Ash and friends (this time accompanied by newcomer Dawn) arrive at an idyllic village on their way to their next Pokemon contest, where chaos will soon erupt with the prophecy of two Pokemon Gods (Dialga and Palkia) and the arrival of a mysterious, seemingly deadly Pokemon named Darkrai, which has the power to distort space and time.
Directed by: Kunihiko Yuyama
. Starring: Rica Matsumoto
, Ikue Ôtani
, Yûji Ueda
, Megumi Toyoguchi
, Megumi Hayashibara
, Ryûji Akiyama
, Emily Bauer
, James Carter Cathcart
, Kiyotaka Furushima
, Khristine Hvam
, Kôji Ishizaka
, Miyako Ito
, Rosa Katô
. Music by: Shinji Miyazaki
In my ongoing quest to destroy my childhood I have set out to (re)watch all Pokémon films, and see how they hold up now that I am an adult. During this project I have concluded that Pokémon is like Minecraft: Everybody agrees that it has declined, but not on when. Although it is usually the moment you grew up and stopped watching, I would argue Pokémon started to decline while I was watching.
For this review, I will limit myself to the films. The Original Series provided for a string of iconic but generally clumsy ventures that have a certain rugged, hand-made feel to them, accounting for their surprisingly lasting popularity (besides nostalgia, obviously.) The Advanced Generation took a smoother, more cinematic approach (as we will charitably call it) that produced the best looking and, for better or worse, longest of the films, with "Lucario and the Mystery of Mew" as high point. Diamond and Pearl started likewise, but quickly descended into bringing forth the lazy, cynically produced films that the other two series' are known for. Fortunately, "The Rise of Darkrai" firmly belongs to the older films, and is not that bad.
The story takes place in the city of Alamos, Pokémon's equivalent to Barcelona, as Alto Mare from "Latias and Latios" was that universe's Venice. The city even contains a cathedral-shaped arena in Catalan Modernist style, apparently designed by one Godey. How clever. The city is plagued by strange events, caused by legendary Pokémon Dialga and Palkia's distortion of space and time. Ash and Co. only discover that near the end of the film, whereas the audience is told during the prologue -- so much for mystery.
The heroes' city guide, Alice, is one of the first to notice the distortion, together with two men who have a thing for her: The attractive but presumptuous Baron Alberto, who claims the anomalies are caused by the nightmare Pokémon Darkrai, and the awkward inventor Tonio, whose research proves otherwise. I suspect this love triangle is deliberately copied from "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," but may be mistaken. In any case, this film takes a different path from there, by resolving the love triangle in the same scene as establishing it. Clumsy writing as it may be, at least it saves us a lot of melodrama.
In all of the film, there is quite some visual creativity on display. Darkrai's ability to literally turn into a shadow, for example, or the harp-shaped towers of space and time with their art nouveau turning table. The titanic manner in which the non-cathedral is framed, often looming overm the rustic houses and cobble squares, seems to a certain degree inspired by Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame," and is very appealing, although it would have been more impressive, had the towers not been animated with typically bad CGI.
In terms of plot, "The Rise of Darkrai" stands among the better Pokémon films. Particularly nice is the reveal that Darkrai only wants to tend to his garden (inspired by Barcelona's Park Güell) and not to be disturbed by the troubles of the outside world. An outcast trying to preserve beauty amidst the sound and fury of society, is quite deep for a Pokémon film. I wonder whether this film may have been the outcry of a despaired artist somewhere in a gigantic studio's writing department, but am probably reading too much into things. Whatever its origin, the story has some good themes.
This good set-up distracts somewhat from the fact that the story's inciting incident happens only halfway through the film, in the tradition of "Mewtwo Strikes Back" and "Destiny Deoxys." Remarkably, the film becomes far less interesting once it has a plot. There is little mystery, for the audience already knows Darkrai is not the culprit, leaving the audience to lean backwards until someone finds this out and finally does something. And even then, the only important thing the heroes do in the ensuing 45 minutes is picking their favourite background music.
One is reminded that this film is called "Dialga VS Palkia VS Darkrai" in Japanese, as watching these monsters fighti is the sole entertainment it offers for quite a while. In this respect, the film shows traits of the Japanese kaiju genre. I myself have never understood the fun in merely watching big things hit each other, and stress that the best Pokémon films (amongst which "Latias and Latios" and "Lucario and the Mystery of Mew") had entertaining stories to give weight to the battles, whereas this film is rather plain.
"The Rise of Darkrai" has some lovely set-up, for sure. Its largely inert first half is quite enjoyable, certainly for a Pokémon film, and the misunderstood Darkrai is even entitled to some of the deepest pathos in the whole series, but the second half is just too boring in order for the film to be called 'good.'.
Review by Shostakovich343 from the Internet Movie Database.