Rise of Darkrai Review
Although I use the English name of the movie and its characters, I was watching the Japanese version subtitled rather than the English dub while actually writing the review. If I'm not using the correct official translation of some term or something, I'd appreciate a correction.
Thoughts and Synopsis
Among the Pokémon movies, this one is probably the biggest disappointment for me. Which is not to say it's one of the worst ones, per se; it's just that I was really, really thinking/hoping it would be as good as the eighth movie, and oh, boy, did it not deliver. The star legendaries' potential is woefully underused, the plot is decidedly meh, and of course, it's a Legendaries Randomly Fighting™ movie, which never helps.
Oh, well. We start in a dark, cloudy alternate dimension, infested with Unown for God-knows-what reason. The giants Dialga and Palkia stand facing one another ominously as thunder roars in the background. A voiceover narrator tells of beings that should never meet as we see a highly symbolic hourglass, and then we pan out to a mysterious man who appears to be reading these lines from a book; we cut to his face and discover he has Scary Shiny Glasses, except then he moves his head and turns out to be a cute-looking nerdy guy. The jury's still out on what the point of trying to set him up as a bad guy for all of three seconds was.
Anyway, suddenly his scientific instruments start giving off alarms and the mysterious hourglass falls dramatically in slow motion. Dialga and Palkia continue fighting, including using their signature moves Spacial Rend and Roar of Time. In particular, Dialga's Roar of Time hits the pearl on one of Palkia's arms and cracks it. The injured Palkia flees, and Dialga follows it. Of course, we find out in the twelfth movie that the reason for their conflict was (yet again) that they each thought the other was infringing on its dimensional 'territory', so it is a mystery for the ages why Dialga would bother to follow Palkia, as it turns out, into a completely different universe where neither of them belongs.
The hourglass hits the ground, very, very dramatically, and shatters.
In a mood whiplash, the also highly dramatic title screen is followed by Ash and company (this time it's Ash, Brock and Dawn, since this is a D/P movie) walking on a road with the narrator explaining that they're headed for Alamos Town, where Dawn is hoping to participate in a Contest. They get a ride there in a balloon with a young woman named Alice, who explains that she's a part-time guide but also studies music. She also shows them Alamos Town's famous Space-Time Tower, actually two connected clocktowers in a shape resembling a lyre, with one tower symbolizing space and the other one time.
After having a bunch of fun and a few battles in town, the gang go to a garden, also designed by the famous architect Godey who designed the Space-Time Tower. In the garden, Ash, Dawn and Brock's Pokémon go play with some wild ones, but soon start to fight and have split into two factions with tensions rising when Alice begins to play a tune on a leaf, which makes everyone friends again. I wonder what it is with Pokémon and being unable to resolve their problems without somebody playing a magical song.
Suddenly a Gallade appears to frantically tell Alice to come. Ash and company follow too; turns out another section of the garden has had some pillars destroyed or partly dissolved. I like the visuals used here; it looks clearly unnatural and you immediately get the sense that something twisted is going on. A man, Baron Alberto, appears and explains that the Pokémon Darkrai did this, with Brock commenting that it's known to give people nightmares.
There is a movement in a bush, and Alberto, thinking it's Darkrai, makes his Lickilicky Hyper Beam it. We think it's Team Rocket who got hit, because immediately prior to the movement in the bushes we were looking at them hiding in a tree, but in fact it turns out to be the nerdy guy with the glasses from the beginning of the movie, Tonio. He is a scientist and the architect Godey's great-grandson, and we immediately see Alice being very concerned for him. He examines one of the pillars, which is mostly noteworthy because then an absolutely awful-looking bit of CGI is used to show a part of the pillar coming loose and falling on his head - this is especially jarring because the rest of the CGI in this movie is usually quite nice-looking. Alice continues to be concerned for him, and Baron Alberto cockily declares that she can't be caring too much for some other guy because she's going to be his wife. She explains in annoyance that she already refused him (cue Tonio, and Brock, looking blatantly relieved). Because they are totally not setting up for Alice and Tonio to become a couple. Baron Alberto continues to be annoying, Alice declares she likes Tonio, Tonio brushes it off as a joke, and she gets cross. Quite typical will-they-or-won't-they romance, in other words.
Anyway, Darkrai appears, Baron Alberto tries to have his Lickilicky attack him, and Darkrai's counterattack hits Ash when Lickilicky dodges it. He is cast into a world of grayed-out colors where he is alone; he begins to walk, calling out to his friends, but instead of following him, his shadow just lengthens, in a genuinely creepy effect. He sees frightening images of what we know to be Palkia that then disappear; he then sees Darkrai and tries to send out Turtwig to fight him, but the Pokéball dissolves in the air. Darkrai begins to sink into the ground, and Ash sees Pikachu behind him, but the ground around Darkrai sinks with him into a huge, growing hole that begins to suck Pikachu in; Ash adorably jumps after him and the hole closes in all around him.
A Thundershock wakes him up; naturally, this was just a Darkrai-induced nightmare and he was really lying in a hospital bed. Nurse Joy and Tonio explain that Darkrai is hated and shunned by people and Pokémon alike because they hate having nightmares. Ash is angry at Darkrai, but Alice points out Baron Alberto actually attacked first.
All this time, Tonio has been researching the space-time disturbances caused by Dialga and Palkia's fight. He is reading Godey's diary when he comes across a picture of the old architect with Alicia, Alice's grandmother, with the diary explaining that Alicia came across Darkrai in the garden when he was injured, and by treating him with kindness, she managed to get Darkrai to trust her and stay in the garden. Godey goes on to explain that he'd had nightmares induced by Darkrai, but they were "telling him what to do", and that he must leave behind the "Oración" for the future. Tonio is confused.
Later, after Ash and the gang have taken a bit of a tour of the Space-Time Tower with Alice, they go down to Tonio's laboratory in the basement to see him. When they get there, there are papers strewn around the floor, and Tonio's feet can be seen lying ominously on the floor behind the desk! ...but as it turns out, he'd just fallen asleep there. Seriously, what's with these three-second cliffhangers about Tonio? He shows Alice the photo of Godey and Alicia, and she turns it over to find music notes. They also get to try out the clockwork that plays music in the towers, which for some architecturally bizarre reason is located on the top floor which has no elevators going up to it; the records the clockwork plays are metallic discs with grooves in the bottom called "sound disks" that are placed into holes on a special gear. As if it weren't obvious enough already, this will turn out to be important later on.
After they've left, Tonio's space-time-measuring instruments flare up like there's no tomorrow, and a strange glow envelopes the town. As if that weren't enough, Darkrai appears, Baron Alberto tries to attack it yet again, and Darkrai puts almost every Pokémon in the area to sleep. It turns out that because of the spatial irregularities caused by Dialga and Palkia, their nightmares are represented by ghostly projections of the Pokémon running around in mid-air - or, in Baron Alberto's case, he turns into a Lickilicky because apparently his Lickilicky is having a dream about being him. Don't even try to make sense of this.
It also turns out that, in a scene straight from Silent Hill, there is now unclearable fog surrounding the town (there is even a bridge that disappears into the fog which, when Ash attempts to cross it, results in him running straight back out of the fog where he came from). As always, Baron Alberto blames Darkrai and gets an army of people to help look for him. Alice, however, believes Darkrai didn't cause this, and Tonio backs her up by explaining that Darkrai once saved Alice's life when they were little. Tonio goes back to his lab and figures out, through unrealistically magnifying some video footage of when the strange glow appeared around the town, that Palkia was there. He shows Ash and company, and Ash immediately recognizes Palkia as the thing from his nightmare. He also realizes that Darkrai was actually trying to warn them about Palkia the whole time, which raises the question of why he didn't just say so, since he's been speaking telepathically the whole movie but only in cryptic statements like "Get out!"
Outside, Darkrai is actually trying to fight Palkia, and the Pokémon all wake up as the sky turns creepy and nightmarish: the town has been transported into a separate dimension created by Palkia. Dialga bursts out of the sky as well and attacks Palkia, with parts of the town starting to dissolve into glowing, purple dust near them. Unlike Palkia's manipulation of space, Dialga's time-manipulation is here limited only to roaring and making the clock in the Space-Time Towers lamely turn backwards for a while.
Tonio recites what he was saying in the beginning about beings that should never meet and their wrath engulfing the town, revealing that he is quoting Godey's diary about that dream he had (which, you'll remember, made him leave behind the "Oración"). Dialga and Palkia continue to fight and the town continues to dissolve; Darkrai saves Alice from becoming collateral damage, but Dialga and Palkia blast him off into the garden, where our heroes immediately run to find him. Alice asks if he's okay, and he calls her Alicia; she explains that's her grandmother, and Darkrai sinks into the ground without further comments, the way he likes to.
Tonio has found out that the city is dissolving because the dimensional wall is breaking down, and as they're wondering what to do, Tonio remembers the thing about the Oración out loud. And Alice tells him that the Oración is the leaf flute tune that her grandmother taught her, the one she used to make the Pokémon stop fighting at the beginning. You can see where this is going.
So Tonio knows it must be on a sound disk that can be played in the Space-Time Tower, and Alice recognizes the right disk because it has the same symbol that was on the music notes on the back of the photo of Godey and Alicia (which are of course notes for the Oración). They take Alice's balloon up to get to the top of the tower quicker than they could using the endless staircase, but then some of Dialga and Palkia's attacks break the balloon's basket and Ash and Dawn end up on the outside of the staircase, from where they can conveniently get inside and continue upstairs the hard way. They make their way up while their Pokémon repel Dialga and Palkia's attacks and make makeshift ice steps where the stairs begin to dissolve.
After Darkrai has been badly hurt (again) and had flashbacks to when Alicia helped him (again), he flies up and comes between Dialga and Palkia's attacks in the hope of stopping them - twice, in fact - and then dissolves into purple dust the way the town has been doing. Everyone is stunned: bad guy Darkrai seems to have sacrificed himself to save them.
Ash and Dawn finally make it to the top and place the Oración sound disk into the clockwork (for some bizarre reason, it can only be placed in a special middle slot on the gear, but they figure that out quickly) as Tonio explains to us that the attacks Dialga and Palkia are preparing now will truly destroy the town if they clash. Unfortunately, however, the power is out in the tower, and Ash and Dawn are despairing until they realize they have Pokémon that can generate electricity. Pikachu and Dawn's Pachirisu Thundershock the machine with all their might, and the towers begin to play the Oración as everyone looks on in amazement - including, of course, Dialga and Palkia, who conveniently have still not used the attacks they were preparing a couple of minutes ago. Special flowers also grow out of the Space-Time Tower while they're at it and some nonsensical golden wings of light are formed around them, while Palkia's cracked pearl is healed by the apparent restorative power of the Oración. And naturally, the two legendaries settle their differences; Dialga disappears, and after a bit of a rant from Ash, Palkia restores the city to normal again, bringing back everything that dissolved and placing the city back into the real world where it's supposed to be.
As the sun sets, everyone stands around being sad because of Darkrai, but when they turn to walk away, a shadow appears on the cliffside; Pikachu turns their attention to it, and it turns out Darkrai's standing alive and well on the top of one of the Space-Time Towers. Because, well, everything else that dissolved was restored by Palkia; why not him too? And Alice expresses her happiness by leaning closer to Tonio, who is dorkily happy.
During the end credits, we see snapshots of Dawn's Contest; she appears to place third. Because we definitely hadn't forgotten all about the Contest thing by this point.
The good things about this movie are mostly aesthetics. It's both visually pretty and has quite nice music, at least in my opinion, so it works as eye and ear candy. Tonio is also kind of cute in a dorky way, and it's nice to see some of the Pokémon get to actually do stuff. Other than that, though, there really isn't much to especially like here - a lot of it is okay, but very little beyond the pretty stands out as especially good.
Where to begin? First of all, the "legendaries fight, another tries to stop them but can't, magical song courtesy of Ash's actions calms them down" plot is a cheap rehash of the second movie, whose plot was never very good to begin with. Again, why is there always a magical song? It's a silly plot device to avoid actually getting to the core of why the conflict is actually happening, resulting in a shallow, generic story, and the magical song even has other nonsensical properties there is no good reason for it to have. The territorial legendaries thing is just a rather boring excuse to make them fight and doesn't work any better here than it did the last two times, with Dialga continuing to harass Palkia even after it can't possibly be infringing on its territory anymore.
Secondly, there is an awful lot of plot points, big and small, that really don't stand up to scrutiny. Worst of all are Darkrai's actions throughout the movie, which work fine for the purpose of making his intentions mysterious, but make no sense when we consider that Darkrai has every reason to make his concerns crystal clear in order not to be misunderstood (a problem he is very familiar with) and obviously has the means to since he can talk. And if Godey designed the Space-Time Tower specifically so that it could play the Oración when it was needed (which must be the case, since otherwise why would it be designed with a special slot just for the Oración disk?), why on earth would he then go on to make it so difficult to get to where the clockwork is activated? Why does the Oración need to be placed somewhere other than the other sound disks to work - isn't that only complicating things for whoever will actually need to do this in the future? Why isn't the Oración clearly marked, instead of just having an obscure symbol on it that's found on the back of one particular photograph that the main characters only happened to have? The town was only saved against overwhelming odds in the movie - Tonio happened to have read the diary and grabbed the photograph, Alice happened to be there and notice the symbol on the photograph, the person who read the diary only happened to wonder aloud about the "Oración" while in the vicinity of somebody who would know what it was, they happened to look at the photograph and find the right sound disk, and the kids happened to manage to get to the top of the tower. Generally you don't want that kind of crazy happenstance to be necessary for your town to be saved. Godey could easily have designed it so that the disaster he dreamt of had a much better chance of being averted, but even though he knew its urgency, he still chose to do it this way - because this is a movie and there wouldn't be a plot if it weren't difficult to resolve it.
Thirdly, there is also a lot of wasted potential. I am primarily speaking of Dialga here; a Pokémon that manipulates time, and the only thing you can think of doing with it is one shot of a clock running backwards? Come on; you had Palkia warping space a lot, and you could at least have had time passing more slowly in some parts of the city or something, but no. Ash's nightmare was actually nicely eerie, but for the rest of the movie the only ones put to sleep by Darkrai are Pokémon and we don't actually get to see their dreams as they're experiencing them, so there is no more of that. Even the romance subplot could have been done much better if they'd just brought up Baron Alberto's aggressive insistence on marrying Alice again and made a bit more out of it, but that just sort of dissolves into thin air. They could have done so much more with this movie's basic setup than they did.
Fourth, pacing. On all three of my viewings, I spent half of the movie waiting impatiently for Dialga and Palkia to actually enter the town. It doesn't actually happen until more than fifty minutes in; up until that point, we just have exposition, Baron Alberto blaming Darkrai for everything, and some brief fights with Darkrai where it puts all the Pokémon to sleep and they have nightmares. The entire manifesting-nightmares ordeal could easily be cut out of the movie with no harm to the real storyline, especially since the movie never successfully set Darkrai up as a villain anyway, what with the main characters having been doubting he was behind what was happening from pretty much the very beginning.
Fifth, Darkrai's resurrection. I don't feel as cheated by this as a lot of people did, because it does make sense that Palkia could bring Darkrai back if it could bring the whole town back, but that doesn't change that it's a real cop-out as far as the impact of the movie goes. I might buy it more easily if they didn't have everyone being sad about it (complete with a flashback of just about everything Darkrai did in the entire movie) in that very scene and if the ending credits weren't played to a song about dealing with loss and letting go. As it is, I can't help strongly getting the feeling that Darkrai originally wasn't supposed to come back and that that was a last-minute addition made when some studio executives thought it would be too depressing for the kids to just have him die and not even shown in a happy wonderful afterlife like Latios and Lucario were.
Other than that, the Dialga/Palkia battle is mostly rather uninspired and not that exciting, Alice isn't very interesting, Baron Alberto is just annoying and doesn't really do anything of worth in the movie, neither do Team Rocket, and seriously, what is it with the random "Tonio is evil! But he's not! And he's been killed or knocked out! But he hasn't!"?
It's awfully nonsensical, generic and really doesn't have much worth seeing as a story, but as I said, it really is pretty. Depending on your judgement, that could mean nothing or it might mean everything; that's something you'll have to decide for yourself. Most of it isn't precisely bad, though; it's just unremarkable, and that's why in the end I wouldn't place it quite as low as the relative lengths of the Good and Bad sections might indicate.
Page last modified August 12 2016 at 22:34 GMT