Arceus and the Jewel of Life Review

Although I use the English name of the movie and its characters to make the review more accessible to English-speaking fans, I was actually watching a fansub of the Japanese version of the movie. There may be some differences if you have only seen the dub.

Thoughts and Synopsis

The twelfth movie finishes the D/P/Pt trilogy. The writers continue to apologize for Dialga's lack of anything interesting and time-related to do in the tenth movie by making an outright time travel story out of it - and though it's a bit of a mess, I do like this one.

Ash, Dawn and Brock arrive in Michina Town, a beautiful city surrounded by greenery and scenic mountains, and there meet and battle two local kids who recommend visiting the nearby Michina Ruins, the remains of an ancient temple. On the way to the ruins, as they admire a beautiful lake, though, there is a disturbance in the air above; wild Pokémon scatter and flee as vortexes of water rise from the surface of the lake, sucked into a dark portal.

As Pikachu and Piplup are about to be drawn into the portal, two teenagers, a boy and a girl, come running. The girl pleads for Dialga to please come and save these Pokémon - and what do you know: Dialga appears through a portal of its own, retrieves them, and returns them to their trainers before facing the swirl and firing a beam of energy at it, destroying it.

No sooner has the water calmed again, however, than another portal appears on the surface. The one behind this one is Giratina, who flies out of it and begins to attack Dialga, still angry with it for polluting the Reverse World. Ash and company try to tell it to stop, and that Dialga had saved their Pokémon, but to no avail.

That's when the mysterious girl steps forward, clasps her hands together and closes her eyes. With some extrasensory power, she sees Giratina before her, a red aura surrounding it. She tries to speak to it, but the aggressive aura pushes her back and disrupts her concentration: Giratina's anger is too strong for her to get through to it.

Ash, being Ash, of course, just wades into the lake, shouting - and that's when Giratina recognizes him from the last movie. Seeing Ash calms it down, and it stops attacking, allowing Dialga to take off unscathed.

The girl clasps her hands together again. This time Giratina's aura is blue, and she tells it that it's misunderstanding Dialga's intentions and they shouldn't fight. Giratina seems to understand, and it creates a new portal back to the Reverse World and leaves through it.

The girl explains to the confused kids that she has the ability to "read the hearts" of Pokémon, which also allows them to read hers back; that's what she was doing. However, if the Pokémon is too blinded by anger, she can't connect with it properly. Her name is Sheena, her male partner is Kevin, and they guard the Michina Ruins.

Ash thanks her for saving Pikachu, and she grabs Pikachu's cheeks and stares at it intently for a few seconds before telling them that a "thunder creature" and its "master" changed the history of Michina Town once and that perhaps her meeting Ash is fated. She asks them to come with her and Kevin to the temple, and they agree. Before they can leave, though, another huge, swirling vortex of dark energy appears above the lake and begins to suck in everything in the vicinity, including the hovering Dialga - until Palkia appears and manages to destroy the vortex, saving its counterpart. The two legendary dragons of time and space have officially made up and settled their differences. After Sheena uses her ability to thank them, they peacefully retreat to their own dimensions.

Sheena and Kevin take Ash and company to a chamber underneath the Michina Ruins and show them the "Time-Space Axis" - a strange device resembling a desktop planetarium, except that the colored spheres it shows orbiting each other represent our world, Giratina's Reverse World, Dialga and Palkia's dimensions, and Arceus's dimension. She explains that Arceus supposedly created the entire world and all these spaces, and that there are signs that Arceus is about to wake up after thousands of years' sleep; the vortexes they saw were swirls of energy created as Arceus awakens. This energy caused the spatial distortions that kicked off the events of the previous two movies - Dialga and Palkia's worlds colliding, causing each to think the other was trying to invade its territory, was really caused by these disturbances.

All this would be fine and good, except for one problem: Arceus despises humans.

Long ago, there was an asteroid on a collision course with Earth - and Arceus threw himself in its way to save the planet. Weak and dying after bearing the full brunt of the impact, Arceus crash-landed in Michina, the sixteen typed plates that constitute his life source scattering across the landscape - but a man named Damos retrieved the lost plates and brought them back to Arceus, giving him back his strength. Arceus saw that the land had been horribly damaged by shards of the meteorite, and in gratitude for Damos saving him, Arceus combined the plates of Water, Grass and Earth, binding them with the Electric plate and boosting their power with the Dragon plate, in order to create a magical orb that could help revive the land, the Jewel of Life. Having created the orb, Arceus left and told Damos that the jewel was to be returned on the next solar eclipse.

However, Damos broke his promise. On the soler eclipse, fearing that returning the jewel would bring the land back to ruin, Damos refused to return the orb and attacked Arceus, and Arceus, blinded with anger at his betrayal, destroyed the temple and returned to his world to sleep and recover from his wounds. Once Arceus awakes, he will probably return to rain judgement upon humanity.

Sheena herself is a descendant of Damos. Her ancestors realized his mistake, and ever since they have guarded the Jewel of Life and waited for Arceus' return so that they could finally set things right once again. Sheena, the latest of her bloodline, is determined to return the jewel to Arceus when he wakes up, in the hope that it will pacify him and stop him from destroying the world.

With appropriately dramatic timing, as she finishes her explanation, the Time-Space Axis sounds an alarm as the orange oval that is Arceus' space presses down towards the green sphere of our world. Arceus has finally come to reap his ultimate vengeance.

Outside, dark clouds cover the sun as a portal appears in mid-air and the godlike Pokémon leaps out of it. He wastes no time before unleashing a Judgment attack, an orb of energy that explodes into bright shards raining down upon the landscape. As he charges another attack, he hears footsteps and hesitates: "Damos?" But the mirage of Damos that he sees is only a memory; the footsteps belong to Sheena, who's come to return the Jewel of Life to him.

Sheena asks him to please stop; she explains she's a descendant of Damos and apologizes for the betrayal that Arceus suffered. She uncovers the jewel from its protective casing and places it on a stone dais for Arceus to take. For a moment Arceus seems bewildered. He descends slowly towards the dais... and then shatters the Jewel into a million pieces with his foot. The real Jewel of Life, he exclaims angrily, is a part of him and would never be broken so easily - she's tried to deceive him with a fake. He scorches the temple with a beam of energy that slices through the stone.

Sheena desperately tries to explain to Arceus that she genuinely believed this was the true jewel, and attempts to perform a heart-reading to persuade him - but Arceus's aura is bright red with rage, and her heart can't reach him.

Arceus fires another Judgment into the air, but before it lands, two more portals open and Dialga and Palkia emerge to raise protective shields over our heroes. Arceus berates them for siding with the humans and attacks them mercilessly, while he easily negates Dialga and Palkia's counterattacks simply by shifting into his Ghost-type form. When Pikachu Thunderbolts Arceus, though, the attack lands; Kevin explains that the plate that negates Electric attacks - presumably referring to the Ground-type one rather than the Electric one, though it's presented confusingly - was one of the ones that Arceus gave up to create the Jewel of Life, and therefore he can't use it to protect himself.

As Arceus continues to attack, Giratina joins the fray, but Arceus merely negates its Will-O-Wisp with his Fire form. It's time for Dialga and Palkia to actually shine, though, in a way they never got to in their own movie: Palkia uses its space-bending powers to trap Arceus in a pocket space, and meanwhile, Dialga stares intently at Sheena. Without warning, Ash, Dawn, Brock and Sheena and their Pokémon vanish into thin air as Kevin looks on in astonishment.

Our heroes travel through a 'wormhole' and then reappear where they were before... except there's a solar eclipse, and instead of the ruins they were standing in before, they're now in front of the temple in its full glory. They've been sent back in time, to the day when Arceus was betrayed.

Just in time, Arceus emerges from a new portal in the air and descends towards the temple. He waits at the front gate, a bit below where Ash and company are located, asking for the jewel. Damos steps out of the temple, holding a staff. He opens the tip of the staff to show the Jewel of Life, but then asks Arceus to follow him inside, as he wishes to "entertain" him. If I were Arceus I'd be pretty suspicious right about now - but Arceus follows. Damos saved his life before, and he trusts him as a friend.

Secretly, Damos switches the Jewel of Life for a replica, similar to the original but duller in color, places the replica on a stone table in the middle of a large room, and invites Arceus to take it. As he says so, hundreds of Pokémon emerge from spaces lining the walls and start to attack Arceus. Ash and company find their way there as well, watching helplessly as Damos walks away and gestures towards somebody or something. Suddenly a giant chandelier falls from the ceiling, followed by the roof caving in on top of Arceus.

The legendary emerges from underneath the rubble, eyes glowing with rage, and staggers up to the jewel, only to realize as he looks at it that it's a fake. Damos, now safe up in the walls by the side of another man, shows him the real jewel, still at the tip of his staff. He can't return it, he says; this way his country can continue to flourish instead of returning to ruin. The Pokémon continue to attack Arceus, further rocks falling from the ceiling. But even this can't bring Arceus down. He bursts out again and rains down Judgment on everyone, and Damos and the other man fall to their deaths as the temple crumbles. As Arceus continues to lash out, destroying more of the temple, Sheena begs Dialga to send them further back in time; somehow, through the fabric of spacetime, Dialga hears her and obeys with the last of its strength as the battle in our time rages on.

They reappear in a sunny town square and are immediately surrounded by angry villagers and a saddled Heatran. The man we saw briefly with Damos at the time of the betrayal, Marcus, appears alongside a Bronzong, and it puts everyone but Sheena to sleep with Hypnosis. Sheena tries to explain that she's from the future, and though Marcus initially doesn't seem to believe her, he still agrees to hear her out. Meanwhile, he orders the kids and their Pokémon be taken to separate rooms, which in the Michina Town of a thousand years ago is apparently code for 'locked up in the dungeons'.

As the prison door closes, Ash, Brock and Dawn snap out of their hypnotized state and ask a guard what's going on. He tells them that they were hypnotized and that Sheena is with Marcus; as they wonder aloud who Marcus is, a voice from behind them says that he's a traitor.

The voice belongs to their cellmate, who is none other than Damos himself. He tells them that Marcus deceived him and locked him up, but the kids immediately attack him, angrily asking why he betrayed Arceus and didn't return the Jewel of Life. Damos, not as surprised by these questions as he probably should be, says he'd never do that; he was planning to give it back, but Marcus locked him up to prevent that. The prison guard confirms, though he's undecided on whether the jewel should be returned or not.

Brock figures out that Damos must have been hypnotized by Marcus into deceiving Arceus. Obviously, Damos is confused, since this hasn't happened yet - but Ash wastes no time before explaining that he's from the future, proving it by sending out his Monferno from a modern Poké Ball (this being a time long before Pokéballs, when Pokémon were simply called "magical creatures"). They tell Damos the whole story, and we see a proper flashback to when Damos rescued Arceus.

Damos witnesses in person how Arceus stops a huge asteroid with his body, his plates scattering around the cratered landscape. Damos goes and finds the fallen Arceus, weak and surrounded by worried wild Pokémon. He clasps his hands together and speaks to Arceus's heart: after all, he's Sheena's ancestor, and this ability runs in her family. Although Arceus's aura is so weak it's barely visible, a tendril of light leads toward a coffin-shaped plate lying on the ground. He heads there, retrieves the plate, and carries it back to the dying Arceus. Recovering that one plate gives Arceus the energy he needs to summon the other plates from where they were scattered, reviving him fully. Arceus asks if Damos is the one who saved him, but Damos only responds that Arceus was the one who saved them.

Later, as Damos looks over the ruined landscape, worrying that they won't get through the winter like this, Arceus lands beside him and creates the Jewel of Life in order to revitalize Michina. Arceus warns him that having lost five plates, his power is now limited; he is trusting Damos with, very literally, a part of his life. Damos, of course, promises that he will give it back. Everything goes well, in time the land is green and fertile again, and Damos tells Arceus that he'll be able to return the jewel soon. They agree that Arceus will come back for it on the next solar eclipse.

Now, in the present, Damos tells the kids that the solar eclipse is about to start. Dialga only managed to send them back by a matter of hours.

Meanwhile, Sheena is talking to Marcus, who listens intently to her story. She innocently explains everything that happened and warns him that Damos is plotting to betray Arceus, and that the betrayal will have terrible consequences, including Damos and Marcus both falling to their deaths. Marcus is obviously interested and interrogates her about the methods that Damos used against Arcues. She tells him he used Pokémon with Electric moves and dropped rocks; Marcus asked if he used "silver water", but Sheena doesn't even know what that is, so Marcus notes to himself that he didn't. He makes a show of telling her they must make sure the jewel is returned and that Sheena should be the one to do it, showing her the jewel inside the staff, only to discreetly remove the jewel before he hands the staff to her.

Meanwhile, back when the kids were hypnotized in the square, Pikachu and Piplup - the Pokémon who were out of their balls at the time - were taken to a separate Pokémon prison. However, as their trainers are having their conversation with Damos, they are rescued by a Pichu with a curiously spiky ear. (This was a gimmicky special event Pichu form, exclusive to Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver.) The three of them free an unhappy Cyndaquil and Chikorita who were being forced to work in the kitchen, before Pichu leads them to where the keys to the prison cells are stored, and they retrieve them with the help of a passerby Totodile. They find the humans' cell, and Damos explains Pichu is his Pokémon.

Using the keys that Pichu brought, Damos and the kids casually open up their cell and hand the keys to the indifferent, unperturbed guard. Damos thanks the kids before heading up to make sure the Jewel of Life is returned.

At this moment, Arceus is once again arriving at the temple to retrieve the jewel. Sheena steps forth with the staff, and Arceus immediately asks about Damos, but she tells him he couldn't come. Concerned, Arceus asks if something happened to him; he's shocked when Sheena tells him Damos intends to betray him.

When Sheena opens the staff to give him the jewel, though, there is of course nothing there - and higher up, Marcus gestures to order the Pokémon to attack Arceus. But now, thanks to Sheena, he has an extra trick up his sleeve: the aforementioned "silver water", which appears to be liquid metal of some sort. He opens a huge drain in the floor, then has the silver water dumped onto Arceus, knocking him down the drain into the cave beneath and trapping him as the metal hardens around his feet. The Pokémon continue to attack, while Arceus can no longer dodge or fight back.

As Sheena stares on in horror, Marcus shows her the real Jewel of Life and explains that he can't return it. Sheena shouts at him that he deceived her, but he thanks her for telling him about the future. With the information she gave him, he's been able to change history: with the help of the silver water, they will kill Arceus here and now, ensuring that he will no longer be able to appear in the future and destroy the world.

Another dose of silver water nearly hits Sheena and destroys the wooden platform she's standing on, but Damos arrives just in the nick of time and pulls her up. Once they're safe, he asks if she's all right; still believing he's a traitor, Sheena tries to wrench herself loose from his grip, but just then their shared ability kicks in and they see one another's hearts. Sheena realizes Damos had nothing to do with the betrayal after all and that Marcus was the traitor; she tells Damos she's done something terrible, but he only laments that he couldn't see what Marcus intended earlier. More silver water floods towards them, but Brock arrives just in time and his Sudowoodo uses Hammer Arm to open a crack in the floor, causing it to spill down instead.

Meanwhile, Ash confronts Marcus and demands he return the jewel to Arceus. Marcus orders his Heatran and Bronzong to attack, but Dawn arrives in time for Piplup to deflect an attack meant for Ash. Marcus insists that he's saving the future they come from: Arceus's death here will prevent him from ever appearing in the modern day. He truly believes that Michina would return to ruin if he gave the jewel back, and that's not an option for him.

As Ash and Dawn continue to keep Marcus's Pokémon busy, Damos and Sheena lock hands and combine their abilities to reach the hearts of all the Pokémon up in the walls, pleading for them to stop attacking and that Arceus saved this land once - and one by one, their attacks cease. When they try to communicate with Arceus, however, his anger is far too strong and they can't get through to him.

Meanwhile, the Johto starters and a group of Rattata have just triumphantly saved Ash and Dawn from yet another attack - and when Marcus orders Heatran and Bronzong to attack again, they refuse, having presumably heard Damos and Sheena's hearts, too. They let Pikachu and Piplup free them from the restraints they're wearing and help surround Marcus as Ash tries to grab the jewel from his hand. As they struggle, though, Marcus throws the jewel, and it rolls into a drain. Chikorita fails to stop it, but Ash, ever the heroic type, somehow manages to throw himself down, grab onto a wooden pole and catch the falling jewel with his feet. From there, he throws it down to Pikachu, who balances it on its tail and head until Ash gets down. Dawn and the Pokémon guard Marcus while Ash tries to take the jewel down to Arceus, and Damos makes a final attempt to communicate with him.

By now Arceus is hanging his head at the bottom of the pit, half-buried in molten metal, eyes still glowing red with rage, and he doesn't even notice when Ash brings the jewel. Worse, suddenly Ash and Pikachu's forms begin to turn translucent - our time-traveling heroes are fading away. Marcus explains that since Arceus is dying, there will be no future where they come to this time; hence, they're disappearing.

Ash tries in vain to hold the sphere forward for Arceus to take, but meanwhile Damos forces his way through to Arceus's heart, and at last he manages to symbolically touch him, finally giving Arceus an understanding of what happened.

Damos tells him to take the Jewel of Life, and just as Ash is disappearing completely, the jewel flies out of his hand, separates back into the five plates it was made of, and sinks back into Arceus's half-buried body, restoring his strength. The time-travelers all return into existence (because I guess Arceus not appearing in the future because he got the jewel back here doesn't count as a reason for them to disappear), and Arceus rises out of the metal with ease now that he's at his full strength.

Arceus asks Ash who he is, and he introduces himself and Pikachu. More silver water floods into the chamber, but Arceus creates a protective sphere around Ash and Pikachu and levitates it up with him. He asks if they were the ones who saved his life, mirroring what he said after Damos saved him, but as he lands safely where Damos, Sheena, Dawn, Brock and the Johto starters have reunited (unfortunately those Rattata from earlier didn't come with), Ash replies that no, they all did. Damos apologizes to Arceus - but Arceus just says that his heart reached him, and that's enough.

Marcus, forgotten and left behind upstairs, mutters that the city will return to ruin and there is no longer a future - but then the temple begins to shake and collapse, and he screams. As everyone is falling down into the chasm, including all the Pokémon that participated in the attack on Arceus, Arceus freezes everything in the air, dissolves the falling debris, levitates everyone back where they were, and destroys all the Pokémon's restraints. A shot lingers on Marcus' headpiece lying abandoned on the ground, though.

Once they're outside, Arceus bids everyone farewell and says he must rest after spending so much of his power, and he disappears back into his own world. Finally, our time-travelers start to shimmer, indicating Dialga is about to call them back, and they say goodbye to Damos before they disappear back to their own time.

They reappear... exactly where they were when they were first taken back in time. Dialga, Palkia and Giratina are still lying exhausted on the ground around them. Arceus is still attacking. Nothing has changed! As a Judgment is raining down upon them, though, Ash calls out to Arceus - and suddenly, Arceus remembers him and everything that happened in the new timeline. He dissolves the attack, the temple is slowly restored to its original shape to undo the damage that Arceus did, and where Team Rocket are lying after several irrelevant misadventures with the real Jewel of Life that they accidentally found along the way, the jewel disappears from their hands. The sun breaks out, Dialga, Palkia and Giratina are healed, and the five plates missing from Arceus's possession reappear.

As they look over the beautiful landscape, Brock expresses his wonder that everything didn't return to ruin even though they returned the jewel in the past. Arceus tells them that the land was revived through the efforts of the people and Pokémon that cultivated it - the Jewel of Life just gave them a bit of a headstart after the destruction of the meteorite. After all, it wasn't as if the land was ever infertile without the jewel - it was just temporarily damaged. Marcus's cause was misguided from the start.

Kevin (the guy who was with Sheena at the beginning of the movie - remember him?) rejoins them, hugging Sheena tightly; judging from Brock's crestfallen reaction, I suppose we're meant to take it they're a couple. Dialga, Palkia and Giratina return to their own dimensions, and Kevin suddenly points out that there's a stone carving there showing Ash and company, presumably made by Damos. The carving has an inscription to the children of the future, wondering what their future is like but wishing for it to be bright.

Arceus tells Ash the world is wonderful and then heads off, saying he now understands he's a part of this world as well. Presumably, that's meant to be reassurance that he won't try to destroy the world again.

The Japanese end credits theme is truly something to behold; the singer speaks of a ship sailing through the grasslands, her insides being a complex circuit, and the wiggling antennae of her heart. At first I thought it must be a wonky translation, but another one says the same thing. As that plays we see images in the style of ancient carvings, showing things as they developed in the past, as well as cameos from Alice, Tonio and Darkrai as well as Newton visiting Zero in jail, with a recovered mini-version of Zero's digital assistant, and Shaymin in a tree. There's also a bit where we see Damos working and what really looks like Marcus working behind him - apparently, he was not subtly killed earlier despite the ominous shot of his headpiece that strongly implied that.

The Good

This movie is one of the ones that deviate from the typical Pokémon movie formulas, and that's always a plus. Rather than a silly territorial squabble between legendaries or a human villain seeking to abuse a legendary's power, this is a movie about trust and betrayal, revenge and atonement, with a villain who simply puts the welfare of his country above all else and believes the ends justify the means.

Marcus isn't driven by any kind of lust for power or glory; he just genuinely believes that returning the Jewel of Life to Arceus will destroy his home, and he's determined not to let that happen. Arceus is the enemy who wants to take their lifeblood away; he has to stop him. And when he learns that his efforts to stop him are going to have disastrous consequences - well, he listens and learns and adjusts his plan accordingly, to make sure that they kill Arceus, not just averting his own death but ensuring that the disaster of the future will never happen and Michina Town can remain safe and prosperous for ages to come. Marcus's actions are cruel - Arceus' suffering is meaningless to him. But he is not evil or delusional or obsessive or megalomaniacal; he's simply acting according to a rational calculus based on values that are toxic but recognizeably human, and determined to do whatever is necessary for that cause.

And Arceus's motivations are likewise very human. He's not a territorial monster - but he also isn't an inscrutable omniscient deity. He's just a person, as fallible and mortal as anyone else - a person who nearly sacrificed his life to stop a meteor, was rescued by Damos, and gave away a part of himself in gratitude for it, only to be traumatically betrayed and abused by this person he thought he trusted. By the time he returns, consumed with anger and hatred for the humans who stole part of his soul away, he's misguided and taking out his justified rage in a way that'll hurt people who had nothing to do with it, but you can feel for him. My favorite part of this movie is the scene where he's half-buried in metal with his head down, his eyes glowing bright red, failing to react at all when Ash tries to give him the jewel; he's been betrayed so thoroughly he doesn't even care about the Jewel of Life anymore and is just lost somewhere in the depths of his pain and fury trying to understand how someone he trusted with his life could have done this to him. And in the end, he has to grow and learn. Arceus is a real, sympathetic character, and I think he makes for one of the best and most interesting portrayals of a legendary Pokémon in any of the movies - something I definitely wasn't expecting first when an Arceus movie was announced.

The twist of Damos not actually being the one who betrayed Arceus isn't the most mindblowing plot twist out there - it's pretty conspicuous how much Damos looks like a good guy and Marcus looks like a bad guy. But even if it doesn't fool the viewer, it's used well for the sake of the characters' understanding of what's going on: Sheena blindly trusts Marcus and blabs everything to him in her conviction that it's Damos who's the bad one, and Arceus actually believing the person who betrayed him is the person who saved his life is crucial to just how much it messes with him.

In general, all this means this movie is quite good on the character front. Kevin is a total nonentity, and Damos is likeable but not hugely interesting by himself, but Arceus, Sheena and Marcus all have real struggles and take misguided actions according to real, sympathetic motivations, and it makes them far more compelling than your average Pokémon movie character.

I also quite like the Pokémon's adventures intercut with Damos telling his story and Sheena talking to Marcus. It's a good, sensible decision for the pacing of the movie to intercut it like this - it all feels paced pretty smoothly, I think - but also, it shows some fun bits of worldbuilding, and in particular, in one spot they run across the rafters in the room with the silver water pots, silently giving a glimpse of what Marcus and Sheena are simultaneously talking about, without feeling the need to explicitly point this out. All in all it's fun to see the cute Pokémon antics scenes being relevant to the plot and really actively contributing to the movie's storytelling, when so often there's just an awkwardly inserted designated Pokémon being cute scene.

I also just deeply appreciate that finally we get to see Dialga using some actual time powers. And it had a bunch of Rattata taking part in saving the day! Tell me that's not awesome. (Genuinely: a bunch of non-trained Pokémon and even Brock get to actually do something in this movie! That doesn't happen often.)

The Bad

As much as I enjoy getting a real fixing-the-past time travel story, it's a bit of a mess here. Time travel is something that's always going to be a bit of a headache to think about, and almost any time travel story is going to have elements that don't fully make sense. But even then, I think this movie's time travel is pretty incoherent.

The writers probably saw Back to the Future and that inspired them to do this thing with the time travelers starting to fade away because of what they've changed in the past. But they missed the actual logic behind Back to the Future time travel, which is that things that have traveled to the past will automatically correct their state to match with what they should be in the future they came from - a newspaper corrects to show the headlines from the changed future, for instance. Does this make any scientific sense? Nope, but there's an easily comprehensible kind of story logic to it. Marty McFly fades away, as his siblings do in his family photo, because in the changed future he's creating, they won't exist, because he's managed to change things so that his parents won't be falling in love.

This is an entirely different thing from what's going on when the time travelers start to fade away in this movie, which is just that in the future that's being created, Ash and company won't go to the past. Any effort to change the past to fix something in the future will result in a future where you wouldn't have gone to the past! That's the whole point! If the time travel logic says the time travelers fade away if the future would no longer have them going to the past - well, they'd still fade away if the reason they won't go to the past is that there isn't a problem for them to fix anymore! This just doesn't work. This is particularly egregious because the fading away doesn't actually serve any purpose for the plot in this movie - it's just sort of thrown in to try to add urgency and drama at the climax, but it's entirely unnecessary and all it really adds is a hefty dose of "Wait... what?" that didn't need to be there.

To boot, everything else about how time travel seems to work in this movie wildly contradicts the idea that the future timeline is correcting itself according to what they do in the past as they go along in any way. For one, time passes in the future 'simultaneously' with what they're doing in the past, with Palkia and Giratina continuing to hold off Arceus's attacks for what appears to be at least several minutes 'while' Ash and company are fixing things in the past, and at one point Sheena manages to communicate with Dialga in the future timeframe so that it can send them further into the past. This shows unavoidably that the future they were in earlier is still ongoing the way it is - and by the time they're brought back, they're still in that future, with Arceus even still attacking. The change only happens when Ash calls out to Arceus and Arceus remembers what happened in the new version of the past.

The correction itself, when it happens, is pretty questionable; a select few things change, but others remain the same. (The state of the temple and bridge is changed; the stone carving by Damos appears; Arceus gains new memories and the Jewel of Life plates; but all the characters are still at the temple even though there wouldn't have been any reason for them to be here at this time in the new future, and Kevin and Team Rocket seem to only remember the original timeline.) The only way this really makes any sense is if Dialga did something like manually merge the two timelines, picking and choosing what to keep from each - but that seems pretty complex, and there's nothing to suggest this. It's clearly just based on what would be convenient for the plot right now, and all in all, although time travel is always going to be a sticky affair, it just doesn't feel like the writers put much if any thought into how it works here, which is disappointing.

Although I like Marcus's reasonably human motivations a lot, I do wish the movie had taken it a little further. His motives themselves are sympathetic, but the character as shown in the movie doesn't feel very sympathetic - he very much comes across as a bad guy, and we don't get to see much in the way of emotion or passion from him, even though his motives really invite it. He had the potential to be a really interesting villain, and they don't really fully make use of that potential.

The restraints that the Pokémon wear are kind of a strange element of this movie and I'm not really sure what to make of them. Somehow, they're being used to oppress Pokémon and force them to work, and are uncomfortable and restrictive - but what are the restraints actually doing? They're not preventing disobedience or suppressing the Pokémon's powers. Why are the humans so insistently making every Pokémon in town wear them? What's actually changing for the Pokémon when the restraints are destroyed - the implication is that they're being freed somehow, but what is it exactly that they're free to do now that they couldn't do before? It's never actually explained or explored what's going on with these things, and all in all I'm just kind of confused by this entire plot point and why it's there - it doesn't connect to anything else in the movie and just feels kind of like a half-abandoned plot thread that might have been more important at some earlier stage in the movie's development.

Heatran's appearance in this movie is so unceremonious, simply as one of the villain's Pokémon, that it's easy to forget it's even a legendary at all - I'm not sure if it even qualifies as a random legendary appearance, because the previous random secondary legendaries were presented in a hyped-up way despite being very underwhelming, but for this one you'd just never be able to tell Heatran isn't simply a regular Pokémon. If anyone was excited to see Heatran in a movie, they'd have been sorely disappointed.

As for nitpicks: how is it quite so easy for Marcus to accept that Sheena is from the future, when this is presumably a time long before widespread science fiction planting that idea in people's heads? Why didn't he use the silver water in the first place, if he had access to it?

Also, those CG trees near the beginning look amazingly bad.

Conclusion

All in all, this movie is pretty good, as long as you're willing to just go with the barely thought-out time travel. It benefits from a compelling central conflict and characters and pretty solid pacing, and although it could have done a bit more and has some strange, unnecessary elements, this is ultimately one of my favorite Pokémon movies, mostly for the portrayal of Arceus.

Page last modified November 2 2019 at 20:36 GMT