Manga Madness: 'Dragonball' Hits The Big Screen

Marsters i i

James Marsters plays Lord Piccolo, a green-faced baddie out to destroy the earth. Twentieth Century Fox hide caption

itoggle caption Twentieth Century Fox
Marsters

James Marsters plays Lord Piccolo, a green-faced baddie out to destroy the earth.

Twentieth Century Fox

Dragonball: Evolution

  • Director: James Wong
  • Genre: Sci-Fi Fantasy
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

Rated: PG

Rossum and Chatwin i i

Bulma (Emmy Rossum) and Goku (Justin Chatwin) confer in the glow of one of the dragonballs. Martin Gavica/Twentieth Century Fox hide caption

itoggle caption Martin Gavica/Twentieth Century Fox
Rossum and Chatwin

Bulma (Emmy Rossum) and Goku (Justin Chatwin) confer in the glow of one of the dragonballs.

Martin Gavica/Twentieth Century Fox

A serviceable Hollywood addendum to the Japanese franchise, Dragonball: Evolution works better than many American attempts to translate manga and anime's appeal. But the movie would be more fun if its sense of humor were less feeble.

The hero's situation will sound familiar to fans of such all-American comics as Spider-Man: Goku (Justin Chatwin) is a high-school nerd with secret superpowers, victimized by bullies because he's promised his grandfather (Randall Duk Kim) that he won't use his cosmic kung fu.

On his 18th birthday, Goku receives a "dragonball" from grandpa. It's magical, and one of a set of seven, and — as he quickly learns — much in demand among the bad-guy population.

Bulma (Emmy Rossum) is a cat-suited scientist who thinks the balls can power the world. Lord Piccolo (James Marsters), a reptilian arch-villain with gray-green skin and a Darth Vader voice, has a different idea. He and his cat-suited moll (played by Japanese pop star Eriko Tamura) are collecting the balls so they can destroy the world.

After a brief dust-up, Goku and Bulma become allies. For guidance, they seek another dragonball owner, kung fu master Roshi (Chow Yun-fat, the embodiment of cool in '90s Hong Kong cinema). Roshi joins a band of questers that eventually also includes larcenous Yamcha (Joon Park) and Goku's flirtatious high-school crush Chi Chi (Jamie Chung), who's also a closet kung fu ace.

The good guys travel through bleak desert and futuristic cities, with just two days left before the "blood moon" that will allow Piccolo to summon the gorilla-like demon Oozaru (Japanese for "big monkey"). There's a twist, of course, but not one that will particularly surprise viewers familiar with anime's established themes of duality and transformation.

Originated in 1984 by Japan's Akira Toriyama, the Dragonball series is loosely based on Journey to the West, a much-adapted Chinese folk tale. So it's not inappropriate that director James Wong and scripter Ben Ramsey jumble Asian motifs, mixing Chinese martial arts with a few lines of Japanese dialogue and a snippet of Tibetan Buddhism.

Shot in Mexico and full of computer-generated scenery, Dragonball:Evolution offers little sense of the real world. That's typical of manga and anime, but it reduces the possibility that the movie might grab viewers who aren't Dragonball devotees already. Marvel Comics' technique of juxtaposing the fantastic and the commonplace makes for more involving storytelling.

Another hook for anime outsiders could be humor, and the movie does attempt a little playful banter; Roshi is supposed to provide comic relief as well as mystical wisdom, so Chow plays the role broadly. But the few quips he's provided are blunt instruments.

Viewers who don't exit when the final credits begin will discover that Dragonball: Evolution includes not one but two teasers for a sequel. When Goku and Piccolo return, let's hope they bring better jokes.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.