes a Jekyll-like transformation into what looks like a giant rabid gorilla. Thankfully though, Goku remembers several of the profound and twee lessons taught to him by his grandfather and is able to revert to his normal form although not before having devastated the surrounding area and killed Master Roshi.

After a brief and frankly laughable altercation between Goku and Piccolo, the threat of the warlord is ended forever and peace returns to the Earth. Goku brings together the seven dragonballs and summons the dragon to grant his wish – restore Master Roshi’s life by which point you’re really hoping that Chow Yun-Fat hasn’t signed a deal to appear in the sequel.

The normal story arc for the anime would involve an army of characters, multiple plot lines, comic interludes, meditations on life, power and the struggle between good and evil. The live action version has precisely none of the above which sort of explains the curtailed running time of eighty minutes. Encumbered with a rote script and a director who clearly believes that any amount of tacky special effects will patch up any deficiencies in the story, then it’s no wonder that DBE falls so resolutely flat on its face. I’m off to grab my dragonballs and use them to wish I had never seen this awful, awful mess.