Dragonball: Evolution – Goku is given a gift of a dragonball by his grandfather – one of seven mystical objects that, when all gathered together, will summon the ancient dragon Shen Long who will grant those who summon it one wish. But the evil King Piccolo has broken free of his 2,000 year prison and also seeks the dragonballs in order to destroy the world that has trapped him. Will Goku be able to gather the dragonballs before it is too late?

Dragonball: Evolution (2009) – James Wong

dragonball: evolution movie poster

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19157171

Rating: PG

Running Length: 85 mins

Starring: Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, James Masters

Genre: Fantasy, Martial Arts



The ‘Dragon Ball’ series is an immensely popular franchise that originates from a Japanese manga strip written by Akira Toriyama, but has evolved into countless (mostly well received) cartoon series, games, and even a theme park. Boasting such acclaim as the third best-selling manga of all time and being credited with vastly popularising the Japanese anime in western territories, this is a series that comes with a huge amount of weight to it. It is therefore a huge disappointment that the end result is an insipid, paint-by-numbers, lacklustre affair where no-one appears to be trying very hard.

The story follows Goku and a band of others trying to track down the legendary 7 ‘dragonballs’ that, once assembled, will summon the dragon Shen Long, who will grant one wish. A 2,000 year old evil escaped alien, Piccolo, wants to use Shen Long to destroy the Earth. He needs stopping! Goku (Chatwin) goes through the character establishment check-list with barely a lodgement in the mind (bullied by cardboard cut-out jocks, can’t talk around women, family to avenge) and after whipping through the set-up, we are taken on a rambling journey that fails to flesh out anybody on-screen.

Even Piccolo, (Marsters – famous for the cool anti-hero-villain-redeemer ‘Spike’ in ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and Master Roshi (Chow – best known in the west for his superb gravitas in ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’) cannot add any support cast meat to the movie’s brittle bones. The former is buried under thick prosthetics, is barely used, and when he is on-screen he has nothing to do beyond generic ‘destroy the world’ bad guy spiel. The latter mugs the camera for comedy one moment, and then tries to be serene, wise, kung-fu master the next (indeed, Chow Yun-Fat left Hollywood and returned to Hong Kong cinema after this movie). Other regular Dragonball characters pop up (such as Chi-Chi and Bulma) with minimal effect beyond love interest and tough girl tropes.

Whilst entirely forgettable and generic, what ‘Dragonball: Evolution’ does have going for it is very light-hearted and colourful action. Swinging in at only 85 minutes, this is a short escape into kung-fu with added aliens / super power twists and the ‘magic’ effects used to produce the energy ball attacks are satisfying kaleidoscope entertainment. The hi-tech machinery (unfolding matchbox to motorbike anyone?) tonally sticks out, but is certainly snazzy enough to grab young eyes. And the ‘love’ plot is thankfully kept contained to a bare minimum; with such one-dimensional characters any extra time given to this would have almost certainly been tedious. ‘Dragonball: Evolution’ is bad because it seems like no-one cared about it very much. But it is short, colourful, and light entertainment enough for children to enjoy of an afternoon so in that respect it may serve a purpose to you.


Goku is college age and he is bullied by some aggressive large students. They purposefully run over his bike and then threaten him when he complains. He is furious but keeps it to himself. The film opened with a ‘training’ sequence between Goku and his grandfather so we know that Goku is very capable in defending himself, but he promised that he would not fight and so he lets the bullying happen.

A woman is fleeing whilst her village is attacked. She hides herself and her daughter under the floorboards. There is a tense few moments whilst a woman – who is obviously pursuing them – walks around above them. She is discovered and told to kneel at gunpoint. The woman, protecting her daughter, does so. There is then a gun shot and the camera cuts away to the next scene.

Goku fantasises about an attractive girl in his class. He stares at her and imagines her in a stereotypical way, i.e. the scenery melts away and she swishes her hair around whilst a leafy meadow materialises around her.

Piccolo attacks a man. He uses psychic powers to cripple him. He makes a hand gesture which causes the man to drop to his knees in pain. He then leaves but causes the house to collapse, burying the man. Later, the man is discovered and is barely alive enough to impart some information, but he then dies. He is buried and the character burying him is upset, although this is quickly moved past.

A vault is hacked into and several guards killed. There is no blood and this scene is very quick before cutting to the next one.

Master Roshi is mildly lecherous. He wears a top with a sexy anime girl on it and when his house is being searched, a female character holds up a magazine in disgust and says, “Bikini Monthly?”. Roshi is embarrassed. Later, when they leave the house, he sits on a motorbike with her and leaves his hand near where she sits. She says ‘leave your hand down there another second and you’ll lose it’.

Piccolo straps his arms into a machine which draws his blood. Vials fill up with dark blood and he roars in apparent pain. This is short and he is perfectly fine after.

One character straddles something which blasts with steam. He yells, ‘I just fried my nu…!’ before being cut off.

Scary creatures attack Goku and friends. The look like large faceless soldiers. However, they are pretty useless and do no damage. Goku throws them all into molten lava and they lie face down and semi-melt. This scene is over quickly and they pose no real threat. They is a little squealing from them when they are thrown into the lava but no focus on pain.

Two characters test each other’s skills and then at the end they have a kiss. The scene cuts away to outside one of the character’s bedroom. Two other characters see the girl leave the room and one remarks ‘I didn’t think he had it in him!’, clearing thinking that the two have been intimate. However, the other character arrives shortly after making it clear that the woman was actually in his room alone.

One character undergoes a transformation against their will to mutate into a large beast which has been mentioned several times throughout the film as scary. This scene could be quite scary as the character then attacks others that had been friends.

One character is strangled hard until they are killed. Other characters are emotional about this once the action is over, although action is taken to reverse the effect.


‘Dragonball: Evolution’ feels like a made for TV movie. Everything about it seems rushed, as if lingering on any one element for too long will show how badly glued together it is. But it also rated PG which means that whilst this movie could have been made even more awful by adding in unnecessary graphic violence, it instead sticks to its target 6 – 11-year-old audience and provides essentially harmless and lightweight fun viewing. With some minor sexual content and scary scenes, we would recommend this movie as appropriate for kids aged 6 and up.

  • Violence: 2/5 (martial art fights but no blood or injury detail)
  • Emotional Distress: 1/5 (two character deaths cause upset to others but this is not lingered upon and is short-lived)
  • Fear Factor: 1/5 (Piccolo has a gnarled green face and is imposing but isn’t in the movie much until the end. The creatures he creates look scary but are barely featured apart from one fight and are quickly shown to be rather rubbish)
  • Sexual Content: 2/5 (Master Roshi clearly has some crude sexual opinions but this is not shown much beyond that described above. Some innocent attraction and a few kisses)
  • Bad Language: 1/5 (mostly cut off. One instance where a character says, “oh shi….”, and one use of ‘crap’)
  • Dialogue: 1/5 (some mild threats)
  • Other Notes: Deals with themes of destiny, identity, loyalty, doing what is right despite the odds, bullying, being true to yourself, not giving in to violence, and protecting those weaker than you.

Words by Michael Record

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