MOVIE REVIEW: Pokemon: “Arceus and the Jewel of Life” (2009)

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 11/22/09

I ended up blowing off Iron Man on Friday night so I could watch this film and review it for you. Unfortunately stuff came up, and I didn't get to post it until Sunday. Meanwhile I went ahead and watched the Saturday repeat of Iron Man, and reviewing that before I completed writing this one. Obviously planning is not my strong suit, and I've always had a delicate relationship with time.

Apropos, as this is a time travel story. Is Pokemon SF? Not in its root concept, but in its actual inception, it definitely veers in to it. They make it very clear that The Pokemon World isn’t Earth (Or is perhaps a parallel Earth), and while their technology seems roughly on parity with our own, it’s far in advance in some other areas, such as limited teleportation and an inconsistent use of anti-gravity.

This might seem like putting too fine a point on it, and indeed I may be; but while Spy movies and show are not inherently SF, they do occasionally veer in to the SF purview for their MacGuffins, right? And if that’s the case, then why can’t I review a Pokemon movie when it veers in to SF territory?

PLAY BY PLAY

At the beginning of time, there was a Pokemon named “Arceus.” For whatever reason, and through no adequately described method, Arceus decided to create the universe that The Pokemon World is in, as well as several other universes and/or planes of existence as well. He also created the legendary Pokemon Dialga (lord of time), Palkia (lord of space), and Giratina (lord of the Reverse World, an alternate dimension). He might have also created the other legendary Pokemon and the regular ones, too, and maybe people. They’ve always been deliberately fuzzy about that. It’s also possible that some of the lesser beings that Arceus created went on to create other beings as well.

Anyway, immeasurable ages pass, and a big bohonkin’ asteroid is about to smack in to the Pokemon World, in a place called Michina, which is basically mainland Greece. The region is ruled by a guy called “Damos” who has some kind of telepathic connection with Pokemon. One night he goes out to see the asteroid just about to hit, and he prays or sends out a telepathic message or whatever, and suddenly, at the last minute, Arceus emerges out of a Babylon 5-looking jump point, and plunges in to the asteroid, blowing it up and saving Michina, and presumably the world as well. Of course Arceus is maybe be a god (or a demiurge), but he’s not of the omniscient, omnipotent sort, and the impact cold-cocks him, and injures him quite a bit as well.

Arceus has sixteen “Plates” that orbit around his body kinda’ like a cool-looking CGI hula-hoop, or perhaps a fan blade somehow centered on his waist. Damos finds one of these, and takes it over to the unconscious uber-Pokemon. Once the plate touches him, it’s absorbed in, and he wakes up, and thanks Damos for helping him. Turns out the plates protect him from all 16 kinds of attacks in the Pokemon world. Alas, shrapnel from the asteroid explosion has devastated Michina, but Arceus decides to help Damos out by loaning him four of the plates (Dragon, Electricity, and two others) which he merges in to a gem called “The Jewel of Life” which magically, instantly fixes the region. Arceus explains that this is his own life force, and he’ll come back on the next eclipse to take ‘em back. Damos agrees.

Damos builds a huge shrine/temple complex in the central mountain, and when Arceus comes back years later, Damos lures Arceus in to the temple to pick up the Jewel - a fake - and he’s then attacked by hundreds and hundreds of electric-type Pokemon. Arceus escapes and devastates the complex, then leaves the physical universe so it can rest and repair its damage.

Thousands of years pass.

Ash, Brock, and Dawn are traveling through Michina, and see Palkia, Dialgia, and Giratina start a Toho Studios-styled Giant Monster smackdown on each other, but a local girl named Sheena (Who is not even remotely a punk rocker, rather she’s a blonde Greek girl), who is a descendent of Damos, uses her unexplained-but-evidently-hereditary psychic abilities to calm down the lords of time, space, and the reverse world. Also, one of ‘em remembers meeting Ash in a previous movie. Sheena and her ineffectual and rather pointless boyfriend (“Kevin”) take Team Twerp in to the still-ruined temple, and give a massive info-dump containing most of the information in the first four paragraphs of this review. Then, since it’s only a 90-minute movie, Arceus wakes up and instantly attacks Michina for the whomping they gave him before. He starts destroying everything, and Sheena’s powers won’t work because he’s too angry for her to contact him. Palkia, Dialgia, and Giritina show up and try to defend the area, and Arceus goes completely bat-guano. Sheena attempts to placate her god by giving him what they think is the Jewel, but it turns out to be a fake, and - zang - we’re right back in ‘sinners in the hands of an angry god’ territory again.

Before they die, Sheena prays to Dialga to save them, so he sends them back in time to the night Damos betrayed Arceus. They watch the whole thing go down as described above, and realize that Arceus is susceptible to electric attacks because he gave that plate to Damos. Arceus escapes from the trap and trashes the place. Sheena prays to Dialga again, and he sends them back to the morning of the same day.

There they meet up with “Marcus,” the ruler of Michia, who takes Sheena to dinner, sends the kids to a cell, and the Pikachu and Piplop to a Pokemon cell. In the cell, the kids meet Damos, who says he was removed from power by Marcus, a usurper. A guard confirms that. Piplop and Pikachu are freed by a cute little Pichu, and of course they spring Ash, Damos, and the rest. Meanwhile, Marcus discovers from Shena that Damos didn’t use “The Silver Water.”

That night when Arceus turns up again for the first time, he tries the same trick that Damos did in the first loop through time, but before Arceus can whup up on ‘em, he dumps in an immeasurable amount of “The Silver Water” which seems to mostly immobilize Arceus, and kill him. This causes a major disruption in time, and Team Twerp and Shena start to disappear. Damos evidently astral projects in to Arceus, bringing him back from the dead. Meanwhile, Sheena is able to stop the pokemon from shocking Arceus, and Ash and Pkachu rescue the Jewel. They give it back to Arceus, which restores him, and everyone is happy.

They go back to the future, where Arceus is still wailing on Palkia, Dialgia, et al, and initially he attacks Ash and them, but evidently Ash and his friends traveled faster than the speed of time, so the changes in the past haven’t caught up with him yet. When they do, he calms down, and the long-ruined temple is suddenly as new, and the valley didn’t go back to being devastated, since it had long-since been repaired by human and pokemon efforts which has supplanted his own magic.

The end, I guess.

OBSERVATIONS:

“Arceus” means “To shut up, or enclose” in Latin, curiously enough. I suspect it’s probably being misused or mistaken for either “Archaic” or possibly “Archon” (“Ruler,” often with supernatural allusions, as in “Archon Angel” which is more commonly known as “Archangel” nowadays)

The central time travel story doesn’t quite track. Damos attacks Arceus for no adequately explained reason, which sets the loop in motion, then, when our heroes go back a day earlier, Damos is inexplicably out of power, and has been for a long time. At first I thought that Marcus was simply impersonating Damos somehow, but as the story progresses, it turns out that isn’t the case, so the timeline has *already* shifted (For no adequately explained reason) *before* Team Twerp gets there. What kind of sense does that make? Brock has a speculative line where he theorizes that Marcus must have used Bronzor or some other psychic-type Pokemon in to doing his bidding and shafting Arceus. That would explain much of it, but we're given no evidence to support it, and no one ever refers to it again.

I’m assuming it’s somewhat more reasonable in the Japanese original: in the American Dub, Damos is, was, and evermore shall be a great guy. I’m assuming in the Japanese version, he legitimately did decide to screw his god over, but changed his ways after/before the fact from hearing the tale Ash and chums told. Even so, this in no way explains the Marcus coup. Presumably there's a bit more exposition which would explain if Damos hd been enthralled by Marcus and forced to do his bidding. If that's the case, the story tracks, if it isn't, then the story doesn't.

Even so, Ash et al’s horror at fading from existence was kind of nicely done. I was less thrilled with the changes taking time to catch up with the ‘present’, but, eh. Whatever.

Early on upon meeting Sheena, Ash is told that a young man with a lightning beast played a major part in saving the town. Ash - never the brightest of kids - pretty much instantly realizes this has to be him. Presumably this is because he’s traveled through time before back in “Pokemon 4-Ever” (2001) in which Ash travels back in time and befriends a young Professor Oak. It should be mentioned that *that* story made perfect sense. This one doesn’t. In fact, it’s unclear how Ash could have sprouted this legend, since it happened in another timeline from the one these people live in.

There’s some genuinely funny/clever scenes intercutting between the Pichu, Pikachu, and Piplop “Thousands of years ago” and Team Rocket blundering through the very same locations, in ruined form, in the present day. Ultimately, this comes to nothing, but it’s sort of clever.

Pokemon are new “Thousands of years ago,” or at least new to Michia. They’re referred to as “Magical Creatures,” and the locals don’t seem terribly used to them yet. I have no idea what this means.

Sheena is vastly more useful than most of Ash’s movie companions.

As usual, the animation in the Pokemon movies is pretty super, beautiful in places, though this one lacks the dazzling cityscapes we tend to see in previous installments. Some of the music in this movie is beautiful, as well. The film starts with a variation of the “Galactic Battles” theme song which is much longer and kind of prettier than usual, and with slightly different lyrics.

Dawn has been around for several years now, and they’ve spent much more time developing her than they did either Misty or Mae, and I’ve always liked her. That said, I didn’t ever really *accept* her until she and Ash had that tag-team battle in the start of this movie. Dunno why, but there it is.

This was the 12th Pokemon movie, if you can believe that. It’s the longest-running animated feature series in history, and generally it’s pretty good. This film presumably, hopefully, marks the end of the Sinnoh Space/Time Trilogy, which really hasn’t been my favorite bunch of movies.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS MOVIE?

The increasingly baroque theology of the Pokemon World gets more and more confusing: Arceus is the creator god, but of course no one ever actually calls him that even though they talk about tit a lot. He’s not all knowing or all powerful, and in fact, he doesn’t even seem all that wise. There’s also no mention of whether or not there’s a ‘real’ God above Arceus, but in general Arceus seems to fit, more or less, with the gnostic concept of a Demiurge or creator who makes the world out of boredom or mistakes or whatever. Palkia et al would then be like Archons which rule separate spheres of the Pokemon universe, which, of course, is not our own.

Extremely conservative Christians - the types who get upset because the word “Evolution” is used in Pokemon, even though it has nothing to do with the Darwinian concept - will hate this. Even somewhat less conservative Christians, Muslims, and Jews might have a problem with it, since the schema involved here is greatly at odds with our own overlapping traditions. The idea that a god (lower-case g) might need help from humans, or fall victim to humans is likewise gonna’ boggle a lot of people’s minds.

So, no, Conservatives will not like this movie.

That said, it *is* all a fantasy world, they don’t make a big deal out of any of this stuff, and ultimately it’s not even terribly coherent. One can choose to get all bent out of shape about it, but really it’s not any more (or any less) blasphemous than DC comics.

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