So this is it. The grand event that the series had been building up to for two years. Arceus and the Jewel of Life.
The curious thing about Arceus, in addition to raising a million questions about the theology of the series, is that it was never even officially released outside of miscellaneous giveaways for another two years. The relevant item, the Azure Flute, was developed but deemed to be “too confusing” because going to a specific area after beating the game is apparently difficult.
This movie also serves as promotion for the release of HeartGold and SoulSilver, also known as the best games in the entire series. This places a lot of emphasis on the corresponding starter Pokemon, despite the fact that they’re two generations old at this point, along with another special guest that I’ll get to later.
Naturally there was a lot of hype for this movie. In Japan it was pretty much the only way to get the giveaway Pokemon, and need I mention the last two movies and their constant lack of closure?
If you need a reminder, Palkia and Dialga are pissed off at each other, Giratina’s pissed off at Dialga, and everyone else is really getting sick of this and wishes we could move on already.
Well, the lords of time, space, and antimatter have left us disappointed. Let’s see what God himself can do.
The film opens on the Lord of All Creation stewing in space over some vague slight like a hormonal teenager. After an apparent argument that the audience isn’t privy to, Arceus (Tom Wayland) calmly examines the dilemma and immediately proclaims that mankind must be punished.
Arceus is… something. In Japan the role was played by a well-known drag queen (Akihiro Miwa), but given that Divine’s been dead since the late 80s that approach wasn’t going to work in English. The actual voice actor has claimed that the dub was originally going to have Vincent D’Onofrio (best known as the loser from Full Metal Jacket), but I have no idea if this is factual or just a urban legend that grew out of control.
What we got instead is less than impressive. It’s particularly high and nasally, and while it’s not a terrible performance acting-wise it certainly doesn’t evoke the fearsome awe that you would expect from a literal god hell-bent on destroying everything.
As Ash, Brock, and Dawn take a quick break from aimlessly wandering to allow their Pokemon to splash around in a river, they’re challenged to a double battle by some rejected character designs from Digimon. This provides the only actual Pokemon battling that we get in this movie, naturally set to the tune of the show’s current theme. The song’s decent enough, even though it sounds like a generic pop tune with the word “Pokemon” tacked on. As a “thank you” for kicking their asses, their opponents suggest that they check out the ruins in the nearby Michina Town.
The area is based off of Ancient Greece even though it seems more like the Fertile Crescent in terms of importance and looks like the uncanny valley. By 2009 decent-looking computer animation was finally commonly available, but the animators still hadn’t gotten the hang of mixing mediums. Instead of looking like a lush environment, it appears that the characters are acting in front of green screens.
In other words, it’s Dinosaur all over again.
Our heroes wander around the ruins for a bit when a sudden distortion in time and space opens up in a nearby river, threatening to suck them up like this is a terrible crossover fanfiction. Before our leads can outright perish, a couple of fashion disasters interrupt the proceedings to smooth things out.
These two are Sheena (Evelyn Lantto) and Kevin (Wayne Grayson). Sheena dresses like Franziska Von Karma and has the ability to communicate emotionally with Pokemon. Kevin is just there. I can’t make fun of him properly. Even his name is boring. Change your name, Kevin.
Naturally Sheena takes one look at the situation and decides that the best plan is to ask Dialga for help. This course of action alone is enough to make me dislike her. It wasn’t interesting in the first two films, so needless to say hopes aren’t very high for this one.
The Temporal Pokemon is able to close the rift with ease, but its appearance apparently sets off some alarm bells as both Giratina and Palkia appear to duke it out. Between Sheena’s ability and the aid that the legendaries received from Ash in the past, the conflict between the three is eventually mended and everyone heads their separate ways.
Sheena and Kevin take the three to their hideout, which is full of enough electronic gizmos and questionable interior decorating to qualify as a supervillain’s lair. According to their devices, Arceus has awakened, causing disturbances to the dimensions of Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina and in general just making everyone pissy. The supporting characters just so happened to be present at the climaxes of the previous two films, but didn’t interfere because having superpowered experts nearby would make for boring resolutions I guess.
Using special effects that I’m pretty sure they stole from Fantasmic, the two locals relate the myth behind the area. Michina Town used to be a desolate wasteland until Arceus helped its human friend Damos (Dan Green) by loaning him the Jewel of Life, comprised of five of the Type Plates that boost his power: Ground (for soil), Water (for nutrients), Grass (for seeds), Electric (for providing the ‘spark’), and Dragon (for looking badass). The fact that it conveniently contains everything that would give Arceus a fighting chance against Electric types goes unmentioned, as it’s probably there just so that Pikachu can get away with attacking it.
Speaking of which, Sheena also recalls that the legends spoke of a “Thunder Creature” and its master. Dawn is able to immediately deduce that this most likely means Ash and Pikachu, who just roll their eyes and wait for this particular prophecy to play out because it loses its appeal after a while.
Anyway, when it came time to return the Jewel of Life, Damos refused, claiming that the area would soon return to its barren state since he had yet to grasp the concept of object permanence. Hurt by the betrayal and the man’s attempt to attack it, Arceus destroys the temple and leaves, swearing revenge on mankind. Sheena happens to be a descendant of Damos, and has located the artifact with the intent to return it to the god.
With this exposition out of the way, Arceus hears its cue and makes its grand entrance into the plot. Sheena distracts it before it can start its rampage by offering it the Jewel, but it is swiftly denounced as a fake and destroyed which is a shame since it could probably still fetch a small fortune on the black market.
The Alpha Pokemon prepares to deliver judgement on the surrounding area, but the Creation Trio shows up yet again to fight it off. This would be exciting if it wasn’t what we got for the past two movies. I’d say that at least a solid eighth of this movie is devoted to watching these things beat the crap out of each other and it gets old after about ninety seconds.
Granted, it takes approximately this long for Dialga to go down, to which I say good riddance. Before it outright collapses, it uses the last of its power to send Ash, Brock, Dawn, and Sheena through time. Kevin reacts to this unexpected turn of events by standing in the exact same spot for the rest of the movie.
As it turns out Dialga has transported the crew to the night of the eclipse when the return was scheduled to take place, far too late to actually do anything about it. Thanks to the prologue and the provided backstory, we already know what happens: Arceus shows up, Damos betrays him, the god is attacked by a ton of Pokemon that seem to be okay with trying to kill the thing that caused them life in the first place, nobody wins. Sheena isn’t happy with these spoilers, though, and calls for Dialga to bring them further back, which it does somehow.
Deposited a few hours earlier, we’re left to observe the great metropolis of Michina Town, which really isn’t all that great. This city-state also appears to be made up entirely of men, since presumably their wives are off withholding sex or something. Before we can get very far, however, our primary characters are intercepted by the de-facto leader Marcus (Jason Griffith) with his Bronzong and Heatran. Sheena is able to plead her case with the man, but the others are hypnotized and imprisoned.
In true coincidental fashion, Ash, Dawn, and Brock are imprisoned in the same cell as Damos himself. After being angrily confronted over things that haven’t even happened yet, he tells his side of the story: at some point the fates that be decided that humanity had run its course and sent meteors towards the planet. Since if anyone’s gonna destroy the world on a whim it’s gonna be Arceus, it deflects the space debris but is wounded in the process.
Through the same process that would be used by his descendant, Damos is able to find the cause of the local Pokemon’s pain and tracks down the god. By finding one of the Type Plates that it had lost, he manages to bring it back to health, and in turn received the Jewel of Life out of gratitude. This is why you do sidequests, kids.
Given that Damos claims that he plans to return the Jewel, it’s quickly deduced that he was hypnotized by Marcus in a twist that could be predicted by absolutely everybody, including household pets.
Meanwhile, Sheena sees this man with ridiculous hair and eyebrows who has imprisoned the rightful leader for no apparent reason, has jailed her allies, shows no fear around the “magical creatures” that terrify the populace, has a legendary and a hypnosis-capable psychic at his disposal, and is voiced by Shadow the Hedgehog and immediately comes to the conclusion that this is a person that she can trust.
In subplot number eight, Pikachu and Piplup are pretty much thrown into a pit filled with other Pokemon, which are feared for their power and used as a form of slave labor. This could make a potentially interesting point, but it’s never really touched on beyond our intrepid heroes inventing the concept of freedom. It isn’t long before they’re rescued by the resident special snowflake, Spiky-Eared Pichu (Kayzie Rogers).
To say that Spiky-Eared Pichu is a point of contention among the fanbase is a bit of an understatement. In addition to not really having any special qualities beyond the aesthetic, it was also rigorously promoted as a tie-in with the film, to the point of replacing Celebi in the Generation II remakes. And here it’s just scampering around like a loveable orphan in a Victorian novel.
Other than providing a means of escape, Pichu doesn’t really do much outside of being the focus of a lot of padding. This is further exacerbated by constant cuts of Team Rocket sneaking around the ruins in the present, finding artifacts (including the Jewel) and subsequently mistaking their true purpose, just like real archaeology.
As the prisoners escape and the eclipse approaches, we see Arceus getting ready to approach the city for the Jewel because this movie believes in the “Show, then Tell, then Show Again, and Show Yet Again Just to Make Sure the Audience Gets It” method of storytelling. Damos isn’t there, however, and Sheena prepares to give up the Jewel in his place.
Of course, the Jewel has been removed from its rightful place, and Marcus leads an attack on the deity, this time compounded by the usage of “silver water,” which basically means that they’re outright pouring mercury on the Legendary. As it’s buried and begins to succumb to rage, everyone comes together as Marcus attempts to hold onto the artifact.
Meanwhile, Sheena and Damos try to get Arceus to open up, but instead it looks like they chose a really inopportune time to do the tango. As Dawn manages to overtake Marcus and turn his own Pokemon against him and Ash obtains the Jewel, the villain soliloquizes about the inevitable death of the god. In turn, those from the future begin to fade from existence, as the death of Arceus would have prevented them from ever travelling into the past to begin with.
Fortunately the day is saved not by a spirited rendition of “Johnny B. Goode”, but rather by Damos, who manages to reach Arceus through all of its rage in time to save it. Arceus finally notices that Ash has been standing in front of it with the Jewel for the past five minutes and accepts it (causing it to disappear in the present) before using its infinite power to get out of this basic pitfall trap.
The temple begins to collapse, but the countless casualties are kept from happening by Arceus, who slows down time to
contemplate his legacy and whether or not he should shoot Aaron Burr properly thank our heroes and rescue them all from certain death. While he’s at it, he frees all of the enslaved Pokemon because he’s just that nice of a guy and sends everyone back to their proper time.
Granted, this means that they’re dropped off right in the middle of the rampage that they bailed from about an hour ago. Arceus is still threatening to destroy the world, but Ash is able to use the power of flashbacks to make it remember that it promised not to do that and calm.
It goes without saying that this movie’s understanding of time travel is an absolute mess. Most films dealing with the concept subscribe to either the “alternate universe” theory (as in the multiple futures in the Back to the Future series) or the “unchanging cycle” theory (as in 12 Monkeys). Through the continued presence of scenes taking place in the “present”, it can be inferred that the latter is being utilized, but the “fading out” of the protagonists in the past seems to be incredibly similar to the former. It can be argued that the “present” scenes (not to mention the Thunder Creature in the myth) are simply showing what’s going on in the timeline that they left behind, but as of this point in the film they appear to be back where they started. This is only complicated even more by Team Rocket running across the Jewel of Life, having it disappear, and remembering the whole thing. Furthermore, while the death of Arceus would have given Ash and the others no reason to travel to the past, there is equally little reason for them to have travelled back in a timeline where the Jewel was returned and hold on a second…
Although the removal of the Jewel of Life in the past should have led to the area becoming wasteland once more, tablets left in the ruins reveal that the locals devoted their lives to agriculture and sustainability because they’re not complete idiots. Likenesses of the leads are also left as carvings, which I’m sure scientists in the Pokemon universe used as proof of aliens aiding the natives.
The gods leave because their contracts have run out, the credits from Wall-E play and then this trilogy is finally over.
This movie definitely sums up the attempted story arc of the last few films by being unremarkable and unmemorable. There are a fair amount of good elements in Arceus and the Jewel of Life, but these are waging a constant unending battle with the negative elements. The impressive CGI work is negated by the way it’s combined with the foreground. The lack of detestable characters doesn’t really mean much when there’s nobody particularly likeable. The decent acting is offset by the questionable casting choices. Ultimately, it’s just kind of average. And that doesn’t make for a satisfying review and now nobody’s happy.
Congratulations, movie. It’s probably somebody’s birthday or something and now you’ve ruined it.