Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea 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
This movie feels a lot like the sixth movie, with another round of one of Ash's traveling companions bonding with an event legendary who has an important purpose to serve in a specific faraway location, journeying to that location while feeling conflicted about having to say goodbye, and evading a villain who wants the legendary for his own nefarious purposes on the way. Unfortunately, while it brings a couple of neat things to the table, this movie mostly stands out for the bits that are memorably bizarre and ridiculous - but depending on the viewer, that can be a plus in its own way.
As the title would suggest, this is the first movie appearance of a Pokémon Ranger, tying in with the spin-off game series about volunteers who try to help people and Pokémon and protect the world by temporarily recruiting wild Pokémon for assistance. We open with our featured Ranger, Jackie, on a mission: he is working undercover on the crew of a pirate submarine, owned by a stereotypical pirate named Phantom. Phantom is after the legendary Pokémon Manaphy, which according to legend is supposed to be able to lead him to the "Sea Temple", an underwater temple built by a water-based civilization known as the People of the Water. The Sea Temple contains a great treasure known as the Sea Crown, which can make the bearer "King of the Sea" - though nobody appears to know exactly what this entails. At the beginning of the film, Phantom's men locate and capture Manaphy's egg in the ocean, but Jackie successfully snags it, evades Phantom and his goons, and escapes with the help of a wild Mantine.
The title sequence appears to imply atoms house an infinite array of universes inside them. This is unfortunately not a concept that is explored in the actual movie.
Meanwhile, our heroes - Ash, May, Max and Brock, in their final theatrical outing as a team - are out walking in the wilderness in scorching heat, parched with thirst, when suddenly beyond the hills ahead, huge globs of water levitate into the air. It turns out a well-known family of entertainers known as the Marina Pokémon Performance Group (Brock's a big fan, of course) is practicing their act there - the levitating water spheres, kept afloat by Meditite and Medicham, serve as a medium for the group's Water Pokémon to do tricks in. The gang gratefully accept some drinks and then come along to see the family perform in the city.
When the show is over, May finds a peculiar container holding what we know to be Manaphy's egg after a Buizel belonging to the troupe accidentally knocks it down from a shelf in their trailer. Team Rocket are watching, but the Marina Group's clown quickly snatches the container away. The family offer the heroes a ride to the next town, and they gladly accept.
In the middle of the night, moonlight shines through the Manaphy egg in the trailer and onto May's face. She dreams about swimming with Water Pokémon and seeing a strange temple shaped somewhat like a spirally seashell, as well as the ominous shadow of Kyogre. A sparkly yellow Manaphy swims happy circles around her before heading towards the temple. As she shouts for it to wait, though, she wakes up.
The next morning, while our heroes are eating pizza with the Marina Group, May tells them about the dream, with a pointless flashback to what we just saw two minutes ago. Lizabeth, the teenage daughter of the group, explains to her that she has actually had the same dream. Her family are descendants of the People of the Water, who built the Sea Temple long ago to commune with Water Pokémon and have dreamt of it ever since. The fact May had that dream could indicate she and Max are descended from the tribe, too.
Meanwhile, Team Rocket, who have recognized the Manaphy egg as a valuable treasure sought by Phantom, sneak into the trailer and take out the egg's container. As they lay their hands on it, however, a strange red light travels between them, causing them to switch bodies: this is Manaphy's Heart Swap ability. James is now inhabiting Jessie's body, Jessie is in Meowth's, and Meowth is in James's, where he can marvel at the freedom of having human-sized legs. Despite the confusion this causes, they manage to take off with the egg container. As they step onto their pedal-driven zeppelin with the Manaphy egg, the Marina Group's clown appears and - surprise - turns out to be Jackie the Pokémon Ranger in disguise. With the help of a nearby wild Fearow he recruits to their aid, Pikachu retrieves the egg container and Team Rocket is sent blasting off again.
As the gang pack up their things to get back on the road, Jackie explains to them that he is there on a mission to get Manaphy safely to the Sea Temple. However, just as they're discussing this, helicopters appear in the sky: it's Phantom, here to reclaim Manaphy after being tipped off by James. The gang run for it, while Phantom and one of his goons leap down from one of the helicopters and give chase. Eventually, after Ash falls, May ends up with the container, and as she runs with it in her arms, the egg begins to glow. Phantom comes after her, but as he is trying to wrestle it away from her, he accidentally opens the container, the egg is launched into the air, and May quickly rushes to catch it before it lands. When it lands in her hands, the glow intensifies, and the egg transforms into a sleeping Manaphy, which immediately begins to cry as Phantom looks on in horror.
The rest of the Marina Group arrives with their boat-car and trailer and tell the gang to get in with Manaphy. Phantom attempts to follow them, but Jackie manages to grab his coat and use his momentum to swing him around, giving them time to get into the trailer and drive off. Manaphy is still wailing, but eventually calms down in May's arms. Any attempt to make someone else hold it, however, immediately starts it crying again: it's imprinted on May, and she has no choice but to act as its mother from now on. Phantom's helicopters are still giving chase, and they shoot grappling hooks through the roof of the trailer, forcing our heroes to move over to the boat-car and release the trailer to tumble violently down the mountainside, nearly taking the helicopters with it.
Our heroes head for some old ruins in the forest, Phantom's helicopters fast on their heels. Deep in the ruins lies a secret passageway that opens only when activated by a bracelet of special stones made by the People of the Water. Beyond, the ruins are half-flooded, but the gang use their Water Pokémon to help them get to their destination, a shrine to the Sea Temple. The Marina Group explain that the Sea Temple is normally invisible, except during a total lunar eclipse (of course, this means there's a convenient lunar eclipse coming up); furthermore, it drifts around so it's never in the same place. Manaphy, however, has an intrinsic connection to the temple and is automatically drawn to find it so it can take its rightful place as Prince of the Sea.
Phantom has also gotten his hands on one of the bracelets that can open the passageway, but for some reason, after he does so, rather than following the protagonists inside, he and his men exit again to search the Marina Group's boat-car. When they do so, they bump into Team Rocket, who are busy cleaning Phantom's helicopter in the hope that he will let them join him. He agrees to let them work for him as cleaners before getting back in the helicopter, hoping to ambush the protagonists once they exit the secret passageways out to the open sea.
As our heroes exit the waterways on small boats that were presumably stored at the shrine, Jackie thanks Ash and company for their help but explains that he doesn't want to drag them any further into this, and this is a job for a Pokémon Ranger. They land in a town, where the Marina Group and Jackie get on a larger boat that Lizabeth's grandfather owns, carrying the sleeping Manaphy. However, as they're setting sail and waving goodbye, Manaphy wakes up and starts to cry because May - its "mother" - isn't there. May and Ash both realize they want to come along and help, and they run along the pier after the boat. Seeing them, Manaphy Heart Swaps Jackie and Ash, forcing the boat to stop and let them on board.
They release Manaphy into the ocean so it can guide them to the Sea Temple and set off on their way. They travel for days without seeing any sign of Phantom, but unknown to them, Phantom is merely laying low in his giant submarine and letting them lead him to the temple. On their journey, May and Manaphy become inseparable, while Jackie gives them a lot of long, concerned glances from afar. Eventually, May overhears Jackie telling Ash to try to separate May and Manaphy so their eventual goodbye will be easier. She reveals herself and says she'll be fine - but Jackie tells her he means it for Manaphy's sake. Following this, May tries to follow his advice and distance herself from Manaphy, but it breaks her heart to do so. Manaphy doesn't quite understand and keeps trying to get her attention.
The day before the lunar eclipse, May's bandana slips out of her fingers as a sharp gust of wind blows by when she's trying to put it on. Manaphy heads off to retrieve it as it's carried off by the breeze and various oblivious wild Pokémon, eager to please its substitute mom. When Manaphy isn't back by evening, Ash, May, Max, Brock and Lizabeth head out in a small submarine, connected to the ship with a steel cable, to look for it. May blames herself for being so cold, but they haven't been out long before Manaphy bumps into the submarine with the bandana, thrilled to be reunited with May.
As they're about to head back, the submarine is caught in an ocean current, and the cable connecting it to the ship is broken. Manaphy leads them out of the current, though, and they follow it onwards, oblivious to Phantom's submarine tailing behind them. Suddenly, however, Manaphy and the submarine vanish: Manaphy has successfully led them to the Sea Temple and its field of invisibility. At just that moment, though, the total lunar eclipse begins, and the temple becomes fully visible - including to Phantom, who heads straight for it in a smaller one-person submarine, with Team Rocket stowing away on it in an escape pod.
The temple proper is surrounded by a bubble of air, but the temple itself is full of fountains and canals, befitting a temple of the People of the Water. The gang land the submarine by the temple entrance, emerging safe and dry. They navigate the temple with Manaphy's help, eventually reaching a stone with an ancient inscription on it that Lizabeth can't read. Just then, Phantom comes up behind them and offers to read it for them, having carefully studied the People of the Water in preparation for his search. The inscription says the Sea Crown lies behind a door that opens for the symbol of the People of the Water, and that the one who holds the Sea Crown will become the true King of the Sea. Phantom holds his bracelet up to the inscription, and it reveals a simple puzzle lock mechanism on the wall, which Phantom also knows how to solve. A series of doors open in front of him, and he runs inside, followed by Ash and company.
Beyond the doors, in the heart of the temple, lies a multi-layered fountain enclosed in a bubble of water, decorated with glowing blue crystals. Phantom exclaims that he's finally found the Sea Crown and breaks off one of the crystals while Manaphy feebly tries to hold it in place. After he does so, the spell holding the water suspended around the fountain breaks, and more water begins to flood into the room from above. Ash and company run for it, while Phantom continues to remove crystals from the fountain, cackling. On the way out, the heroes meet Jackie, who had dived to join them with the help of a wild Mantyke he recruited and an underwater breathing apparatus. He offers to deal with Phantom while they escape.
When Jackie reaches the heart of the temple, Phantom's stuffed most of the crystals into a bag. Jackie advises him to put them back the way they were, but when Phantom refuses, Jackie simply runs up, grabs some out of the bag and starts to replace them himself while evading Phantom. At last, though, Phantom catches up with him, and as they wrestle, they're washed away by a flood of water from above. In the process, Phantom drops the crystal he's holding, and it's carried away.
As this happens, Max has gotten into the submarine, and Lizabeth urges Ash and May to get in too, but Manaphy, worried about the temple, leaps into the water to go back, and the two of them follow. Lizabeth is going to wait, but another flood of water sweeps the submarine away, forcing her to quickly get in and close the hatch. Ash, May and Manaphy reach the fountain room, where Phantom's bag lies abandoned with a few crystals in it, and replace those crystals in the fountain; however, one is still missing, the one that Phantom took with him earlier. And by now, the temple really is flooding, with water licking at their feet. They're running out of time.
Phantom and Team Rocket wrestle for control of Phantom's submarine, resulting in all of them falling as a wave of water washes the submarine away. Seeing Lizabeth's submarine safely outside the temple and assuming all the kids are in it, Jackie instead jumps aboard Phantom's submarine along with Phantom's Chatot. Phantom, however, manages to grab onto the back of the submarine and retrieve some kind of torpedo from there, which he then rides instead. The strong currents around the temple prevent Lizabeth from returning for Ash and May, who are running through the corridors of the temple to find the missing crystal. They eventually find it washed up in a fountain and grab it just as more water floods into the room they're in. As they run, they bump into the escape pod that Team Rocket arrived in. Ash stuffs May, Pikachu and Manaphy into the escape pod, closes it and tells them he's going to replace the crystal.
By now, most of the temple is well and thoroughly flooded, and Ash has to swim through the water to get around. As he comes up for air in the heart of the temple, yet another burst of water hits him and causes him to drop the crystal. He dives to retrieve it, but it's stuck, and by the time he's unlodged it, he's been holding his breath too long: he passes out from the lack of oxygen before he can get back to the surface, dropping the crystal again as his body goes limp. May is stuck in the escape pod, unable to offer any help but prayer; however, suddenly Manaphy's antennae glow red, the way they did when it used Heart Swap earlier in the movie. Rather than swapping Ash and May, though, it just telepathically broadcasts her voice to Ash, which wakes him up, allowing him to surface for breath and then dive again, retrieve the crystal and place it in the last spot on the fountain. The fountain glows with a bright yellow light.
As the water drains away, glowing yellow threads of energy sprout from the temple walls. One of them snakes its way towards the escape pod with May, Pikachu and Manaphy in it and carries it away. Outside, Lizabeth's submarine is returning to find them, now with Jackie aboard, when Kyogre swims past in a swarm of conspicuously CG Pokémon. The temple surfaces near the boat; May, now on a dry walkway, can finally open the escape pod. As they worry about Ash, though, Phantom sneaks up behind them, grabs Manaphy and then zooms away on his torpedo, gloating that with Manaphy he can find the Sea Temple again whenever he wants.
Just then, a glowing yellow energy shaft rises triumphantly out of the water, and at the tip of it is... Ash! Like a strange gravity-defying snake, he spirals through air and water alike, chasing after Phantom in a way that'd surely have taken less time if he'd skipped some of the spiraling. Kyogre tosses Phantom into the air, and Ash grabs Manaphy out of his hands before he falls. Lizabeth's grandfather explains that the Sea Crown is actually this power, which was used by the People of the Water to commune with Water Pokémon. Ash Ketchum, Chosen One, Aura Guardian, has obtained the Sea Crown and become King of the Sea.
Phantom's big submarine emerges out of the water beside Ash, where he's grabbed onto a pair of handlebars that have somehow appeared at the top of the submarine (they were not there earlier in the movie). The pod of Wailord accompanying Kyogre start ramming the submarine from the bottom, but in response the pirates activate a mechanism to emit supersonic waves that confuse the Pokémon. As Kyogre thrashes helplessly around, Manaphy wrestles out of Ash's arms and into the ocean, where it sings and uses Heart Swap. This unites the hearts of the Pokémon and cures their confusion.
The Pokémon, hearts united, join together to attack the submarine and Phantom, knocking him down so he's hanging off the side of it. At Manaphy's command, Kyogre Hyper Beams the submarine. This breaks a giant spike off the top of it and tears Phantom's outfit into tatters, revealing that underneath he's been wearing a mecha suit all along, explaining his brute strength. The spike collapses on top of Phantom and he strains to hold it up, but the already damaged mecha suit breaks, and he is crushed underneath the spike.
Everyone's happily reunited, and we cut to Ash's human friends and Pikachu at the tips of more glowing yellow energy threads. They play with their new powers for a while, eventually forming the shape of a glowing crown above the Sea Temple. Jackie, now standing on the submarine beside the helpless Phantom, explains to him that this is what the Sea Crown really was.
The Sea Temple sinks back into the ocean and turns invisible again. Manaphy gives May a last hug before leaving and even manages to say her name, but then returns to the ocean without looking back - Jackie's worries, it seems, were mostly unfounded. As for May, she says she's not okay, but she will be.
Oh, and apparently Team Rocket were swallowed by a Wailord and are blown out through its blowhole during the end credits. We never find out precisely how they got back to land, but I presume it's the same way they usually survive being blasted into the stratosphere.
This is very much not a great movie, but it has its charms. The music in it is quite pretty, and some of the environments are neat, though they don't make much sense. Jackie is pretty fun to watch, in a somewhat corny hypercompetent quipping badass kind of way, and Phantom actually isn't too bad of a villain - the whole pirate thing and the mecha suit are silly and over-the-top, but that's kind of entertaining in its own way, and it's neat how Phantom actually knows more about the legends of the People of the Water than the main protagonists do. The bit where Team Rocket are Heart Swapped is genuinely priceless; I'd rank it as one of the funniest scenes in the Pokémon movie canon. And, well, if you're the sort of person who enjoys watching very silly movies to poke fun at them with your friends, this is definitely the Pokémon movie of choice for you: a lot of it is weird and over-the-top and ridiculous, and you can definitely make a fun evening out of cackling at Ash and company turning into energy-tentacles.
Also, while this scene is entirely irrelevant to the movie's story (and thus not included in the synopsis), the flashback to Jackie's backstory, where he gets lost in the mountains and almost freezes to death but is saved by being cuddled by a bunch of helpful wild Pokémon, is really cute.
This movie is ridiculous on a lot of levels, but the thing that bothers me the most about it is the way Ash stuffs May, Pikachu and Manaphy into an escape pod at the end. I've talked before about how the movies really like to go out of their way to make sure it's Ash who saves the day; this is the worst instance of this phenomenon, in my opinion, where Ash outright stows his friends away so he can go be the hero. There's an uncomfortably sexist vibe to it, with the boy unilaterally making a decision to keep the girl out of the action without her seemingly having any say in it - and of course it turns out Ash actually has trouble doing it on his own and needs her help, even though it's not actually acknowledged by the narrative in any way that he might have been wrong to do this in the first place.
When Manaphy started using Heart Swap there the first time I watched this movie, I actually thought for a moment that it was doing something clever - that we were about to see this established power to swap people's minds being used to swap May into Ash's body, allowing her to finish the task where he couldn't. That would even have counteracted the above - Ash's friend unexpectedly getting to be the hero after all would've been a great twist on it! But instead, the Heart Swap power suddenly does something entirely different from before, something that doesn't really make a lot of sense, and Ash remains the one who gets to actually do stuff. It's frustratingly inconsistent and just generally disappointing.
The entire finale with Ash as the tip of a glowing energy-rope being King of the Sea is bizarre and very difficult to take seriously. Why does the Sea Crown do this - let you fly as an energy-snake - instead of anything vaguely sea-related? Is Ash still King of the Sea, or did he somehow relinquish the title before returning back to normal? All of this just feels pulled out of nowhere with no rhyme or reason to it, and to boot it looks incredibly silly (and, to be frank, oddly phallic). It's difficult to watch this section of the movie without just internally going what, and unfortunately it seals this one's fate as bad movie night material.
Sadly, though, that's not at all the end of its problems. There's a long lull in the middle, some twenty minutes from when the protagonists get out of the ruins up to when they find the temple, where not much is happening and entire scenes go by that don't really mean anything. Ostensibly, much of this sequence is about May growing closer to Manaphy and then trying to push it away because of Jackie's concern that being so close to May will make it harder for Manaphy to leave her. But it turns out that whole concern is just quietly dropped - Manaphy has no real trouble separating from May after all, despite nothing having obviously happened to make it less dependent on or attached to her (quite the contrary). The only real consequence of that entire plot point is that Manaphy presumably goes to get May's bandana out of desire to work harder to earn her attention - but the bandana sequence itself is pointless, because while it leads to them finding the temple, Manaphy would already have led them to the temple anyway. All in all, the sole actual purpose of these bits appears to be to try to wring emotion out of May and Manaphy's relationship, but it ends up having no actual impact on the story and the emotional buildup isn't really delivered on.
The May and Manaphy plot is generally kind of a rehash of the sixth movie's Max and Jirachi plot, only presented as a mother-child relationship rather than a friendship. It's still a cute enough subplot, and in some ways it's done better here: we see significantly more of May and Manaphy actually bonding and spending time together, for one, and I do appreciate the presence of some form of tension or conflict in their relationship. But even aside from the aforementioned lack of delivery on the separation problem and the suspiciously stereotypical decision to put the girl in this mothering role, it suffers for the context it's in here: the attempted emotional character bonding and theme of tragic inevitable separation clashes oddly with the tone of much of the rest of the movie, which, remember, involves a pirate in a mecha suit and energy tentacle superpowers. It's a little difficult to take May's goodbye with Manaphy seriously just after the whole Sea Crown sequence.
Kyogre's appearance at the end here is the epitome of the often halfhearted inclusion of extra legendaries in the movies: it just randomly shows up and provides brief help twice before vanishing back into the background. It has no character and no sense of motivation, it doesn't do anything that a regular Pokémon couldn't, and it doesn't show off any of the things that are unique or interesting about Kyogre - it doesn't even cause it to rain. All in all, the movie does no justice to it, and it's difficult to imagine the Kyogre fans they were trying to entice with this were actually appeased by it.
Finally, some of the CGI in this movie is especially bad. The absolute worst is probably the actual CG human shown in one of Phantom's helicopters when they're finding the egg at the beginning; next would be the boat-car and trailer, which just look painfully, inescapably like plastic toys in the entire chase sequence. But it's also got a lot of CG Pokémon, which is rarely a good idea; some of them actually look almost okay (the Luvdisc in the opening, for example), but others, like the Wailord near the end, just completely fail to look like living creatures in a way that's actively distracting.
This is not a good movie. On top of the ridiculous elements, it's downright tedious in parts in a way the Pokémon movies usually manage to avoid, and there's nothing really remarkable or interesting going on here. The first time I watched it, I'd been blown away by the eighth movie after falling out of the movie series for a while and was sure to pick up this one as soon as I could, only to be extremely disappointed and bored, annoyed by Manaphy's baby antics, enraged by the escape pod, and just weirded out by the entire climax. I'm somewhat kinder to this movie these days, but as far as I'm concerned it's still one of the worst ones.
But this is a pretty fun one to watch with some friends, riff on the ludicrous happenings together and enjoy on that basis. If that's usually how you enjoy your Pokémon movies, this one's quite possibly your best bet.
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