Pokémon Movie Review: The Darkrai movie

"Get out!"

Written by ritabuuk and dubiousdisc
Posted on July 18th 2021
Japanese poster
Dialga vs. Palkia vs. Darkrai

This movie is a messy one. Even the Japanese title is a mess: Dialga vs. Palkia vs. Darkrai.

Let's unpack this. Dialga vs. Palkia. But we thought they were sibling-deities that cooperated to create time and space respectively. Why would they fight? And, in this movie, their fighting seems to be tearing apart time and space. But if Dialga and Palkia are the ones who made time and space, why are they destroying time and space? Unless they're to the point that they are so mad at each other, they're destroying their group project and throwing it at each other.

And wait, vs. Darkrai. Not Giratina, the third of the trio? Why Darkrai? Darkrai already has a counterpart, Cresselia, which doesn't appear in this movie. What is this?! Is this legendary mismatch the work of the same people who decided to pair Rayquaza with Deoxys? Are the Pokémon movie people being contrary on purpose?

And what does vs. even mean in this context? Does it mean Dialga against Palkia, and Palkia against Darkrai? Does it mean free for all? Does it mean Dialga against Palkia, and both against Darkrai?

The dub couldn't abide this messy title, so they re-dubbed it: The Rise of Darkrai. It's not that great of a title, but, whatever, we'll take it over Dialga vs. Palkia vs. Darkrai. At least it is concise and not a tongue twister.

Youtuber Titanium Taco holding Palkia and Dialga Burger King Toys
Burger King felt the need to give Dialga and Palkia more articulations than they actually have, so that the toys could do something. This Palkia toy flaps its wings! That never happens in the movie!

As advertised, the majority of the movie is an excessively long fight scene between the aforementioned legendaries. We complained about how the Deoxys movie had a lot of boring fighting in it, but this movie is even worse because of the actors involved. Deoxys and Rayquaza are decently dynamic designs that can fly, spin around, stretch, twist, transform, and so on. This movie has Dialga and Palkia. Their most exciting aspect is that some of their body parts can light up. So, these interminable fight scenes star two cheap plastic dinosaurs with lights and sounds. They stand in mid-air, make noises, and spit orbs at each other. It would be more fun to watch a child play with actual toy dinosaurs. Then there's Darkrai, who at least looks more interesting and has more to work with - but Darkrai is really more of a guest star for how much screentime it gets, despite being theoretically the featured Pokémon of this movie... and it spends most of that screentime getting kicked around.

Yet, our biggest complaint about this movie is that the plot fails to make sense, but only by a near miss. It is such a near miss that we thought we zoned out during the wrong interminable fight scene and missed the critical clincher moment. We rewatched this movie many times, looking desperately for any evidence of what surely must have been the point, right? But, no. By now, we suppose we have to resign ourselves to the fact that the plot misses the mark by a millimeter. The more we rewatch this movie, the more it pisses us off for what could have been.

The Plot

Palkia's shoulder ball is cracked
Balls!

The movie opens with Dialga and Palkia fighting in what appears to be the Unown dimension. The narration gives the reason why they are fighting: because they met, and they should never meet. This is indeed the sole explanation this whole movie gives for its central conflict. They might as well have just said "Because."

Anyway, during this fight, Dialga busts Palkia's balls, or at least one of them. Because let's not forget, Dialga is the Time Pokémon and it has clock hand decorations over its body, and Palkia is the Space Pokémon and it has... two pink shoulder balls. For some inscrotable reason.

Alice playing the leaf
Alice playing the leaf.

Cut to the twerps! They're going to Alamos Town so that Dawn can participate to a Pokémon Contest. On the way there, they meet the Character of the Movie: Alice. She introduces herself as a musician first and foremost. She plays... the leaf. Yes, the leaf. Like the thing that people do when they're bored and have a leaf. But she's not yet a master of the leaf, no, she's just a student. She presumably goes to leaf school to eventually become a professional leafist. She demonstrates her leaf playing to the twerps, who act all impressed. It sounds like someone messing with a leaf.

Apart from her leaf studies, on the side, she's a hot air balloon tour guide. Just on the side. Whenever it doesn't interfere with her all-important study of the leaf. Alice has an odd plan for her life.

The Tower of Time and Space, as seen from Alice's balloon

So, Alice brings the twerps to town with her hot air balloon. And what town is getting ripped-off this time? Alamos Town is just Barcelona, complete with the Sagrada Família turned into an impending plot device called the Tower of Time and Space. We've seen a similar level of copying reality in the Latias movie, but the Darkrai movie is the most brazen yet (and we think the most brazen out of all the Pokémon movies that we've watched) in which even the architect that built the real-life building becomes inserted as a character. Yes, Antoni Gaudí is a character. Without even changing his name or making him anime-hot.

Antoni Gaudí in 1910 Anime Gaudí
Real-life and Anime Antoni Gaudí

During their sightseeing, Alice brings the twerps to a garden copied from Parc Güell, which was also made by (and the home of) real-life Antoni Gaudí. All the Pokémon romp around for the Pikachu's Vacation antics of this movie, until a misunderstanding causes a spat. Alice breaks up the fight by playing the sole song that she knows how to play on the leaf. Foreshadowing? Kinda, but not really.

Park Güell Anime Garden
Real-life and Anime Parc Güell

All is well again, until an alarmed Gallade leads Alice to something that needs her urgent attention: the stone columns in one part of the garden appear to have been warped and melted. Alice's reaction is a scandalized "Who would do such a thing?". Which is such a weirdly written line. Why would Alice assume there's a culprit involved in turning stone into silly putty? We wouldn't be asking "who?", we would be asking "wtf???".

This is the part where the love triangle of the movie is introduced, because, yeah, this movie has a love triangle... sigh.

Tonio as drawn by Sugimori
Tonio inherited his old-man hair from his great-grandfather and his fashion sense from Doug Funnie.

Alice's childhood friend Tonio arrives to analyze the distortion with his computer. He's the great-grandson of Gaudí, and yes, he's called Tonio, presumably making him Antoni Gaudí IV. His function in the plot is to serve as a love interest for Alice and to deliver metric tons of exposition by reporting the results of his improbable computer simulations. He wears glasses, and a sweater vest, and in this single short scene, he manages to bonk his head - not once, but twice. So, you know, he's the awkward nerd kind of character, blah blah blah, why bother writing when you can just open a can and plop a character down.

Baron Alberto as drawn by Sugimori
Is he actually nobility, or just arrogant?

The last corner of this love triangle is Baron Alberto, an egomaniac in Spanish royal garb, who insists Darkrai is the cause of the damage, and also that Alice is his fiancée. Tonio gets flustered at the news. Alice plainly tells the Baron that she has no interest in him and that she only has feelings for Tonio. Tonio takes this as a joke because, you know, women are so mysterious, you can never understand what they mean. The twerps and the audience awkwardly watch this all play out, until, thankfully, there is an interruption.

The accused Darkrai emerges from the shadows of the garden, saying, "Don't come here!". Alberto attacks him, and Darkrai's counterattack intended for the Baron's Lickilicky ends up missing and accidentally hitting Ash instead.

Ash finds himself alone in a creepy desaturated version of the garden. There he has a vision of Palkia's eyes. Then Pikachu appears, but the ground turns into a vortex under Pikachu and Ash is helpless as he and Pikachu get sucked into the ground.

Ash's nightmare

But then Ash wakes up in a hospital bed. Apparently a crappy nightmare is worth a trip to the hospital.

Darkrai's sprite in Diamond and Pearl

Nurse Joy explains that Darkrai's presence can cause those around it to have nightmares. It sounds like this is not something Darkrai necessarily does on purpose, but rather that it oozes nightmare fuel. This matches how Darkrai in the games has the unique passive ability, Bad Dreams, which causes any sleeping opponent to be afflicted with nightmare damage.

Ash is so pissed off that Darkrai inadvertently gave him this relatively tame nightmare, he wants to go beat it up over this. The only solution Ash knows for interpersonal problems is punching.

Nurse Joy also mentions that, because of its creepiness, Darkrai is shunned by the other Pokémon. Citation needed! This is never shown to happen in the movie, so is this even true? The only characters that are mad at Darkrai in this movie are humans, and they're mad at it for things it actually did or seemed to have done, not just because they don't like its creepy design.

Tonio shows up again to look at knots in the wood and babble about reading Gaudí's diary, and then he leaves and walks into the wall on the way out.

Everyone watches Tonio walk into a wall
Alice finds that endearing, but not Dawn.

By the way, what exactly is Tonio's career or hobby or whatever? Is he some sort of quantum physicist? Why does he have Drifblim drones filming the town and computer programs measuring spacial disturbances before the events of the movie even start? But then his research also involves reading the diary of an architect? How is that related? Or was he just reading his great-grandfather's diary to connect with his ancestor, and got super lucky that Gaudí just so happened to write about topics relevant to quantum physics?

Team Rocket filming the Baron
Team Rocket's disguises in this movie are pretty great, too

Anyway, meanwhile, Jessie, James, and Meowth have set their sights on attempting to capture Darkrai during this movie, and robbing Baron Alberto while they're at it. Imagine that - their marks are the actual illusory Pokémon and the rich guy, and not inexplicably Pikachu and Ash. They also correctly read the Baron's personality as incredibly vain and easy to manipulate. Their plan is to pretend to be news reporters, goad the Baron into doing all the work of catching Darkrai during their flattering special report, and then they'll make off with everything. Honestly, good plan. And compared to some other movies, Team Rocket gets a relatively decent spot in this one. They get more screentime than, for example, Brock... Poor Brock.

So, when Darkrai reappears and starts hurling nightmare orbs around, both Ash and the Baron are against it. Darkrai keeps saying, "Get out! Get out!" like a spooky ghost, but it doesn't bother to explain any further. As Ash keeps chasing Darkrai around, he starts witnessing apparitions of Pokémon sleepwalking through walls. Later, in the Pokémon Center, Tonio uses his computer to analyze what's going on, and he declares that because of the distortions in time and space, the Pokémon's nightmares are manifesting into reality. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Bibarel's Nightmare The computer explains that the dreams are substantiating
Dream >>>> Substantiate

Every Pokémon's nightmare is the same: they are all just fleeing aimlessly. Except for one nightmare that is completely different from the others. Baron Alberto's Lickilicky is having a nightmare about being Baron Alberto. ...Sick burn. And so this nightmare manifests as Baron Alberto becoming Lickilicky.

The Baron becomes Lickilicky
You know, they could have made this joke without all the contrivance...

The only reason why this happens is so that the writers could indulge in an unfunny pun. Sigh, sooo, here's how it goes... In Japanese, Lickilicky's name is Beroberto. So everyone keeps tripping over saying Baron Alberto and instead saying Beroberto. This is peak humor.

The dub did not bother to even try to translate the pun. It probably could have been translated in some way, but, you know what? It doesn't matter. It never was even slightly amusing. Good on the localizers for not taking the bait and needlessly wasting their time.

Gijinka trainers on the bridge
These characters didn't even have names until like a year later when they were posthumously christened Maury, Allegra, and Kai by the Pokémon.com mailbag.

Much earlier during the theme song of the movie, the twerps were fighting these three other trainers, each of which has a final form Generation IV starter and an outfit to match. These trainers didn't get the memo that they were only supposed to be around for the opening, and they keep trying and failing to insert themselves into the plot. Now they show up to announce that a new fucked up thing has happened, and they bring everybody to the bridge that connects Alamos Town with the rest of the world.

Defog
We could spend all day watching the loop of everyone's disappointment.

The bridge is shrouded in a thick fog. But, aha, the Infernape trainer also has a Pokémon that knows Defog! Go Honchkrow, show everyone the power of the new HM Defog! ...And it does nothing. Truth in advertising.

Ash tries to run straight through the fog... and he winds up turned around running back into Alamos Town. Ooo, spooky.

At this point, everyone is out for Darkrai's blood. First the nightmares, then the apparitions, and now this creepy fog? Enough is enough. With the Baron in the lead, everyone runs to get their pitchforks. Ash and his friends would have gone too, but Tonio and Alice stop them and tell them that they don't think Darkrai is the culprit.

Tonio knows for a fact that Darkrai is mostly benevolent. Once when he was a child, he was out playing in the garden with Alice, and Alice tripped and almost fell off a cliff. By the way, the English dub's rendition of this is absolutely hilarious.

The Japanese version already had comical timing, but originally Alice gasps silently as she falls. The dub added the scream that just pushes it all over the top (and down the cliff).

But Darkrai appeared, swooped to catch Alice, and set her down gently on the ground before vanishing into shadow. While she was falling, Alice passed out, because the plot needed her not to know who had saved her, in order to create this additional bit of drama. Since she woke up in Tonio's arms, she thought he was her savior, and she never knew about Darkrai's involvement.

Tonio tries to explain that he did not understand what had happened back then until the events from the beginning of the movie, when he saw Darkrai again. Before his realization, all he knew was that he wasn't the one who had saved Alice, but he did not comprehend what had actually happened, so he felt unable to set the record straight. This is why Tonio is so dismissive when Alice declares her love for him - he's worried that one of the key events of their relationship is a misunderstanding.

Is that so?

Alice isn't actually in any way impacted by this revelation. Her response to Tonio saying "The one who saved you is Darkrai" is simply "Is that so?". This topic never comes up again, and nothing between Alice and Tonio changes in the slightest. Alice is perhaps more impacted by the revelation that Darkrai cares about her. Or we can interpret Alice's reaction as a sign that she loves Tonio for so many more reasons than this one event from the past, and that she will continue to love him even if he wasn't her savior back then. Or we can interpret this as a sign that the writers didn't bother to write this moment at all.

The English dub changed Alice's line to "Oh, Tonio..." which sounds like she is concerned for Tonio and how he's had this worry unnecessarily weighing on his mind for all these years, and maybe she even realizes that's why he's been so lukewarm about her attempts to start a relationship with him. So, for this one scene, we prefer the English version, since it seems to attempt to at least momentarily consider how this revelation might impact the characters involved.

Anyway, after revealing the lie of his life, Tonio decides to go back to his computer basement to investigate some more. He reviews the footage filmed by his Drifblim... and then there is one of the most egregiously shameless "Let's Enhance" scenes that we've ever seen - complete with the instant rewind, slow-mo, pause, zoom in... zoom in... zoom into the pixel, and instantly extrapolate an entire 3D render of Palkia inside the pixel. His camera must be more powerful than NASA equipment. And so Tonio learns that Palkia has been lurking around Alamos Town, mostly invisible, since the plot didn't want us to see it yet.

Let's Enhance
Darkrai sends orbs out in essentially every direction
Where exactly was Darkrai trying to aim?

When Palkia first arrived, Darkrai showed up in the square, said "Get out!" and put all the Pokémon to sleep with its nightmare orbs. It turns out that Darkrai was actually telling Palkia to get out, and all its attacks were intended for Palkia, but Darkrai just has the worst aim of the Pokémon world. And at no point did Darkrai ever communicate to anyone that Palkia was present. And the reason why the nightmares were manifesting in reality and why the fog is preventing anyone from leaving town is because of the spatial instability that Palkia brought with it. Or some bullshit.

Palkia
Palkia is mad about the clock in the background

Shortly after Tonio figures all of this out, Palkia appears in full regalia anyway, effectively rendering the previous scene with all of Tonio's epiphanies completely unnecessary. Palkia transports the entire town to another dimension, which for some reason causes all the nightmare apparitions to stop and returns Baron Alberto to his more usual self. Why? Because the writers were done with the joke for now.

Tonio's computer for some reason knows that 1) Palkia moved the town to another dimension, and 2) that Palkia did this in order to evade Dialga.

Dialga

Yet, so much for Palkia's plan, because Dialga shows up moments later anyway. Though, if we think about it, why does Dialga choose this moment to appear? Its most notable feature is its power of time travel. Couldn't Dialga have shown up at any time to fight Palkia? Why now?

By the way, Dialga, as the Pokémon of Time, can travel through time - but also obviously through space, otherwise it would be completely unmoving. Palkia, as the Pokémon of Space, is capable of traveling through space, but not through time. So, no wonder Dialga is beating Palkia's ass. And how special is Palkia's power anyway? Anyone can travel through space! We do it all the time, and we don't even have balls.

Aramostown Collapse Simulation
Aramostown Collapse Simulation

Speaking of balls, here begins the most excruciating fight scene of the movie. Palkia and Dialga fight. As we previously intimated, they achieve this by floating over the town and throwing orbs at each other. Darkrai joins in. It floats over the town and throws orbs at Dialga and Palkia. The twerps gawk at this floating tennis match while Tonio rambles about his bullshit computer simulations that predict how long it will be before this pocket universe will collapse and kill them all. What, you don't have that app installed?

At one point, Alice tries to pull an Ash and throw herself between two fighting legendary Pokémon, and Darkrai takes the hit to save her. It ends up crashing into the garden, and Alice runs after it.

Alice rests her hand on Darkrai
Alicia?

The main thing that happens here is that, when Alice goes to help Darkrai, it says "Alicia?". Alicia was Alice's grandmother, who met Darkrai when she was a child. In spite of its creepiness, Alicia nursed it back to health and invited it to stay in the garden. Darkrai accepted and remained in the garden happily ever after. This story was written in Gaudí's diary, which Tonio was reading earlier so that the audience could know this fact.

Alicia and Darkrai in the garden
Little Alicia with Darkrai in the garden

So, the more apparent reading of this scene of Darkrai saying "Alicia?" is that Darkrai is confused about who Alice is. By rule of Pokémon anime genetics, Alice is the spitting image of her grandmother, down to the same inexplicable Lopunny hairstyle , so, it could make sense that Darkrai wouldn't be able to tell them apart.

But does it make any sense, actually? If Darkrai has been living in the garden all these years, why wouldn't it know that Alicia grew up, had children, became an old lady, had grandchildren, and presumably died?

But has Darkrai been living in the garden all of these years? At the beginning of the movie, Baron Alberto talks about Darkrai having been sighted in town as if its presence is a new development. So, Darkrai hasn't been living in the garden. Why not? After the whole heartwarming story about Darkrai living happily with everyone in the garden, you mean to tell us that Darkrai left? What kind of ending is that?

But... did it leave? We know that Darkrai appeared when Alice was a child just in time to save her from falling off the cliff, and then Darkrai went back into the shadows of the garden. So it was there to see that Alice was in danger and to save her.

Grandma Alicia teaching the song to Alice
There they are, together, in the garden

But then! If it has been there all along, and met little Alice, how does it not know that Alicia and Alice are not the same person? We also saw the flashback of Grandma Alicia teaching little Alice to play her song on the leaf in the garden, so if Darkrai was there, it saw both of them.

Does Darkrai only appear sometimes? Where is it the rest of the time? Does it hibernate in the shadows for years at a time? And only wakes up when the plot mandates?

What we are trying to say is: this plotpoint, as it exists in this movie, makes absolutely no sense. We see what they were trying to do, and it could have been cute, yes. But the moment we start thinking about it for just a few seconds, it falls apart.

Darkrai immediately gets up to continue fighting Dialga and Palkia, and Tonio moves on to reveal another tidbit he learned about in Gaudí's diary. Apparently, in the past, Gaudí had a nightmare in which... two beings that should never meet... met. The entire town was going to be obliterated by their fight, and there was a song that stopped them. Gaudí built the entire Tower of Time and Space in order to save the future when his nightmare would come true. It all hinges on something called Oración. But Tonio does not know what Oración means.

As he complains about this out-loud, Alice turns to him and says, well shit, that's the name of the leaf song that I play.

How does Tonio not know this? It's the name of the only song that his crush plays!

But now that Tonio knows what Oración is, he knows that it must be recorded on one of the musical discs that are housed in the Tower of Time and Space, which are playable from the top of the tower. Because the Tower of Time and Space is also a huge musical instrument. And a church. And a stadium. Gaudí had a terminal case of feature creep.

So there's this unnecessarily long scene where the twerps and the twerps of the day are looking for the right disc. It's not in Tonio's basement where all the other discs are - how do they know that? No explanation. But anyway, it must be one of the discs that are part of the decorations inside the church. But there are so many, how will they ever find the right one?

Alice notices the symbol written on the back of the photograph matches the symbol on the disc
It sure is a good thing they still have access to this photo with the critical symbol drawn on it.

Alice looks at the old photograph she's been holding in her hand for the past hour, which shows Gaudí and Alicia in the garden, and on the back, there is the musical score for Oración and a swooshy symbol. She looks up and sees a disc with the same swooshy symbol on it. There it is!

Now the problem is that the disc has to be carried all the way to the very top of the tower. Why do they even have to do this? If Gaudí knew that this song would need to be played in the tower to stop the apocalypse, why is the disc stored on the bottom floor, two hundred miles below the music player? Why wouldn't it be in the same room, or better yet, already in the player? Why wouldn't Oración just be always plugged in with a sign saying, in case of the apocalypse, play this song. In fact, why have so many decoy discs? Why have so many irrelevant songs on different discs? Every disc should have Oración on it! Or wait, why even have a system of swappable discs? Hardcode Oración into the tower itself, and it should just play every day at noon! Or even, every hour! It's not like its magic wears out or has any negative side-effects, as proven by the fact that Alice has been leafing the song for the whole movie. Why did Gaudí design his apocalypse security system like a point-and-click adventure? It's almost like Gaudí didn't want the world to be saved!

Or... is the song hardcoded into the tower? We noticed that the other discs are shown to have the grooves on the back encoding the music. But the Oración disc does not have any grooves on the back, and it needs to go into a different spot than the usual place in the player. So does the Oración disc actually even have the music on it, or is it like a key just to turn Oración on?

The other discs have grooves... ...But Oración does not.
Why is this so needlessly complicated??
Palkia just brushing past the hot air balloon like its a dust bunny
For being the Spatial Pokémon, Palkia sure has no regard for other people's personal space.

Anyway, then there is another excruciatingly long scene of them all in the hot air balloon trying to get to the top of the tower amid all the legendary orbs getting thrown around. Seriously, Dialga and Palkia have absolutely no regard for anything and everything around them. They just shove past this hot air balloon like they don't even see it. Ash and Dawn wind up on the spiral staircase of doom, and they have the disc, so they continue climbing their way up the millions of stairs. Alice is still with the hot air balloon as it's falling apart, and she manages to float down to the bridge, but then almost loses her balance. Baron Alberto comes running to save her, but he trips and falls flat on his face. Instead, Lickilicky pulls her back up, and Tonio floats in holding on to Drifblim and sets her back on her feet.

Tonio saves Alice
Tonio fell out of the hot air balloon in the earlier scene and somehow we didn't notice or wonder what happened to him.

This enables Tonio to actually truthfully be Alice's savior, and she hugs him with stars in her eyes. But why does any of this matter? At no point did Alice stop liking Tonio, and it's not like the law of the town is that you must save the life of the one you love before you're allowed to marry.

This also enables the writers to have one last go at the unfunny Baron Lickilicky joke, and have Alice turn to Lickilicky and address it as the Baron. But the audience saw the human Baron fall on his face a moment before, so the writers spoiled their own joke. If it ever even was a joke to be spoiled.

Darkrai disappears into sparkles
A very underwhelming death scene

In the meanwhile, Darkrai has been trying to stall the fight - with renewed energy since it had some plot-mandated flashbacks of Alicia, and its motivation is that it wants to preserve the garden for everybody. But in the end, Darkrai gets hit by both Dialga and Palkia's attacks, and it disappears into pink sparkles and dies.

Ash and Dawn finally make it to the top of the tower, and they finally figure out the right place to put Oración. There is a moment of drama of, oh no, but there's not enough electricity! Something like this happened in the Deoxys movie, as well, plus in entirely too many anime episodes... Why does the Pokémon anime keep beating this dead horse of a plot device? Pikachu and Pachirisu are standing right there!

Glowy church

But the song finally plays, and the church sprouts wings, and green glow envelops everything, and the crack in Palkia's shoulder is healed. And Dialga and Palkia look at each other for awhile, sigh, and then Dialga goes away.

Palkia is about to fuck off as well, but Ash scolds it with startling vigor:

Palkia, you son of a bitch!
Palkia, you son of a bitch!

Surprised by this sudden vulgarity, Palkia sheepishly reverse-swirls the town back in its proper place and fixes everything. And everyone cheers.

Darkrai's funeral
Ash even says a few words

At sunset, everyone attends Darkrai's funeral. Everyone looks sadly down as Alice has flashbacks of every single Darkrai moment of the movie, including such touching scenes as the time Darkrai threw an orb. And that time Darkrai took a hit to the face. And that other time Darkrai took a hit to the face. And even the entire death scene again, but in mournful grayscale. Doing the whole Darkrai montage like this really highlights how very little Darkrai actually did in this movie (and how many times it got hit in the face).

Glowy church

After the funeral is over, everyone turns around to leave, until Pikachu is forced by the plot to turn around and notice Darkrai's shadow on the cliff. Everyone runs back to look at the shadow, and then they turn around again (in the direction they were previously facing) to see Darkrai standing on top of the tower while a ridiculous fanfare plays.

The fact that Darkrai is alive makes Alice horny for Tonio. She suddenly flops her body against him. We guess the writers wanted to make sure they absolutely confirmed the shipping, but this is the last scene of the movie, so it awkwardly happens now.

Alice flopping against a blushing Tonio

And then the camera zooms into Darkrai's eye, and the movie ends.

...What in the fucking hell?? How is Darkrai alive? We watched it die. Twice. How exactly did this happen? You don't get to have the dramatic death for sad points and then just say, nevermind! Everything is fine! Be happy now! No Darkrais were actually harmed in the making of this movie.

What in the fucking hell.

The Infernape trainer won the contest
It looks like Dawn didn't just lose, she came in last place.

During the ending credits, we are shown scenes that tie up all sorts of random loose ends that were left hanging all over this movie. Like, oh right, the reason why the twerps came to Alamos Town in the first place was so that Dawn could participate in a Pokémon Contest. She does. She loses. Oh yeah, and what happened to Team Rocket? They didn't manage to rob the Baron after all. But what about Darkrai coming back from the dead? Nah, the movie doesn't go there.

Really, thinking about this as hard as we can, the only possible explanations we can come up with are either: 1) Oración brought Darkrai back from the dead or 2) Palkia brought Darkrai back from the dead. When Oración plays, it heals Palkia's wounds, and it also makes the buildings that disappeared into pink sparkles suddenly come back into existence. Maybe it healed Darkrai and brought it back from the pink sparkle void as well. Alternatively, Palkia was able to reverse-swirl the town and set everything right again. Maybe one detail of setting everything right again included reviving Darkrai from the dead. But since neither explanation seems particularly solid, and in fact we're not sure which of the two is more likely, and we shouldn't even have to be wondering about such a major plot point... just... this sucks.

What in the fucking hell is the plot

This movie is written as if each member of the team of writers had a different idea, and they were going to put scenes in for the benefit of their own idea without getting everyone else on board with their overall plan. One of the writers was going for a time travel paradox. One of the writers was going for the mystical heroine playing the song that saves the world. Another writer really wanted to make a point-and-click adventure game and was here by mistake. One writer wanted a love triangle, but another writer wanted a human and monster romance. Another writer was on loan from the Godzilla series. One writer wrote everything as if Darkrai couldn't speak, but another writer then went and gave Darkrai lines. And the final result is a pile of contradictions with nothing achieved.

The Time Travel Paradox

We said at the beginning of this review that there was one particular plotpoint that we thought was in this movie. We inferred the presence of a time travel paradox so hard. There are so many scenes that seem to be clues about it, foreshadowing it, pointing to it... but we suppose at this point we have to resign ourselves to the fact that it's not there.

We thought that the plot was that, at some point during the big Legendary fight, Dialga, the Pokémon of Time, attacks Darkrai and winds up sending it back in time.

Darkrai in the past collapses against the same tree
In the past, Darkrai appeared in the garden, gravely injured

The injured Darkrai appears in the past, and little Alicia nurses it back to health and invites it to stay in the garden. While Darkrai is in the garden, its presence causes Gaudí to have a nightmare, more or less intentionally depending on what this writer was going for. Gaudí has a vision of Darkrai's memories of what happens to Alamos Town in the future, and Gaudí takes it very seriously.

Gaudí chooses to try to change the future. He knows that the song that Alicia plays is able to soothe and heal Pokémon, so we presume he thinks that if he blasts it at maximum volume from the top of a tower, it will stop the fighting of even such big Pokémon as the ones he saw in his nightmare. So he builds the entire tower with this in mind.

An elaborate sculpture of Alicia sitting in a tree and playing the leaf for many Pokémon

Darkrai lives peacefully in the garden and maybe even forgets what happened before. Or, we mean, after. Or, well...

But because of the distortions of time and space that occur during Dialga and Palkia's fight, Darkrai gets pulled forward in time. So, in this version, Darkrai never left the garden, it only left Alicia's time.

Darkrai catches Alice during her childhood

Darkrai appears during Alice's childhood and is able to save her from falling off the cliff. Darkrai probably thinks the little girl is Alicia, because it has been living with Alicia. Then it gets pulled forward in time again to the present and is able to fight against Palkia. Maybe Darkrai is fluctuating through time so much, that is why it is so confused by whether Alice is Alicia or not. And how did she get so tall?

Darkrai shown alive at the end of the movie

Darkrai knows what is going to happen and wants to try to stop it, but then Darkrai is hit by the attack again. It did not die, but was sent back in time. And it is caught in a timeloop. When the loop is broken, Darkrai is able to exist in the timeline at the end of the story.

But, as far as we can tell, none of this is actually in the movie. This is all our unintentional headcanons that we crafted just by watching the movie and reading into things that we misunderstood as foreshadowing.

The fact that Gaudí had a nightmare about the future had nothing to do with the Pokémon of Nightmares or the Pokémon of Time, despite the involvement of both. There is absolutely no time travel, even though that the plot revolves around distortions in spacetime and things done by people's ancestors. What a waste.

Without time travel, Darkrai's chronological storyline is: one day, Darkrai crashes into the garden, and it's hurt, for reasons that are not important and not explained. Alicia nurses it back to health and Darkrai decides to stay in the garden... until it leaves at some point, for reasons that are not important and not explained. And then one day, generations later, it came back, for reasons that are not important and not explained. Darkrai fights against Dialga and Palkia, and then dies. But then it comes back to life, for reasons that are not important and not explained.

...We like the time paradox idea better.

If we're wrong, and there's actually a time paradox in this movie, please, please point it out to us. We want this movie to all come together and make sense.

The Mystical Heroine

Alice playing the leaf amid mystical lighting
All this mystical lighting is just for breaking up a little spat over a Pecha berry.

In the end, whether Alice knew how to play Oración or not didn't matter. The only way her knowledge of the song came into play was when she told Tonio that Oración is the name of the song. There is a special disc for Oración and it is played by the tower, and the vital clue was in Tonio's possession, so whether Alice could play the song on the leaf or not is irrelevant.

Alice's grandma taught her the song with great momentousness: you must remember this song, this will be important in the future, this was a song that my mother taught me, and that now I teach to you, and that you must hand down to your own daughter some day.

Only the women of this one family seem to know the song - it doesn't seem to be a folksong of Alamos Town or anything like that. And it has a sacred quality to it.

We think that this particular writer must have wanted Alice to play Oración herself, on the leaf, as part of the climax. But as the movie ended up being, the fact that Alice can play Oración on the leaf is merely used to introduce the song, and maybe hint at its powers. If Alice's leaf was replaced with a radio playing the song in the background, nothing would have changed.

Point-and-Click Adventure

The final puzzle of the Sagrada Família
Oh, wait, is this going to be a tone-based puzzle? Denise relies on Rosy to solve those.

This movie borrows lots of elements from point-and-click adventures... and falls into the same common pitfalls. We're talking the kind of stuff that was already parodied back in the Day of the Tentacle. The Darkrai movie has them all: puzzles that have no reason to exist in-universe except to be a puzzle (the finding of the Oración disc), characters for some reason carrying around a currently-useless item that will turn out to finally be useful only when the plot mandates (the old photo of Gaudí and Alicia with the hint on the back), and even, somehow, a pixel-hunt (finding the precise pixel with Palkia inside it).

When video games have these problems, it's because the game developers wanted to provide more gameplay to the player, but failed to gracefully integrate the gameplay into logic. Yet that's kinda okay: the most important thing is to have a fun video game full of fun puzzles. It would be even better if there was a logical reason for why a particular puzzle exists and why we need to solve it, but that's secondary to having enough puzzles in your puzzle game.

But The Rise of Darkrai is not a video game. It's a movie. So why did it need to have puzzles that make no sense, and even, why did it need to have puzzles at all?

Romance

Alice makes her feelings perfectly clear...

This movie contains a love triangle, but it is cast aside in the same scene in which it is introduced. Alice says straight-out that she does not like Baron Alberto, she likes Tonio, and she means it. End of the question.

And any rivalry between the Baron, Tonio, and even Brock completely fizzles out after the first scene where they are all together on screen. The Baron ends up too busy waging war on Darkrai and being a walking pun to put any energy toward his pursuit of Alice, and Brock gracefully bows out when he learns of Alice's feelings for Tonio, and all Tonio needs to do is leave his basement sometimes and be there for Alice, and they'll have a relationship. Heck, she's willing to go to the basement to find him. There actually is no love triangle. Not even any romance angst.

...But Tonio does not.

No romance angst, but very little romance either. Tonio seems to be flustered at Alice's open declarations of love, but his dismissive stutterings do not make clear what he personally wants out of this. We know that in heteronormative tropeland his flusterment is a shipping signifier, but, if we saw his reactions in real life, we would probably assume he's not interested in Alice.

The declaration of Alice's love for Tonio could be more heartwarming if Tonio conveyed that he was just as into the idea of having a relationship with Alice as she is. But, as the movie is right now, we can't even tell if Tonio actually cares at all about Alice. For example, Alice introduces herself to strangers as a musician, and she always seems to be playing the same song, since that song is personally important to her, having been taught to her by her grandmother. But, somehow, Tonio has been knowing Alice for his entire life, yet he doesn't know the name of the song. The two of them don't seem to have the groundwork for a meaningful friendship, let alone a romantic relationship.

Instead of addressing any of this, the plot instead fixates on whether Tonio is truly Alice's savior or not, and the event that happened when they were children. Eventually, the plot supplies Tonio with a substitute savior moment, which then allows the shipping to be confirmed. Strangely, although the plot seems to be so focused on this question, Tonio's actual savior moment is given the treatment of being a minor background event.

Tonio aside, we are more sad that there was the potential for a much more interesting relationship in this movie that also didn't actually happen.

If Alice's main criterion for potential suitors is for them to be her savior, Darkrai is by far in the lead.

One of the things this movie is most remembered for is the relationship between Alice and Darkrai. It seems like Darkrai has a confused crush on Alice and/or Alicia, and its main motivation is to protect her and anything that is important to her. Romantic or otherwise, their relationship should have been central to the movie, yet it's not actually explored in canon. The concept is only introduced just enough for us to infer that it could be there, and our minds can run off to fanfiction land, but the movie itself barely does anything with it - and what little is there, as we wrote earlier, is a jumbled mess.

But, even in this form, a relationship between a monster and a human is a cool thing to include in a movie, and we're all thirsting for something like this, so this is one point where fandom stepped in and did all that canon couldn't. So, if you're willing to delve into that, good news...

Godzilla

SpaceGodzilla
Game Freak's concept of Palkia might have been inspired by SpaceGodzilla, what with both of them having glowing shoulder-crystals and, you know, space.

Our friend Destinie pointed out to us that this movie came out during Toho's long hiatus of the Godzilla series. After Toho released Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004, they did not release another Godzilla movie until 2016. Since Toho is also the Japanese distributor of the Pokémon movies, Destinie's theory on the matter is that, at the time, Toho wanted Pokémon to be a replacement franchise for movies with big monster battles.

If this is true, Dialga vs. Palkia vs. Darkrai would be the perfect example of a Pokémon movie trying to be like a Godzilla movie. The title lets you know the focus will be on these particular giant monsters fighting each other. Some fans even think that Palkia's cries in this movie sound like Ghidorah, with some going so far as to say the same sound effect was recycled.

Darkrai's dialogue

This garden belongs to everyone

Darkrai is perfectly capable of complex speech. It clearly states full sentences such as, "This garden belongs to everyone" and "Don't come here". Then, why did it not clearly communicate the threat of Palkia to anyone in town? It's like it specifically chose to say vague and cryptic things to make itself sound like a villain, without clarifying that it was talking to Palkia or even what the problem was. Sometimes it says nothing at all even in situations that would normally require a reply.

We wonder if all of Darkrai's dialogue is actually an afterthought, and if one version of the script had Darkrai communicate exclusively through nightmares. That would explain why Darkrai gives Ash a nightmare to try to inform him about Palkia: because it has no other means. That also would explain why Ash later apologizes for not understanding Darkrai sooner - in the version in which Darkrai couldn't speak, Ash would have had to figure out that it's not Darkrai's fault if its sole means of communication is kinda scary. But as the movie ended up being, actually, Ash has every right to be pissed at Darkrai. It could have just spoken!

We also wonder if the reason why they gave Darkrai the ability to speak was so that it could say "Alicia" and make it clear that it is confused between Alice and Alicia. But we don't think it was necessary for Darkrai to speak to convey that. Besides, in the end, the movie doesn't actually do anything with that concept, and there's no effect on the plot whether Darkrai thinks Alice is Alicia or vice-versa.

A movie of references

10
The big one-zero.

There's one thing that this movie did well, and, unfortunately, it's a big part of why it's so disjointed. It seems that one thing all the writers did agree on was that, since this was the big #10 movie, they wanted to include as many callbacks and homages to the previous movies as they could cram in. This goes beyond the opening sequence showing off the legendaries from the other movies. This is entire plotpoints and themes lifted and sewn together again into a new story.

  1. From the Mewtwo movie:

    Like Mewtwo, Darkrai is a scary-looking monster who seems evil and is therefore out of place with the other Pokémon. Or at least, so says Nurse Joy.

    Darkrai's most important relationship is with a little girl. Darkrai and Alicia even have a scene where they talk near a tree, with the light shown filtering through the leaves, harkening back to Mewtwo's relationship with Amber.

    Amber and Mewtwo near a tree Alicia and Darkrai near a tree
    Important scenes with little girls near trees.

    A meaningless fight between two sibling-like legendaries breaks out (color-coded blue and pink). Someone throws themselves between them and dies.

    Ash throws himself between Mew and Mewtwo's attacks Darkrai between Dialga and Palkia's attacks
    Or at least, they die for a little while.
  2. From the Lugia movie:

    Legendaries are fighting legendaries, and legendaries are trying to stop legendaries from fighting. A song stops the fight. As we wrote earlier, we think one writer intended Alice to have a role very similar to that of Melody, but that ended up not really happening.

    Melody playing the shell Alice playing the flute
    One is a sacred Festival Maiden who plays the shell ocarina during the climax, the other is a musician who plays the leaf just as set-up.
  3. From the Entei movie:

    The Entei movie is also focused on the relationship between a scary Pokémon and a little girl.

    The Darkrai movie has what appears to be the return of the Unown dimension. From our understanding of the plot of the Entei movie, the Unown dimension represents all that could be, arising from human imagination and storytelling. The Unown make Molly's dreams come true. In this movie, nightmares come true. It's apparently Palkia's fault that the nightmares manifested in reality. Does it have something to do with how Palkia has distorted space, warping Alamos Town with the Unown dimension?

    Spenser in the Unown dimension The Unown fleeing from Palkia and Dialga
    The Unown dimension
  4. From the Celebi movie:

    As we keep ranting, we think this movie was going to have time travel, but then it didn't. The fact that we are having trouble coming up with what else was referenced from the Celebi movie - while all the other movies are super easy to spot the references of - might be further evidence that this was the intention...

    But as the movie really is, the best we can come up with is that an incapacitated Legendary Pokémon gets a bath.

    Ash puts Celebi into the water Brock helps Darkrai out of the water
    Bath time!
  5. From the Latias movie:

    The church is a major plot device and is revealed to be a steampunk weapon that was made to protect the town.

    The Armageddon Machine of St. Mark The Anti-Armageddon Machine of the Sagrada Família
    Can the the Armageddon Machine of St. Mark be stopped by the Anti-Armageddon Machine of the Holy Family?
  6. From the Jirachi movie:

    Someone keeps doot dooting a song that will later be played in full glory.

    The characters of the movie are childhood friends who are currently going through some kind of relationship drama.

    Little Butler shows Diane a magic trick Little Alice hugs little Tonio
    Both relationships are kinda messed up...

    Most bafflingly, the charms salesman who sold a wishing charm to May reappears in this movie, this time selling a Lunar Wing to Dawn, promising that it will ward off bad dreams. This Lunar Wing has no relevance in this movie, but will later reappear in an episode of the anime, making this movie one of the very few Pokémon movies to be acknowledged in the ongoing anime series.

    May buys the wishing charm from the charms salesman Dawn buys a Lunar Wing from the charms salesman
    Of all the things to be canon...
  7. From the Deoxys movie:

    Both movies involve a mismatched Godzilla fight of legendaries.

  8. There's a scene where everyone should evacuate, but they can't because of a strange barrier surrounding the town.

    The barrier surrounds LaRousse The fog surrounds Alamos Town
    Which is why everyone didn't just leave during the Legendary shenanigans.

    At one point, there is not enough power, which is promptly solved by Pikachu and the other electric rodent(s) of the current generation.

    Pikachu, Plusle, and Minun Pachirisu
    Groan
  9. From the Lucario movie:

    The town is on a mountain with only one or two bridges as its connection to the rest of the world.

    Lucario's castle Alamos Town
    We said this was a creative idea for the Lucario movie, but, come on now, don't overdo it!

    A Pokémon is confused about who is who, mistaking a blond woman for her identical-looking and similarly-named ancestor.

    Aileen tells Lucario that she is not Queen Leen Darkrai says Alicia, and Alice shakes her head no
    Leen, Aileen... Alicia, Alice... anyone would have trouble.

    The story of Sir Aaron at the beginning of the Lucario movie has the framing of a woman reading the story to a little girl. These two are also given a cameo appearance in the Darkrai movie - they can be seen buying cotton candy in the background. For some reason, after this first little cameo re-appearance as part of celebrating the tenth Pokémon movie, it seems the anime team became somewhat obsessed with giving the "usual mother and daughter" as many cameos as possible, even in movies and anime episodes that take place in far-flung places or different continuities. Our only reaction to this is... why?

    The woman reads the little girl the story of Sir Aaron The woman and the little girl buy cotton candy
    Thankfully the charms salesman didn't get the same on-going attention.
  10. From the Manaphy movie:

    An important power comes from putting the right objects in the right places in a sacred temple.

    Heart Swap returns... in the form of the Baron becoming his Lickilicky.

    Team Rocket's souls in each others' bodies Baron Alberto as Lickilicky
    It was infinitely funnier when it happened to Team Rocket.

In conclusion

This is apparently a very divisive movie. Some people love it, some people hate it. And we think we understand why. Your enjoyment of this movie is probably highly related to how willing you are to see beyond what is, to what could be. Our personal preference is that is fandom is nice and great, but we prefer the canon to be satisfying in and of itself. So, as you can tell, this is not our favorite Pokémon movie. The thing that pisses us off the most is that we can see exactly what would need to be changed to make this movie actually be good, and we are not content to let it be a thought experiment.

Then again, this movie does have some elements that interest us. Visually, it's not too bad. Pokémon tend to do cute things in the background, and we appreciate that. Darkrai is animated in an interesting way: we would have never guessed before seeing this movie that it could grow legs or that it could sink its head into its neck like a turtle. Alice is also a very memorable character even if she was essentially left out of the movie's climax. And overall, even with all of this movie's flaws, it's relatively innocuous. So, our final judgement is, big shrug, live and let live.

A Beautifly flutters through Alamos Town

References and Thanks

Notes

  1. Yes, we know more reasons will be given in the next two movies, but that's not good enough either. One, because the later explanations are also unsatisfactory, and two, because the reason for the main conflict of a story is too important to be treated like an afterthought to be addressed in a sequel!
  2. We bet someone from Bulbapedia submitted the question, since Bulbapedia gets really weird about canon names.
  3. Which is interesting because the English dub of this movie is generally of shoddy quality - meanings and connotations are changed in random ways that seem more like mistakes than intentional choices of localization. So perhaps this one instance of a connotation change that we prefer is just the result of luck.
  4. Alice and Lopunny
    We're not the first to make this observation, but really, why does she look like Lopunny? Was she a Lopunny trainer in an earlier version of the script?
  5. We haven't managed to find a comparison to back that up - if you know of one, let us know.