Where I left off last time, Ash was chilling with Zekrom in the basement while Damon continued his ill-advised plan to return the Sword of the Vale to its original site. While Ash is gone, Mannes (who has been doing recon in his crazy-awesome home-built Klinklang-powered helicopter) tries to suggest to Damon that something might not be quite right here, since the Dragon Force appears to be doing a few minor things it probably shouldn’t, like incinerating the forest. Damon is unconcerned. Meanwhile, Juanita decides to have another go at Reshiram with her Golurk, because she apparently has terrible pattern recognition; Golurk lobs a couple of Hyper Beams at Reshiram but quickly winds up embedded in the castle wall. Just as Reshiram is about to nuke it, Ash and Zekrom explode out of the base of the Sword of the Vale and intercept the white dragon’s attack. As soon as he gets the chance, Zekrom drops Ash off at the tower and goes to deal with Reshiram, which involves a great deal of incredibly flashy CG explosions, lasers, shockwaves and miscellaneous sparkly bits (okay, I’m disdainful, but as Pokémon battles go, Reshiram vs. Zekrom is pretty spectacular). Reshiram loses and nearly falls into the chasm created by the seething Dragon Force as it flows across the land, but Zekrom saves her at the last minute. By this point, Pikachu has gained the upper hand over Damon’s Reuniclus up in the tower, and Ash is trying to break Victini free from the six miniature Pillars of Protection at the centre of the room. He isn’t having much luck, until Reshiram suddenly turns up and obliterates the pillars. Then this exchange happens.
Damon: Reshiram!? What the hell!? This was totally not in the plan!
Reshiram: Oh, hey, Damon… so, about that plan? That little project we had going? Turns out it might destroy the world a little bit. My bad; this is totes my bad. But, you know, who’d have thought, right?
I’m writing this from memory, so that may not be an exact quote.
Anyway, the Sword of the Vale doesn’t immediately drop out of the sky, which leads me to wonder what exactly Victini was doing that was so important, since all the Solosis and Duosion seem perfectly capable of holding it up without him. Reshiram and Zekrom make another fantastically sparkly CG explosion to blow the clouds away, so Damon can actually see what’s going on down on the ground and goes into “my god, what have I done?” mode. The two dragons then attempt to mitigate the damage by redirecting the excess energy of the Dragon Force into the Sword of the Vale, which… kind of works. The progress of the chaos is slowed, and the castle absorbs a lot of energy. Unfortunately Sigilyph, who’s still piloting the castle, can’t handle the strain and abandons ship, along with all the other Psychic Pokémon. It still doesn’t drop out of the sky; in fact it flies even higher and shows every sign of intending to go into orbit. I have long since stopped trying to figure out what is keeping it up. Everyone evacuates using Mannes’ helicopter and Carlita’s Hydreigon, but Damon stays behind to man the controls, and Ash refuses to let go of Victini and gets stuck behind the Pillars of Protection, which are closing in on the castle. Damon falls out, and I’m not sure why they even bother to show this, because he’s absolutely fine; Golurk rescues him and brings him back within five minutes. In that time, the six pillars have continued to close in on Ash, Pikachu and Victini and eventually lock together. Reshiram, Zekrom and Golurk blast them repeatedly, to no effect, while Ash begins to freeze to death from the cold of the upper atmosphere. He apologises to Victini for not being able to take him to the ocean and then slips into blissful unconsciousness. This scene, with Pikachu in tears and trying to wake Ash up… well, don’t get me wrong, it is touching, but it’s kind of clichéd and I’m having flashbacks to the climax of Mewtwo Strikes Back, which had, y’know, pretty much the exact same scene. Also, for me anyway, the earlier scene from Victini’s memories actually had a far bigger impact, maybe because we know the King is actually dying, whereas Ash is contractually obliged to stay alive at least until he finishes the Unova series. After all the ridiculousness Ash has survived over the years, including facing off with honest-to-goodness not-even-joking deities, I have trouble believing that this is going to finish him off.
Whatever I may think, Victini is certainly affected by Ash’s impending demise. He suddenly remembers that he knows the most absurd attack in the entire game, V-Create, then sets himself on fire and rams the pillars at full speed, causing the movie’s most dramatic explosion yet, in which the pillars are completely destroyed and a huge flare of unstable Dragon Force is released into space (where, ten million years later, it will reach a peaceful planet on the other side of the galaxy and scourge it of all life). The Sword of the Vale, incidentally, still doesn’t crash back to the ground. When Ash wakes up, Sigilyph and the other Psychic Pokémon are back on board and Reshiram, Zekrom and Golurk are helping to guide the castle (this is the only indication the movie ever gives, by the way, that the Sword of the Vale is even slightly impaired by losing Victini and the Pillars of Protection). Victini is nowhere to be found, and they all believe he’s given his life to destroy the pillars and save Ash and Pikachu. Damon lands the Sword of the Vale in an entirely new location, a forested headland just in front of the oncoming stream of instability rushing through the Dragon Force. This finally settles the chaos down, because of the plot. Ash has a sad moment on the beach, because he’s brought the castle to the ocean but not Victini. That lasts for about five seconds before – in the most predictable twist of the entire move – Victini turns out to be alive after all… in fact he doesn’t even seem to be particularly tired, which raises the question; if Victini could destroy the Pillars of Protection without killing or even severely weakening himself, why didn’t he do that centuries ago? In the context of the movie’s efforts at characterisation, it’s because his desperation to save Ash caused him to unleash powers well beyond what he’d ever realised he had, but you’d expect him to be very much worse for wear after pulling something like that (and let’s not forget that his wish to escape the barrier has been weighing very heavily on Victini’s psyche for a long time, so I’d expect him to have tried absolutely everything to get out of there before now). Anyway, there is much rejoicing, the end credits roll, and they all go back to the Vale, where Victini works his magic and begins to return life to the place.
Actually, I kind of liked it, mostly because it didn’t make my brain hurt the way Jewel of Life did. I realise this may not seem like a major selling point, but bear in mind that my expectations were low. I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t a Pokémon fan, but it won’t actually make you stupider when you watch it.
I assume this movie has a moral, but I’m not entirely certain what it is. At the moment I’m in favour of “don’t mess with what you don’t fully understand,” although “just follow your dreams and everything will work out, although you might risk destroying the planet along the way” works too. I think the moral of Jewel of Life was “don’t let the High Priest brainwash you with his magic bell,” so either is a definite step up. Speaking of not fully understanding things, the vagueness of the Dragon Force bothers me. I don’t mind this kind of vagueness in a story with a lot of complex characters because it’s fairly easy to accept that a fuller explanation would just get in the way, and that the plot device only matters anyway because it provides something for the characters to react to. Pokémon doesn’t do stories with deep characterisation, though. What’s more, Victini and Zekrom/Reshiram places a great deal of emphasis on the Dragon Force itself; visually it gets a lot of attention because it’s one of the shinier things in the movie. The movie resents having to explain how it actually works or make it behave consistently, though. Why does the original battle between Reshiram and Zekrom turn it into a destructive force? Why does moving the Sword of the Vale fix it? Why, for goodness’ sake, does moving the thing again, a thousand years later, turn the Dragon Force chaotic again? These are, incidentally, exactly the kind of questions people don’t bother asking if they’re more interested in your characters anyway.
Finally, I know I complained about Reshiram and Zekrom already, but I want to do that some more. Compared to everything the Pokémon series has produced before them, Black and White (the games) were a triumph of storytelling. I mean, I realise that’s not exactly saying much, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. The movie offered an opportunity to expand on that by developing Reshiram and Zekrom as independent characters with motives and ideals (shut up, Zekrom), in a context that didn’t demand that they be freely interchangeable the way the games did. Instead, by using that weird two-movies-for-the-budget-of-one gimmick, it embraced the same bizarre line of thinking that forces the two dragons (who are supposed to be opposites, mind) to become blandly identical. The result is that they act more like plot devices than the pivotal characters they should, by all rights, be. When you think about it, Reshiram – who symbolises truth – should be the last person (…dragon…whatever) to rush into action without fully understanding a situation, but this is exactly what Damon and Reshiram do in this version of the movie, a mistake which ought to be more characteristic of the brash and idealistic Zekrom. In contrast, I could see Reshiram being prepared to accept Victini’s suffering in the Sword of the Vale as a necessary evil, with Zekrom demanding much more persuasion from Damon to go along with it. This is an issue in the games as well, of course, but I’m much less prepared to accept it here because the games are, first and foremost, games, not stories; I would certainly like better stories out of them, but I’m happy to take what I can get. My expectations are a bit higher for something that is, first and foremost, a story.
There you have it, then; my thoughts on- oh! Wait! I almost forgot! Team Rocket are totally in this movie too! Because… well, I don’t really know why and I don’t think the writers did either; they just are! Team Rocket show up right at the beginning wearing absurd disguises and overhear Juanita as she tells Ash the legend of Victini, which, of course, they believe instantly. They then spend the rest of the movie flailing around trying to capture Victini, pretending that they’re going to have some kind of impact on the plot but never actually getting close enough to do anything, to the point that the none of the real cast members even see them (much the same way as in Jewel of Life, except not quite as mind-meltingly stupid). Like Iris and Cilan, they’re completely superfluous to the plot, but kind of form a package deal with Ash and Pikachu.
Anyway, that’s the movie, and I hope you enjoyed my rambling; see you next time!