Movie Review: Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us

Lugia is back; Donna Summer isn’t.

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 11/28/2018 19:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Good standalone story; great animation; strong character development; Sudowoodo!
Poison Mushroom for...
Not a lot in the way of battles; film's theme isn't anything we haven't seen before; the fire in the final act might hit close to home for some viewers

Last year, The Pokémon Company and Fathom Events teamed up to offer a theatrical release for Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!, a retelling of Ash’s earliest adventures with Pikachu. While the movie was mostly strong, the filmmakers made the baffling decision to exclude Brock and Misty in favor of Verity and Sorrel, a new pair of characters who received little in terms of character development. This year’s release, Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us, could have easily fallen into a similar trap; after all, the film introduces a number of characters that, like Verity and Sorrel, will likely never be seen again. Thankfully, the filmmakers seemed to have learned their lesson.

The Power of Us follows Ash and Pikachu as they find themselves in Fura City, an area heavily inspired by San Francisco. Every year, the citizens of Fura City hold a festival celebrating the arrival of Lugia. While Ash and Pikachu naturally play a central role in the film’s narrative, they share the spotlight this time with a number of new faces. There’s the former track runner, Risa, in town to capture a rare Pokémon for her injured brother Rick; Callahan, a liar desperate to impress his niece Kelly; Toren, a timid scientist; Harriet, a hater of Pokémon and Margo, the young daughter of Fura’s Mayor. With so many new additions, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see some characters get lost in the shuffle, but each has their own satisfying arc in the film. The storylines start separately, before coming together when the festival, and the city itself, becomes threatened.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Pokémon film without the franchise’s titular monsters. Given the recent release of Pokémon: Let’s Go, it should come as little surprise that Pikachu and Eevee are both featured prominently. Interestingly enough, Sudowoodo gets more screen time than most of the film’s other monsters, and its interactions with Callahan prove to be one of the movie’s biggest highlights. Longtime fans will likely notice that The Power of Us has a strikingly similar name to Pokémon the Movie 2000: The Power of One; while both films feature Lugia in a major role, the similarities end there. In the new film, Lugia’s presence is a major plot point, but the creature actually takes a backseat to a different legendary Pokémon: Zeraora. There aren’t a whole lot of Pokémon battles in the film, but Zeraora’s conflict with Pikachu provides the movie with one of its best action sequences.

Though the Pokémon included in the film are certainly interesting, it’s almost more notable which Pokémon were excluded: all of Ash’s Pokémon besides Pikachu. As such, it’s hard to pin down exactly when and where the movie is meant to take place, though this would seem to be an intentional decision. The film’s Wikipedia page positions The Power of Us as a direct sequel to last year’s reboot, but the film’s continuity placement is on the ambiguous side. Truth be told, The Power of Us could easily take place in either continuity, and the ambiguous nature works for the film, helping it serve as a great standalone. Any fan, new or old, should have an easy time coming into it and not worrying about which characters are in which trainer’s current roster or where this takes place in which continuity.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Power of Us is gorgeously animated. The character designs somehow look better than last year’s release, with the animation finding a perfect medium between the styles of I Choose You! and the current Sun and Moon anime. Fura City is easily one of the most well-detailed locations yet seen in the franchise, and the San Francisco influence works well, here. Unfortunately, a fire late in the film’s third act couldn’t help but remind me of the fires that all too recently struck the state of California. A coincidence to be sure, but the timing is certainly unfortunate and might not sit well with some viewers.

The themes in The Power of Us are nothing out of the ordinary for a Pokémon story. The title relates to the importance of humans and Pokémon working together to solve problems. The individual storylines deal with inadequacy, whether it’s being comfortable with who you are or learning to work past your fears. This isn’t exactly new ground for the franchise, but the execution helps to elevate things, without making the plot feel heavy-handed. The film invests so much time in each new character that the themes never feel like retreads from the TV show or other Pokémon movies.

When Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! was first announced, it garnered quite a bit of attention. Though The Pokémon Company has been releasing new films for years now, a retelling of the franchise’s earliest stories provided the perfect fodder for nostalgic fans that came back to the fold with Pokémon Go. The Power of Us doesn’t have any such advantages. Fortunately, it doesn’t really need them. Instead, the film can stand on its own as one of the best movies yet to star Ash and Pikachu. Moving forward, The Power of Us should be a template for future Pokémon movie releases. The film manages to balance the scale of small and large threats, giving each of the narrative’s many players a satisfying story arc, succeeding where last year’s release fell just a little short. For Pokémon fans old and new, it’s a must-see.

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