You may have seen previews or read about Dragonball Evolution and thought "wow, that looks really bad." I did. I had no idea, before seeing this film, just how right I could be.
I saw the movie with my lovely co-blogger, who, at one point near the end of the film, just burst out laughing at the sheer stupidity of it. I'm surprised it took one of us that long to guffaw. This movie is, beginning to end, terrible. The dialogue is painful, the acting belongs in a high school play, and the characters are paper cut outs. As far as film quality is concerned, there is nothing good about it. Zero stars.
However, Dragonball doesn't fail its female characters.
To begin with, there are three major females--Emmy Rossum's "I have a Ph.D. in applied dynamics with a minor in tactical weaponry" Bulma, who is part of the "good guys" group searching for the dragonballs, Piccolo's henchwoman, Mai (Eriko Tamura), and Goku's love interest, Chi Chi (Jamie Chung). Bulma, though she is played as a joke quite a few times in the film, is independent, smart, and brave. The device that allows the group to track the dragonballs is her invention. Mai is a role that could just have easily been male--she is treated by Piccolo and acts towards him just as a male henchman might. Even Chi Chi, who is "just" a love interest, holds her own. She's a fighter with her own moves, which we get to see, and the movie ends with her challenging Goku on his assumption that he could beat her in a fight. Taken by themselves, the female characters are surprisingly good. I'd give them three stars.
Dragonball has a major race problem right from the inception. It's another "white boy does martial arts" movie. Goku may have a Japanese name, but he's played by Justin Chatwin, a white Canadian actor. The comic book Goku, on the other hand, is actually from an alien race, but is drawn to appear Japanese. It is clearly more important in Dragonball casting that Goku has the right hair than the right racial heritage. That, as always, bugs. Much of the rest of the cast is actually Asian or of Asian descent: Goku's grandfather, whom we would assume should also be Japanese, is played by Hawaiian native actor Randall Duk Kim. Master Roshi is played by Chow Yun Fat (who really ought to be ashamed to be involved in this). Chi Chi is played by Korean-American Jamie Chung; Mai by Japanese actress Eriko Tamura; and the other "good guy," Yamcha, by Korean-American actor Joon Park. Lord Piccolo is played by a white dude (James Marsters, who is the whole reason I consented to see the movie in the first place), but really, he's green, so who cares? As an extra nod toward racial diversity, the film briefly features a Buddhist monk played by African-American actor Ernie Hudson (thanks to Skye for pointing that out, as I may have missed it). Given the preponderance of other good things it has going on, I give it three stars for race, with just one subtracted for Goku.
So if I give equal weight to the overall film, gender, and race categories, Dragonball Evolution gets an average of .5 stars. I'll be generous and round that up to 1. Which is sad--this would be a three star movie if it didn't suck so very, very much.