Dragonball: Evolution is an American-made live-action film version of the anime. Dragonball: Evolution comes from James Wong, the Hong Kong-born director best known for his collaborative work with Glen Morgan. Wong and Morgan began work as a writing partnership, delivering some of the best episodes of tv series such as The X Files (1993-2002) and Millennium (1996-2000), before going onto create the excellent war in space tv series Space: Above and Beyond (1995-6). These pegged the duo as a highly talented partnership and they carried that success over onto movie screens with a number of works as directors/producers including Final Destination (2000), The One (2001), Willard (2003), Final Destination 3 (2006) and Black Christmas (2006). The partnership seemed to part ways in 2007 with Morgan briefly signing onto tvs Bionic Woman (2007), Tower Prep (2010), The River (2012) and Intruders (2014) as a producer on his own, while Wong made Dragonball: Evolution and then signed on as a writer-producer of the tv series The Event (2010-1), American Horror Story (2011 ) and Scream Queens (2015 ) and to write the tv mini-series remake of Rosemarys Baby (2014) with Morgan nowhere in sight.
It is hard to describe what a dismal experience that Dragonball: Evolution is. A more accurate and honest title might have been Dragonbollocks: Evolution. Never having watched more than scanty pieces of the original Dragon Ball anime series, I do not feel qualified to discuss the intricacies of the ways that the film trashes the anime and manga sources. Needless to say, the differences become immediately apparent when it comes to the look of the characters. In the original, Goku was a short kid with a cross-eyed stare and a hairstyle that looked like a mutant starfish atop his head; here Goku becomes a standard good-looking American teen whose distinctive hairstyle amounts to no more than Justin Chatwin with a mousse-spiked cut. Emmy Rossum is a pale shade of the animated Bulma, notably missing in her distinctive turquoise hair. In the manga/anime, Master Roshi is an old man who becomes sensei to Goku, whereas here he has been recast as a middle-aged Chow Yun Fat who gives a performance that seems to be trying to channel Jackie Chan. A substantial number of the other supporting characters from the manga and anime have simply been written out, in particular most of the non-humanoid characters that would have required more complex effects.
Dragonball: Evolution feels like a film where nobody seems to have cared what they were making. It is indicative that the script was an old one that had been sitting in the studio slush pile and was only put into production when the 2007-8 Writers Strike prevented the requisitioning of new scripts. There is certainly little effort being made by James Wong whose direction fails to evoke a single moment of genuine (or even ersatz) feeling, dramatic excitement or style. Everything that happens in the film feels like a third-hand pose or cliche. The martial arts sequences are completely routine, while the visual effects team conjure various energy displays and power blasts that manage to wash over one with all the substance of a glitterball in a nightclub. The plot seems only to exist to stitch one action scene and the next together with the most minimal effort.
Even the cast seem indifferent to the show that is going on around them. I was reasonably impressed with Justin Chatwin in The Invisible (2007), while Emmy Rossum was one of the few good things about The Phantom of the Opera (2004), but here they are no more than kids filling routine roles. Justin Chatwins apparent indifference to the role is surely never more than signalled by the fact he (and James Wong) make zero effort to show Goku as the teenage nerd that he is frequently spoken of as being. This amounts to no more than Chatwin letting his pretty features pout momentarily as he turns away from bullies before turning to trash them and their car in a cool martial arts display. South Korean actor Joon Park gives a loud and annoying performance as Yamcha.
Dragonball: Evolution is the point that one can say they have finally given up on James Wong after holding out for promise that he and Morgan showed as a result of their tv work. The film is produced by Hong Kong director/writer/star Stephen Chow the one-man band behind amazing works like Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004) and you wish that someone had allowed Chow the directorial control of the film (as was rumoured at one point) as, hackneyed and trashed a script that the film has, you could have guaranteed that Chow would have made something amazing out of it.
(Winner in this sites Worst Films of 2009 list).