Directed by James Wong. Starring Justin Chatwin, James Marsters, Chow Yun-Fat, Jamie Chung, Emmy Rossum, Eriko Tamura, Randall Duk Kim. (2009, PG, 84 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 17, 2009
If anybody can wring some sense out of Akira Toriyama's wildly popular Japanese manga Dragonball Z (and its attendant television animé version), it should be director Wong (former The X-Files and Millennium scribe and director of Final Destination and Final Destination 3). However, live-action versions of animé/manga hits are notoriously hard to pull off, and Dragonball: Evolution proves no exception. It has enough ADD-calibrated action to make Osamu Tezuka's classic Astro Boy (soon to arrive in theatres in its own big-budget, 3-D incarnation) seem positively dull in comparison, which is, in essence, a good thing. But whereas Tezuka's old-school, existential animé angst is intellectually chewy and timeless in its distinctive retro-futurist cool (no matter what age you are), Dragonball: Evolution, with its explosive color palette and apocalyptic backstory, is totally of its time. Online fan reaction has been mixed, but despite the chaotic storytelling – difficult to circumnavigate with even the most straightforward of manga – Dragonball may be more entertaining to those who know nothing about it going in. An unlikely scenario, sure, but hardly as unlikely as Dragonball's frantically paced, funkily stylized backstory, which has whey-faced teen martial artist Goku (Chatwin, sporting a minor league version of the character's notoriously spiky coif) saving the world from ancient enemy Piccolo (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Marsters) with the mystical aid of the titular spheres and equally bombastic pals Chi Chi (Chung) and Bulma (Rossum). Earthshaking CGI explosions, exceptionally staged wirework, and Chow Yun-Fat ensue, which is more than you can say for most live-action animés (I'm talking to you, Speed Racer). Bottom line: Costumed Goku and Chi Chi cosplayers may argue the finer points of this adaptation, but it is fairly dazzling in its own overextended, futurist-teen-pulp fashion, and Chow makes a vastly more entertaining Roshi than he did a king (see Anna and the King).