Monday, 11 December 2017

Film Review No. 33 Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!

Strong Points:
References to the original series - with slight adjustments
New companions
Good animation
A noticeable score
Risks are taken with the story
Incorporating the new Pokémon into the old series
Larger scale than the original series
The dream sequence
Sorrel's backstory

Weak Points:
Pikachu speaking
An odd atmosphere
...Except for missing the final battle
Team Rocket could have been in it more
The dream sequence
Marshadow felt tacked on - didn't really understand his allegiances
Verity's backstory needed to be more fleshed out

Some spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:
Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You is an interesting experiment for the Pokémon movie franchise, now onto its 20th film. It's an ode to the original series (and watching the montage at the end, shows just how much it has grown) while also striving to do more. Now, I'm not going to say it all pays off, some of it is almost uncomfortable to watch. However, for every misstep, there's a battle scene or an idea played with sensitivity. We just need more of it.

We start with a slightly different variation on the classic opener - Blastoise and Venasaur are fighting this time, instead of Nidorino and Gengar, and the spectacle has been raised with a mix of CGI and traditional animation. This sets the tone of the entire film. The same but slightly different. Another example is when Ash throws his alarm clock. Instead of it being a Voltorb it's a Pokeball. A subtle difference which rewards long-time fans with small moments of 'that's changed!'

It's not just inanimate objects which you'll spot, however, the film also has throwbacks on previous Pokémon Ash catches, namely Pikachu, Caterpie and Charmander. Caterpie's storyline is especially interesting, as it seems to only really be there for a nostalgic reference, with the entire story of him seeing the moon, evolving, meeting the pink Butterfree and finally leaving being relived. However, it doesn't really have any effect on the rest of the film, feeling slightly detached. I'm not complaining, it was a great story arc and it's nice to see again, but it feels weird to only have Caterpie's storyline told again and not Squirtle, Bulbasaur etc.

Charmander is more central to the story. His introduction follows the original series, namely, that he's been left by his original trainer for being too weak and stays, waiting for him. In the rain. Cold and alone. With the rain nearly killing him. It's quite dark when you think about it really. Anyway, this trainer who left Charmander is called Cross and boy is he. Basically the polar opposite of Ash, he sees Pokémon as only mattering if they have strength and quickly discards Charmander because of his apparent weakness. I quite liked the character, being a mix of Paul and Gary and it was nice to see him up against Ash, even if he was quite one note.

Ash also had two new companions for this film. While I was sad that Misty and Brock weren't given a chance to reprise their roles, Sorrel and Verity are pretty good in their own right. Sorrel wants to become a Pokémon doctor and is the most experienced of the trio (see the resemblance yet?). He also has a heartbreaking story involving his friend Luxray, working parents and a snowstorm. Yeah, Pokémon gets dark sometimes. Verity is an excitable and ambitious young trainer who starts off not liking Ash but grows to admire his kindness to all. Her backstory was a perfect example of an excellent idea not being carried off. A couple of times throughout the film we saw a silhouette of her mother, a Pokémon trainer of high calibre. She is who Verity looks up to and desperately wants to emulate, but feels always in her shadow. However, besides a couple of subtle hints, we don't know who her mother is and the entire story is sort of forgotten.

One scene which stuck in my mind long after finishing watching was when Ash went into the world without Pokémon. Looking, unsurprisingly like our own, it involved school, work and transportation with a veil of grey. While watching this scene I felt discomfort, almost willing it to be over. Not to say the scene was bad, it was actually pretty good, but it made me uncomfortable in the stark portrayal of a world without Pokémon. It's like showing a sports fan a world where no sports can take place. Again, Pokémon can get dark.

There is a line where Pokémon can get too dark, however, and cross into the ridiculous. This film crossed it all right. If you've had a passing image in Pokémon at all over the years, you've probably seen the film in the first film where Ash dies and all the Pokémon cry. It's sad, right? But still believable. This film tried to replicate it, by having Ash sacrifice himself to save Pikachu and due to the power of ??? manages to survive. This would have been fine if him dying hadn't felt forced. You see, the Pokémon which 'kill' him are under Marshadows control, whose purpose is to stop the Bell Wing from draining in power. To do this he thinks to destroy everyone, for some reason. To be honest, I'm a bit confused about Marshadows allegiances - he should have either been trying to take the Bell Wing or protect it, not both. But that's not the most confusing part.

Pikachu speaks. In English. It was unnecessary and odd and uncomfortable and cringey for all who were watching it. That's all I can say. *Shudders*

If there is something we can count on, however, is that the battles are going to look awesome. Fast-paced, with sweeping camera movements and a great blend of CGI and traditional animation. Two battles stood out for me though: the first time Charmander fights Incineroar and the final battle against all the Pokémon. Both vastly different in scope but great all the same, it showed two of the three pillars of Pokémon battles nicely (the last being a Pokémon League battle where everything is stepped up a notch). One thing which was missing though was the final battle between Ash and Ho-Oh, a prize for carrying the Bell Wing all the way to Ho-Oh. It happened, we just didn't see it, with the film preferring to pan out and show a bit of light instead. It's a shame really, but I can understand the animators not wanting to risk making a bad battle.

Finally, I'm not a musical score connoisseur. I'm not one to pick out the subtle intricacies of a composer, perfectly matching the visual 'going's on' on screen. To be honest, unless it's a theme tune or John Williams, I can't really remember a lot of scores. It's probably because they are so entwined with the film that they don't stand out but are essential of the same. Not so for this film. The music jumps out, with a bit of orchestration here, a bit of electronic music there, as if it was made independently to the film and added in later. I loved it. It allowed you to enjoy the many different parts of the film independently, and think 'this is a good piece of music' instead of just 'this suits the film'. Sure, if it was an Oscar bait film with Meryl Streep, directed by Martin Scorsese, this idea might not work. But it did for this film.

Conclusion: overall, this is both a step in the right direction for the Pokémon series and a step backwards. It's starting to cater for its more mature audience while simultaneously trying to keep its childlike nature. This is fine - Disney and Pixar can do it, but they need to make sure that by trying to cater to both audiences they don't alienate both instead.

Rating: 64%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

P.S. did anyone else have any trouble with the cinema not really being in the loop with the extra features of the film? I know some people got the shorts before the film, some after and we personally had to keep checking with the staff (who were very good in all honesty) to make sure we got all we paid for. Please, people who put special movies on in a cinema - talk to them!

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