Power of One Review
Although I use the English name of the movie and its characters, I was watching the Japanese version subtitled rather than the English dub. Due to the notorious editing done by 4Kids, the dub is often vastly different from the original that I am reviewing, so keep that in mind. If, by the way, I'm not using the correct official translation of some term or something, I'd appreciate a correction, since I'm trying to be consistent in that regard.
Thoughts and Synopsis
The second movie is also one of those whose plot suffers from the need to make Ash save the day, but unfortunately the case here is that the plot was never that good to begin with.
Essentially it has two main plots, which are related but not integrated very well. The first concerns the collector Lawrence III trying to capture Lugia, the Beast of the Sea; to do this, he deliberately upsets the balance between the three legendary birds, Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres, by capturing them one by one, in the hope that it will lure Lugia out to reveal itself in accordance with an ancient prophecy. The second plot is also thrust into motion because Lawrence III captures the birds - it causes them to get territorial and begin to fight fiercely against one another, upsetting the balance of nature in general.
Thus, the movie starts with Lawrence III in his flying palace, locating the three legendary birds on their islands in the Orange Islands (where Ash and company conveniently happen to be traveling). He enrages Moltres with bombs to lure it out of hiding and then weakens it with more bombs before capturing it in a strange trap made of large metal rings. This prompts Zapdos to see its opportunity to expand its territory by claiming Fire Island for itself, and as Zapdos moves, a great thunderstorm starts in the general area, which is the first glimpse that Ash and friends catch of the plot. Later Articuno also wants to claim new territory, and thus it moves in for Fire Island as well, and the movements of the birds in general move on to mess up the weather system around the world for the duration of the film (the local weather affects important ocean currents that run through the area, which subsequently mess with the weather far away).
Meanwhile, completely unrelatedly to this (see what I'm getting at with the plot not really holding very well together?), the island Ash, Misty and Tracey have just landed on happens to have an annual festival starting today, and one of the traditions of the festival is the picking of a "Chosen One" (in the original Japanese, it is actually a "superior one", but regardless of what it's called, it seems to work exactly the same, so I'm sticking with the official dub term) who will symbolically pick up a "treasure" from each of the three islands - the same Fire, Thunder and Ice islands that Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres reside on, and you can see where this is going, can't you? - and gather them together at a special altar before a traditional flute melody is played. A girl named Melody, who has the special role of the flute player in the festival this year, chooses Ash as the Chosen One during the festivities and explains what this entails. He thus goes out on a boat (with a girl, Maren, who steers the boat) to perform his task, but because of the storm, Melody soon regrets having sent him out there and heads after him with Misty and Tracey. They all end up stranded on Fire Island, where Ash picks up the first "treasure", a translucent red orb with a flame appearing to burn inside it.
Then Zapdos arrives at the island to claim it as its own and manages to explain this to Pikachu through some form of electric communication before Lawrence III arrives on the scene and captures Zapdos, along with everybody else and even the boat that Melody, Misty and Tracey used, in another odd metal trap (made of squares this time). They meet briefly with their captor, who is preparing to capture Articuno; the third bird has already started to move. Meanwhile, we see a news report explaining that Pokémon around the world are heading for the Orange Islands as if to try to prevent the oncoming disaster, and Professor Oak gives a nice speech, edited in the dub because God forbid kids learn about abiogenesis, about how when Moltres's fire and Articuno's ice come together, they create water, which changes the ocean currents, and then in the water, organic chemicals are synthesized when Zapdos's electricity causes chemical reactions. Granted, the depiction of this isn't very biologically accurate (it makes no mention of other chemicals besides water, and Professor Oak says the electricity would create "proteins", while the image on the screen that accompanies this is a bunch of bubbles forming into a double helix), but it's nonetheless one of my favorite bits in this movie, just because it gives the legendary birds a bit of interesting significance to the ecosystem.
Anyway, aboard Lawrence III's flying palace, he continues to try to capture Articuno from his control room, while Ash and company, whom Lawrence III has bizarrely left alone and unrestrained with Zapdos and Moltres for no sensible character-based reason that I can see, attempt to free Moltres from its trap (Team Rocket, who by the way have been around all this time but not done anything worthy of mention so far, are meanwhile concentrating on Zapdos with little success). Tracey works out that Pikachu's Thunderbolt will split the water in Squirtle's Water Gun into hydrogen and oxygen before Charizard's Flamethrower accordingly makes the combination explode (naturally, this also does not really work that way, and incidentally this was also taken out in the dub, but hey). This manages to break Moltres's cage, and it proceeds to Flamethrower Zapdos's cage, breaking it as well. The two birds immediately blow a hole in the wall and begin to destroy the flying fortress in revenge. It crashes on Thunder Island, and Ash and company run out to escape; part of the ship crashes into the stone altar with the second "treasure", causing it to conveniently roll right in front of Ash, who grabs it.
Meanwhile, the birds start fighting. The entire fight between the birds always struck me as a kind of a weak plot point; the implication is that because they began to claim one another's territory in the first place the conflict arose when the "lost" birds returned and wanted their own back, but it just seems kind of far-fetched that these birds have been living there all this time perfectly happy with their own islands without any sort of conflict with one another if this little misunderstanding causes such chaos. But eh; it just about works, and compared to some other plot points in the movie, it's quite solid.
Ash and company get back on the boat, which miraculously survived the fall down from the flying palace just fine. They're about to plummet down a waterfall when they're saved by a strange vortex of water that seems to be extending from the ocean's surface and throws them (conveniently) straight onto the island with the altar where all the treasures were to be placed. He puts the two he has already obtained there but the random talking Slowking at the temple tells him he has to get the final one, from Ice Island, which Ash really ought to know already but apparently doesn't.
The vortex of water returns and reveals the supposed main Pokémon of the movie, Lugia, here to save the day... or maybe not. The legendary birds all frantically attack him for God-knows-what reason (Lugia has not attacked them or attempted to intrude on their territorial dispute in any way, which admittedly also calls into question just how Lugia was planning to help at all; Melody even notes sadly that Lugia only appears when the world is about to end but has no power to save it, which makes one wonder why he bothers to appear in the first place). He defends himself with protective barriers for a while, but eventually the birds manage to hit, and Lugia falls limply into the water. Okay, that has to be the wimpiest legendary Pokémon appearance ever.
Our heroes just stand there and watch, and Slowking says that only the Chosen One can save the world. Hmm, sound familiar? Gasp! The Chosen One of the festival, Ash, is actually the Chosen One who can save the world!
People don't seem to notice it often for some reason (or maybe I've just been getting that impression), but this is the big facepalm moment of the movie. It's worse than the crying scene. Chosen One plots do not work that way. They're a tired cliché that's very hard to take seriously nowadays to begin with, but this particular one is just plain nonsensical. A Chosen One plot only works when a) the Chosen One never knows beforehand that he is the Chosen One and simply happens to be the one who has the intelligence/talent/strength to complete the seemingly impossible task the Chosen One was supposed to perform, b) the Chosen One is actively chosen by some sort of a superior being that grants the Chosen One some sort of a unique ability that allows him to complete his task, or c) the task of the Chosen One seems impossible, but there is a clear prophecy or the like foreshadowing this particular individual as the Chosen One, and destiny is a concept the universe takes very seriously, to the point that the Chosen One is bound to succeed, giving him that as a sort of substitute advantage. But this is none of the above. Ash was chosen by a random girl with a flute. Absolutely anyone could go fetch the silly treasure from the Ice Island. He has no credentials whatsoever that make him the best person to do it. It is amusing to interpret this scene in the movie as simply being Ash's traveling partners inventing an excuse to make him do it so that they won't have to, but unfortunately that is not the intended meaning. We are clearly supposed to accept that somehow, Ash playing a role called "the Chosen One" in some traditional festival ritual means that he and he alone can pick up some little glass orb and bring it back. This is patently ridiculous. The dub adds a specific reference to his name into the prophecy, which vaguely implies some destiny at work, but that still doesn't make the task at hand something he should need destiny's assistance to complete; needing the assistance of other people and Pokémon makes sense, since yes, the birds are there and going there could be dangerous, but that ought to mean it would be safest for them all to go together, not Ash alone. Destiny does not have a strong enough presence in the Pokémon world to make everybody confidently conclude that because Ash is the Chosen One he will automatically succeed out there alone. But - as we know - Ash has to save the day, and thus he has to do it.
Then we jump right from one ridiculous thing to another, as Melody figures she might as well try playing the flute (which she brought with her for some unknown reason), and as she does so, Lugia is magically revived while he is sinking into the ocean. Well, that's convenient! And then Lugia rises up to tell the guys that, hey, by the way, playing the flute when you have all three treasures at the altar will make Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres stop fighting. Sorry, what? Why on earth would this happen? There is no sensible explanation; it's just an arbitrary magic solution to the plot so that, yet again, Ash can save the day. I guess there isn't any obvious other way to sensibly resolve the birds' territorial dispute, but this way is just painful.
Ash then heads over there. On foot. Why is he not flying on Charizard for speed appropriate to a fate-of-the-world-rests-on-your-shoulders situation? Admittedly he quickly thinks of using the wreck of the boat as a sled pulled by Charizard, Squirtle and Bulbasaur (how can Squirtle and Bulbasaur's tiny little legs keep up with Charizard's flight?), but flying would still be more sensible, especially since he's going alone - we know that Charizard can carry him, after all, since it does so both in the episode where it evolves and later in the third movie. The possibility of flying on Lugia may be ruled out because the birds will be attacking Lugia and he would have to be going through defensive maneuvers the whole time, but seeing as Lugia proceeds to play the role of keeping the birds off his back while he's sledding, they really should be able to do the same with Ash flying on Charizard. Of course, all this also opens up the question of just why the birds suddenly want to attack Ash - maybe just because he's heading towards the islands and they want to keep him off their territory, but then why have they now suddenly shifted their attention away from Lugia, who managed to enrage them earlier just by being there at the temple? The birds are so terribly inconsistent, just attacking whatever the plot demands.
Ash's makeshift sled eventually capsizes as I mutter "I told you you should have been flying" at the screen, and he stands there looking hopeless until Team Rocket suddenly arrive on a lifeboat with a propeller attached to it (how did they know he would need them, and if they didn't know, why are they there?) to help like the do-gooders they like to turn into in the movies. They successfully get Ash to the Ice Island temple, where he picks up the final treasure - note, by the way, how he would never have gotten there if it hadn't been for both Team Rocket and Lugia's help, as further evidence that destiny was not magically there to ensure he would succeed at his task alone because he was the Chosen One. The birds arrive to attack them just as they are about to leave; they manage to escape while the birds conveniently shift their attention to each other, and this time Lugia tells Ash to just get on his back so they can run for it (much as I'd like to comment on why Lugia can carry him on the way back but not on the way there, it does make sense that it would be harder to go towards the birds with a passenger without getting hit than away from them, when they can mostly just hightail it straight ahead and the birds have little reason to feel threatened). Team Rocket also cling on, but they then let go in a heroic sacrifice because they're weighing Lugia down (they shout "You're the main character!" as they fall, in another one of my favorite moments of this movie: they know why Ash really has to save the day).
Suddenly, as Lugia and Ash are approaching the temple, huge metal triangles shoot towards them! It's another one of Lawrence III's traps, and if you'd forgotten Lawrence III existed at this point, I don't blame you; they've been spending the latter half of the movie entirely on the other plot now. In any case it appears that (conveniently, and I really should not feel compelled to use the word "conveniently" this often in a single movie review) his traps and the trap firing mechanism survived the crash of the flying palace. Lugia shoots a Hyper Beam at the wreck for good measure but is then dragged underwater, his flight restrained by the trap. Ash floats off Lugia's back and the triangles simply break, thus bringing Lawrence III's involvement in the plot of this movie to an end. No, really. The supposed villain serves the purpose of accidentally setting the other plot in motion and then providing a final, easily foiled brief delay in its resolution, and that's it. It never matters in the movie that he wanted to capture Lugia, what he wanted to do with his "collection", the fact he is a collector to begin with... He doesn't actually function as a character in the movie at all, really, as opposed to a plot device. This makes it pretty bizarre how in Japan they even gave movie audiences a special booklet with his backstory. In the end he is just glaringly unimportant to the movie and could have been cut out of it with no harm to the real story if they'd just invented some other random excuse to get the birds riled up against one another.
Ash and Pikachu surface just below the temple while Lugia sinks and mutters dramatically, "It's over." Apparently he has forgotten about the flute melody that magically revived him five or ten minutes ago. Misty goes down to rescue the unconscious Ash and wakes him up; he walks up to the altar and places the last treasure where it belongs. The altar suddenly starts glowing with a creepy poisonous sort of green (don't ask me where that color came from) and then oozes similarly poisonous-looking green liquid into some water canals cut into the floor; the green liquid promptly turns the stone pillars around it into weird blue crystal, for no apparent reason. Melody takes this as her cue to go up to the altar and play her flute, and we see the legendary birds, who have apparently already collapsed in exhaustion, look up as they hear the tune. The weather is already returning to normal, which is quite odd considering the birds are not yet back on their designated islands; I guess flutes fix the ocean currents too. The green glow envelops the entire ocean, and finally Lugia rises back out of the water, to nobody's surprise, in his signature vortex (which I think is supposed to be Aeroblast), and the green disappears.
Lugia proceeds to offer Ash another ride on his back, just for the hell of it, while a weird arch of water hangs in the air above the islands; I have absolutely no idea what that is about. The legendary birds return to their respective islands, their previous differences forgotten. Lugia returns Ash to the temple and dives back into the ocean. Ash's mom and Professor Oak, who have been flying a helicopter to find Ash and company throughout the movie, finally find him and his mom makes a little speech about how she doesn't want him saving the world because it's dangerous and she doesn't want to lose him, but he somehow changes her mind by telling her he wants to be a Pokémon master. Then they leave. It's quite a random scene.
Lawrence III, who has been watching the whole thing, stands in the wreck of his flying palace, silently picks up the Ancient Mew card that started his collection and looks dramatically towards the sky. Meanwhile I'm wondering why Ash and co. completely forgot to worry about him after his failed attempt to capture Lugia. They probably knew his plot had been dropped.
We are also reassured that Team Rocket is okay. As if they wouldn't be.
Well. There... isn't an awful lot of good, to be honest. The only character with the potential to be interesting, the collector, is mostly just a plot device to get the birds all upset, and thus doesn't get any good development. It has its funny moments, which are probably its strongest point, and I have to admit to a fondness for the two little bits of amateur science - Oak's explanation of how the three birds create life and Tracey's explanation of how water + electricity + fire = explosion - but aside from that, the plot is too ridiculous and clichéd with all too many blatantly convenient events. The movie's only possible claim to emotional impact is the scene where everything is restored to normal, and it didn't do much for me, as much of a sap as I tend to suddenly become whenever I watch an animated film.
The plot. Absolutely the plot. There are just so many elements of this film's plot that are poorly constructed, extremely contrived or just generally unsatisfying: the completely coincidental festival taking place just when there's going to be need for the "Chosen One", the plot-directed aggressions of the birds, the whole build-up with Lawrence III that is then pretty much dropped at the halfway point, the general uselessness of Lugia, the stupidity of making Lawrence III leave his "visitors" unmonitored with his prized "collection", the arbitrary nature of the treasure quest, the nonsensical Chosen One plot...
Unfortunately, this is one of the worst Pokémon movies. It could have had something interesting going on with Lawrence III, but they ditched that halfway through in favor of Legendaries Randomly Fighting™ and a Chosen One plot that just plain didn't work. It wasn't even to make Ash save the day, since it would have been pretty easy to have him trying to take down Lawrence III and free the legendaries - although perhaps they felt that would have played out too much like a normal episode of the anime. The few highlights just don't really make up for the poor story. It's not exactly boring, but it's bland and clichéd, generally unremarkable and full of the kinds of plot holes left in poor children's movies because the target audience isn't assumed to be able to notice them.
Page last modified January 14 2012 at 04:17 GMT