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It's hard enough to be a teenager. Now imagine the pressure when the fate of the whole universe rests on your 18-year-old shoulders.
Thankfully, spiky-haired high school student Goku has skills. You know, like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Seriously! This guy is the karate kid, practicing gravity-defying martial arts stunts under the tutelage of his adopted grandpa turned sensei, Gohan. Goku knows little of his true identity or powers, but on the morning that he's old enough to vote, Grandpa gifts him with a mysteriously glowing dragonball. He tells Goku that if anyone ever owns all seven of the strange orbs, that person will be granted one perfect wish.
Rather than meeting Grandpa at home after school that night to celebrate his birthday, however, Goku accepts a party invitation from Chi Chi, a classmate he's been crushing on. As Grandpa waits at home and prepares to share the secrets of Goku's past, disaster strikes. Evil alien warlord Piccolo has somehow escaped a 2,000-year imprisonment and is looking to expand his own dragonball collection. He kills Grandpa in the process.
So Goku partners with another (human) dragonball hunter, Bulma, to find and enlist Master Roshi, Grandpa's sensei. Their crusade? To stop Piccolo from crushing the globe like he's crushed Grandpa's house. But they'll have to do it fast. A full eclipse of the moon is only days away, and that's when Piccolo and his nasty disciple, Oozaru, are destined to flaunt their growing power.
Looks like Goku's skills are going to have to include Atlas-style world-saving techniques to make a difference here. Can you even do that with a nunchuck?
Grandpa tells Goku to believe in who he is and to have faith in himself. (Faith in what else, exactly, is a problematic issue, but more on that later.) He also tells the boy that he's special, not weird. Thus, being different from the crowd is upheld as a positive quality in the self-conscious teen world of conformation.
Goku and Grandpa have a respectful and loving relationship. Goku, Roshi and Bulma are all very supportive of one another once they get to the hard work of world-saving. Several characters risk their lives for others.
Goku has promised that he'll never use martial arts against those he could tear apart with one hand, as he puts it. So when bullying jocks from school torment him, he controls his temper and strength, using his awe-inspiring abilities to evade punches, not deliver them. Later he uses this self-discipline and faith in his abilities to ward off becoming engulfed by an evil werewolf-like creature that, unbeknownst to him, is his dual identity.
Characters talk about harnessing chi (or ki, or qi), presenting the process as something akin to Luke Skywalker's experience embracing the Force in Star Wars. This chi, one's greatest defense and weapon, is said to provide true power, and the more of yourself that you surrender to the force of it, the greater your control of it. When Goku practices summoning and channeling this invisible universal energy, for example, the wind blows more intensely. He uses it to fight Piccolo. He also opens a row of lockers with it and lights lanterns with fiery electric chi balls that he forms in his bare hands.
The first rule Grandpa teaches Goku is that there are no rules. Chi, for instance, can be used for evil just as easily as for good. Lord Piccolo demonstrates this when he destroys objects and tortures a man by using the universe's energy. Roshi speaks of his chi shriveling up in a certain location, so he cannot stay there. Another place called Stone Temple is said to be a center of enlightenment.
Besides chi, other forms of magic are often conjured. It's said that seven mystics once placed an incantation over Piccolo to imprison him, and they now must concoct another spell to recapture the tyrant. (It's called a mafuba, and it can drain one's life force.) As they do so they chant in a circle around the urn containing their curse. Goku also chants as he summons the strength to defeat an opponent.
When all of the dragonballs are assembled, they summon a powerful dragon that has the power to both kill and restore life. Because Goku wishes that a dead friend will live, the dragon breathes and brings the man back from the beyond. Once revived, the man talks of a heaven-like place where he was content and felt like he belonged. Another similarly distorted scene is a near-death experience in which Roshi uses powerful chi to resuscitate Goku. During this and several other occasions, Grandpa (he's dead, remember) appears to Goku in visions that reveal the future.
Several of the mystics invoke the term namaste (a Hindu greeting meaning "I bow to the divinity in you," among other things). One tells Roshi to pray that their spell is strong enough, also saying that one way or another they will "meet again on the other side."
Grandpa meditates and a handful of other characters levitate. Piccolo offers his blood in order to give life to a monster race he has spawned. When Roshi speaks of a doomsday prophecy, faces, dragons and scenes of past and present appear among the flames of a campfire. It's said of the universe that everything happens for a reason, and the future is always changing.
Goku's crush on Chi Chi culminates in little more than a longing daydream (wearing a short skirt, Chi Chi tosses her hair and puts on her most seductive face) and a kiss. I should note, here, though, that at one point Chi Chi has a doppelgänger who emerges from Goku's room, making everybody else think they've been up to something behind closed doors.
Master Roshi is a bit more of a problem. Bulma (and the camera) notices that he subscribes to Bikini Quarterly (the cover of which boasts a scantily clad model). Moments later, he grabs at Bulma's backside while climbing onto her motorcycle.
Several women wear form-fitting costumes or clothing that reveals cleavage.
Intensely choreographed but almost bloodless martial arts fights command much of Dragonball: Evolution. Between practices, tournaments and actual battling over the fate of the universe, kung fu-like moves seem to take on a life of their own, becoming major characters in and of themselves. Often, the action slows down for emphasis.
The most disturbing elements involve men hitting women. The movie actually ends with lovebirds Chi Chi and Goku beginning to battle each other to test which of them is strongest—in martial arts and in their relationship. Earlier, Goku clocks the real Chi Chi, thinking she is her doppelgänger. Not so incidentally, that doppelgänger is fighting with Chi Chi at the time.
Several characters shoot laser guns. Hostages, including a young girl, are taken at gunpoint. Piccolo throws balls of fire down onto the Earth, damaging a primitive village. Clenching his fist, he magically collapses and crushes Grandpa's house. Other explosions destroy mountainsides or property. Slimy ork-like monsters attack Goku and his friends: The beasts are thrown into molten lava, where we see their burning forms. Fireballs engulf bodies. A baddie falls from a great height and hits the ground below, unconscious.
Two high school bullies simultaneously swing at Goku with what look to be crowbars. Goku's superhuman reflexes allow him to duck out of the way—and the two hit each other instead. They seriously damage a car as well during their would-be attack on the nimble Goku, with someone's hand going through the windshield and another's face getting kicked.
Crude or Profane Language
The s-word is played around with once, but never actually said. Fully vocalized are "h---," "d--n" and "oh my god" (once each). Name-calling includes "loser" and "freak."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Goku leaves for a party without getting permission from or even telling his grandfather. Bulma barges into a stranger's house—justifying the break-in with the fact that the door is unlocked. Goku angrily says he will avenge his grandfather's death. Bulma falls for a bandit-turned-traveling companion, telling him that she's starting to like "bad" men.
Jokes are made about passing gas.
Based on Dragon Ball, the popular Japanese manga series, Dragonball: Evolution is a messy muddle of The Karate Kid, Star Trek, Star Wars and various other science fiction-meets-Eastern mysticism tales. This film isn't really bent on excelling in the areas of plot, dialogue, message, special effects, or even spelling (dragon ball has now been merged into one word). It seems quite content to merely exist as one more of hundreds of Dragonball products. And as such, it will ultimately be experienced by an enormous number of fans devoted to all things DB.
If I were a tweenager right now (and isn't that quite a thought!) who was into either martial arts or sci-fi, I'd eat up Dragonball: Evolution like a double-cheese pepperoni pizza. Since I'm not, I found it to be a spiritually problematic but mercifully short trip through movie yawnsville. Kick, punch, swipe, levitate, toss a fireball, knock someone into a wall. Repeat.
I've seen quite a few movies that have left me feeling a bit disinterested but still encouraged by their fantastic life lessons aimed at those who are more attuned to the genre. This particular film does offer a handful of uplifting messages. But not one of them is fully disentangled from (sometimes silly, sometimes worrying) spiritual misinformation.
Forget about Chi Chi's short skirt. It's chi, magic and frenetic violence that bounce these dragonballs right out of the dragon nest. And because they do, adult me would want to spend quite a bit of time talking about such things with tween me if tween me had begged hard enough to get permission to see Dragonball: Evolution.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Justin Chatwin as Goku; Chow Yun-Fat as Master Roshi; Emmy Rossum as Bulma; Joon Park as Yamcha; James Marsters as Lord Piccolo; Eriko Tamura as Mai; Jamie Chung as Chi Chi; Randall Duk Kim as Grandpa Gohan
20th Century Fox