After the cultural landslide that was the cinematic release of Pokémon: The First Movie (hands up if you've still got a Burger King tie-in toy!), all subsequent Pokémon movies have struggled for relevance. Lacking in the first film's energy and urgency from being released in the thick of the rampant zeitgeist, the later straight-to-DVD offerings have largely slumped somewhat -' still lots of fun for allegiant fans, but increasingly obligatory, and, arguably not unlike the games, inextricably knotted in a formula too restrictive for much innovation. Despite the franchise's motto, few would dispute that if you've seen one, you've effectively caught 'em all.
Genesect and the Legend Awakened, sixteenth(!!) film in the series, does not jostle this formula, but does its best to breathe some life and gumption into it. Unlike the customary expansive, globe-trotting Pokémon movie narrative, Genesect marks a rare exception where lowering the scope from "the fate of the world is at stake!" is actually beneficial. We still get the familiar 'thrilling but vaguely defined mythology' (the origins of the titular Genesect -' fossil Pokémon who have been weaponized by humans...? -' are glossed over in an infuriatingly quick aside), naturally. But, after an impressively gripping airborne mountain skirmish, the action is confined to a Pokémon natural reserve, and the bustling metropolitan city surrounding it, lending some interesting consequential collateral damage to the inevitably destructive Pokémon showdowns, and making the action all the more claustrophobically exciting. Naturally, there's little motivating the plot or conflict, but the trappings make it worthwhile. The animation demonstrates a marked increase in quality, and is gorgeously engaging in its fluidity, integrating more seamlessly with CGI to bring rich texture to the backgrounds.
As always, half the fun is playing your own game of 'Who's that Pokémon?' with all the cameoing creatures flitting by in the background -' a shout out to a particularly valiant Feraligatr thrust into central hero status here. Similarly, the Genesect make for engagingly off-kilter enemies -' uniquely eerie and alien in their fusion of robotic and insectoid tics, aided by some creatively skittering sound editing choices, even if their respective personalities, defined in the broadest of possible strokes, verge on irritatingly bland. Inevitably, the fun lies not in the moralizing melodrama, but in their fighting, with their myriad of abilities making for some furiously energetic and entertaining battles, changing shape like Transformers, ripping through the air, and letting rip with concussive energy blasts all the while. And at the other end of the ring: back by popular demand, the iconic Mewtwo (now, seemingly with added Poké-sex change, and mega-evolution to boot...) -' a more than suitably thrilling and mobile sparring partner. Whether spitting cynical diatribes about creation and denial of humanity or blasting one another, the film sparks to life when the two titans clash.
It's a shame that the human characters fail to engage even more than usual. Diluting boy-hero Ash of his initial whiney exuberance may be an attempt at having the character slowly grow up, but recasting him as a perennial Mother Theresa type patron saint of all Pokémon is a far less interesting lead to connect with. This, in tandem with the lack of the show's goofy cutaway humour (the movies are SERIOUS BUSINESS, you know), an extraneously shoehorned in Team Rocket, and interplay with the particularly drab 'Gen V' Misty and Brock surrogates Iris and Cilan makes the filler character building scenes bridging the action drag far more than usual. As with most anime dialogue, kids will infuse the script's hyperbolically proclamative one-liners with their own inspirational profundity ("it's time...to push it...to the limit!"), but it's unlikely that even the most naïve or forgiving of audiences will fail to sneer at the film's climax and its aggressively trite moral about the importance of friendship, complete with a 'profound worldview' pilfered from Superman Returns of all things (bleh).
Such in-depth concerns may be a moot point, as Genesect and the Legend Awakened comes with a pretty infallible built-in audience. For kids or adult fans of the series, there's lots of fun to be had here, and the vivacity of the battles and exhilaration of the return of Mewtwo should help diffuse the over-familiarity of story. To those three under-a-Crustle dwellers who have yet to either yay or nay at the world of Pocket Monsters: this is unlikely to convert you as Poké-fans (or make even a mote of sense), but if the formulaic but fun action and heart on display appeals, you, like the Genesect, may finally have found a home.
Review by pyrocitor from the Internet Movie Database.