It seems to be a given in a lot of film series that the fourth installment is generally considered to be the downfall. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was panned by audiences. The Phantom Menace is practically a generational punchline. Shrek Forever After finally convinced people to stop ironically endorsing that franchise.
Sure, you have the occasional outlier (Jurassic World, Fury Road), but I’d say that’s more proof of 2015 being an inexplicably good year for cinema than anything else.
Seriously though, with a name like Pokemon 4Ever I wasn’t exactly going in with high hopes. You can just picture the boardroom of executives sitting around a table trying to work out what’s “hip” and “cool with the kids these days” with that kind of title.
There’s not much to say about this movie’s background other than the new screenwriters. Pokemania was at its highest, and the rampant early 2000s commercialism that the series had based itself on was still going strong.
I was dead smack in the target audience by the time this movie came out in the US in 2002, and I remember thinking that Celebi was the coolest thing. And so did everyone else. After all, it was cute. And it could time travel, which was awesome. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, in all honesty if I could go back in time and incapacitate myself so that I wouldn’t have to watch this movie I would, but I can’t, so you get to read this.
The movie starts with Brock actively explaining the premise of the show. I don’t know why, given that none of the others do, but it does.
The actual movie starts with Sam (Tara Jayne), a kid about to head into a forest. He’s stopped by a woman that gives him the usual advice (stay on the trail, watch out for snakes, there’s a high likelihood that you’re going to become unstuck in time thanks to the local deity) and dumps her moldy bread off on him. He assures her that he’s not going to run into the local legendary and goes into the woods to
get the thing that makes it worth the journeying draw some Pokemon because he has no friends.
We then cut to the local legendary being chased by some other Pokemon. A traditionally animated Celebi (Kazuko Sugiyama) is being hunted through a CGI forest by a poacher (who has a cybernetic eye for some reason).
This brings me to my first issue with this movie: the visuals. Don’t get me wrong, the individual elements look fine, but they look out of place when they’re mashed up. It worked in the past movies because the mixed media always accompanied mysticism and otherworldliness, but here they’re going for realism. Nevermind the fact that it looks more like the witch battles from Madoka.
Celebi comes across Sam in its escape, and he tries to protect the Pokemon from the poacher because we’re becoming dangerously close to getting a shot-for-shot remake of The Rescuers Down Under. But before Disney can sue, Celebi manages to go for the severe overkill and transports itself and Sam through time. I don’t know why it couldn’t do this five minutes ago, but we need to get a plot somehow.
Jumping ahead to the far-ish future, we see that the poacher is living out a chick flick, as his life is completely defined by this one encounter he had forty years ago. His interrogator is our film’s villain, the Iron Masked Marauder (Dan Green). Because writing characters is hard, he’s mostly based around his design, complete with a mask over half the face, ridiculous shoulder pads, and spandex everywhere.
Since his primary source of information is someone that saw his target for like ten minutes tops, Iron Mask gets frustrated and demonstrates his ultimate weapon, the Dark Balls. These plot devices completely remove the notion of Pokemon having free will by completely overwriting their personalities to “evil”. You can tell because they suddenly have shading.
He then spends half of the movie stomping around in a mech that was apparently designed by Louise Bourgeois, so let’s forget about him and get to our actual leads.
Instead of a balanced battle that manages to show off the strengths and weaknesses of his team, Ash is found holding the others up in a brief one-shot slapstick battle, then running late for the boat they have to take to some generic location or another. The only thing missing is a piece of toast in his mouth. The fact that they did this to the best of the theme songs is probably the worst part.
As they discuss Pokemon with another passenger, Pikachu manages to see a Suicune (Masahiku Tanaka) in the nearby forest. Since they clearly have nothing better to do, everyone involved decides to check out the area after calling Professor Oak to confirm that this is, indeed, a real Pokemon and not a snipe hunt. The forest is accessible not through the two or three virtually identical seaside towns that it’s visible through, but instead can only be entered through one of those villages where everything’s based around being natural and everyone lives in the trees.
It’s around this point that the time travel from earlier comes into play, because they apparently couldn’t have gone about a week into the future and forty years is seemingly their best bet. Celebi proves that it’s a terrible friend by abandoning Sam as the others find them. Given that leaving a potentially seriously injured child alone to die in the woods would generally be considered a social faux pas, they bring him back to the village.
Granted, they may as well have just waited around in the woods, given that he wakes up almost immediately with no negative side effects aside from the whole “displaced in time” thing. Even then, he takes to it surprisingly well, and his only concern is the location of Celebi. Naturally, their immediate response is to go back into the dangerous forest to look for it.
Keep in mind that despite the fact that there are three supporting characters present throughout these scenes, they’re virtually indistinguishable. None of these characters are noteworthy in the slightest. And both the antagonist and the featured Pokemon are annoying. Sam is tolerable but he has a stupid haircut so he doesn’t count.
Going deeper into the woods, they din the legendary nursing its wounds, surrounded by other Pokemon. Despite Celebi’s attempt to keep them away with Evil Dead trees, the party is able to convince it that they’re here to help and it joins them. Unfortunately, Iron Mask shows up to claim his prize, and the brief fight that ensues worsens Celebi’s wounds. Misty also suffers an injury, which is terrible for all involved because her role by this point was basically “Togepi transport”.
A series of Pokemon lead them to the Lake of Life, which, in case you couldn’t tell, heals the party’s injuries and allows the animators to show off some special effects. I don’t know why Celebi couldn’t go there on its own considering it’s the guardian of the forest, but whatever. It’s around here that’s we’re treated to an inordinate amount of filler, and although I won’t be going into details there’s one thing that I want to say about the relationship between Ash and Sam.
I’m not one of those fervent “yaoi, that means boyxboy, don’t like don’t read” shippers, but there is SO MUCH subtext between these two. I’m not even exaggerating, we’re treated to a solid ten minutes of them watching Pokemon and bonding. I have not yet seen Brokeback Mountain, but rest assured that when I finally do I’m going to watch for parallels.
Just as the audience is about to pass out from boredom, the mech shows up and Iron Mask manages to capture Celebi in a Dark Ball. This leads to Celebi spending a good deal of time acting as more of an emotionless vessel of power than anything else, which would be kind of creepy if they bothered to animate more than one repeated shot of it.
After demonstrating its power, Dark Celebi is ordered to destroy even more, which it does by creating a giant creature out of assorted debris. The resulting monstrosity looks like the following: a Titan, a Xenomorph, one of the later Angels, a Kirby final boss, the demon things from Doom, and the demon things from Dungeons and Dragons that Doom ripped off of.
It looks bad, is what I’m saying.
It’s here that we finally get to learn the true intentions and reasoning behind Iron Mask’s plan:
That’s it. No backstory, no ulterior motives, just a desire to take over Team Rocket and eventually the world. That’s poor writing for the first draft of a character, let alone the final publication.
Anyway, Iron Mask orders Celebi to attack the boys, but they’re rescued by Suicune, who appears to be doing this out of a sense of annoyed obligation more than anything else judging by its expression. It’s able to get them closer to the Wicker Man, but cannot penetrate its defenses, so they’re forced to climb all over it, Shadow of the Colossus style.
Reaching the heart of the beast, they plead desperately with Celebi to remember its true nature and turn back to the side of good. This actually takes about two minutes, since they don’t have enough footage for the heartfelt flashbacks to last any longer. The monster disintegrates, but Celebi is seriously weakened by the attack. Fortunately, they’re already at the Lake of Life, yet it doesn’t work since the creature attacked it and removed its healing properties. Pollution is bad, kids.
Because Suicune is a glorified Brita filter, it’s able to purify the lake, but alas, the pure volcanicity of Volvic isn’t enough to save Celebi and the onion fairy dies. It’s supposed to be sad (you can tell because everyone’s crying), but I’ve played games of pinball with more emotional intensity.
So what happens now? If you guessed “the tears of all the local Pokemon work their magic and revive Celebi”, you would be wrong AND your answer is somehow more boring than the truth, so you lose ten points.
No, Pokemon tears don’t have healing powers anymore, so another deus ex machina shows up to handle what the first two couldn’t. The audience is left to wonder if the other Celebi are other members of the species or the exact same one at different points of its life, but before these questions can be addressed they’ve all done the time warp again and we’re back where we were.
For the most part, that is. Iron Mask has seemingly hidden under the water this entire time, and pulls off a Five Nights jumpscare at the last possible second to try stealing Celebi one last time. However, since his mech and Dark Balls were destroyed in the previous fight, Pikachu is able to dispatch him easily before this movie is able to drag on any longer. As part of his comeuppance, his mask is taken off, revealing
a disfigured face half a disfigured face generally an all-around creepy guy something completely nondescript.
Finally, finally, Celebi remembers that it can time travel and is gonna take Sam back to the past after a tearful goodbye. Ash is especially upset about this, as he has learned nothing from the hundreds of characters of the week he’s had to deal with so far.
Since the laws of time travel insist that anyone you come across must be/have been important to you in the past/future, Sam is revealed to be none other than Professor Oak, who is left to fondly remember the time that he almost screwed his protege.
Ugh. I hate this movie. Like I legitimately hate it. There is a special category where I sort movies that aggravate me to the point of actively pissing me off, and it consists of Home on the Range and this. It looks terrible, it sounds terrible, it introduces terrible characters, it’s just terrible all around. I’ve sat here for fifteen minutes trying to come up with redeeming qualities of this movie, and I’ve got nothing.
Look, I could try to come up with something funny to say here, but the fact of the matter is that this movie sucks on a whole ‘nother level, and I do not want to repeat that exact same sentence for another three paragraphs. I’m done. I’m out of here.