Posted on December 11th 2022
The Arceus movie is the twelfth Pokémon movie, and also the finale of the Diamond and Pearl movie trilogy which started with Dialga vs. Palkia vs. Darkrai and continued with Giratina and the Sky's Bouquet: Shaymin. The Japanese title for this movie is Arceus: To a Conquering Spacetime. However, this title is a non-sequitur - in this movie, Arceus has nothing to do with conquering or with spacetime. The English dub renamed this movie Arceus and the Jewel of Life, because that's what the movie is actually about.
The plot is centered on events that happened thousands of years ago. The legend goes that, at the time, there was a meteor on a collision course with the Earth. Arceus saved the Earth by taking the hit, but it lost the sixteen plates of its life energy in the process. A man named Damos saw Arceus's sacrifice, and took it upon himself to search the land for Arceus's lost plates. Damos was able to help Arceus recover its plates, saving its life.
In gratitude, Arceus blessed the barren town where Damos lived with the gift of the Jewel of Life, a magical artifact which would make the land flourish. Since the Jewel of Life was made with some of Arceus's life plates, Arceus gave it to Damos with the condition that, once the land recovered, he would have to give it back. But the legend goes that Damos feared that, if he gave the Jewel back to Arceus, the land would become barren again, so he chose to keep the Jewel of Life... and kill Arceus. Arceus survived the assassination attempt, and went home to its dimension to take an angry nap to recover. It is said that, one day, Arceus will return to take its vengeance and pass judgment on humanity for their betrayal. And that day is today!
Ash and his friends meet Sheena, descendant of Damos and guardian of the quantum orrery, who tells them about this story. When Arceus returns, she will personally give back the Jewel of Life and beg for forgiveness. But when Arceus arrives, they discover that the Jewel that her bloodline has been defending for several thousands of years is a fake! Arceus perceives this as even more treachery, and brings down the fire and brimstone. Palkia, Dialga, and Giratina arrive to fight on the side of humanity, and the twerps are sent back in time to learn what really happened with Damos and to find a way to placate Arceus's wrath.
Yes, there is time travel!
Dialga, the Pokémon of Time, has been in all three of these movies, and yet, so far, there hadn't been any time travel. As we previously discussed, this especially pisses us off regarding the Darkrai movie, which seems like it has a time travel plot, but actually doesn't. But finally, in the Arceus movie, it happens. Dialga uses its time powers to send the twerps to the past. It's about time!
So, Dialga sends the twerps back to Damos's time. The plot even draws attention to the fact that the twerps need to be careful, lest they inadvertently cause a time-travel paradox. If the twerps ensure that the Jewel of Life is returned to Arceus back in Damos's time, then Arceus would not swear vengeance against humanity, which means that Dialga would never need to defend humanity, and so, would never send the twerps back in time. If the twerps don't go back in time, they will not be there to ensure that the Jewel of Life is returned to Arceus back in Damos's time, so Arceus would swear vengeance against humanity, and Dialga would appear to defend humanity, and send the twerps back in time... and now the twerps are stuck in an alternating timeloop paradox where the world keeps getting saved and unsaved, and time no longer progresses forward.
The only way the twerps can fix the problem is, actually, in the present. The purpose of their trip back in time is to gather information about what happened, while not doing anything that would break the timeline.
At first, Dialga sends the twerps back to the moment of the betrayal. They see Damos refusing to give the Jewel of Life back to Arceus, and ordering Pokémon to attack. The whole town is destroyed, Damos is killed along with several others, and the twerps realize they need to go further back in time to really understand what happened, and Dialga very nicely obliges. Thanks, Dialga.
Further back in the past, the twerps find Damos in jail. The twerps learn that Damos's advisor Marcus is against giving the Jewel of Life to Arceus, and had Damos imprisoned because he insists the Jewel must be returned. So, the betrayal that went down in history was actually orchestrated by Marcus, who used his psychic Pokémon to hypnotize Damos to be an unwilling participant in this plot.
Meanwhile, Sheena, who got separated from the rest of the twerps, and hasn't gotten the plot update that Damos is innocent, rushes to Marcus and warns him that they must stop Damos's betrayal, because the whole town will be destroyed and both Damos and Marcus will die, and humanity will be doomed thousands of years in the future. Marcus is very interested to know how exactly does the betrayal play out, and what exactly went wrong? Marcus is using Sheena's time-traveling testimony to improve his nefarious plans. For example, his original plan involved dropping a chandelier on Arceus's head, but Sheena reports that the chandelier just made Arceus angry and did absolutely nothing. Marcus takes note and discreetly crosses out "drop chandelier on head" from his agenda.
Sheena's presence means that Marcus's original plan of using Damos to betray Arceus won't work, so instead, he simply manipulates Sheena into inadvertently taking Damos's role in this foul play. He gives her the staff that contains the Jewel of Life and tells her to return it to Arceus, but, while she isn't looking, Marcus removes the Jewel of Life, leaving her with an empty staff.
When Arceus appears, it is surprised to meet someone other than Damos. Sheena explains that Damos is a traitor, and she will be returning the Jewel of Life in his stead. But when she presents Arceus with the staff, it's empty, and we're back to the wrath of God part.
Marcus unleashes his new and improved betrayal plan, which now includes dumping what appears to be liquid mercury all over Arceus, filling the whole building with the stuff. Marcus explains that he wanted to save the town, since it needs the Jewel of Life to survive. But now he knows that he can save the future too, by killing Arceus and ensuring that it never returns to torment humanity again.
Wow, Marcus sure is time travel genre-savvy. However, his plan still has a flaw. Although Marcus recognizes that if Arceus dies, the twerps will have no reason to go back in time, and therefore will disappear from this timeline, he seems to think he will keep the knowledge that Sheena brought from the future, and Arceus will be permanently dead. He doesn't see that this probably also leads to an alternating timeloop paradox...
The rest of the twerps and Damos reach the scene, they fight with Marcus, and Damos tries to use his special magical telepathy powers to apologize to Arceus for all this drama; all the shit goes down, and Ash arrives to the mercury pit with the real Jewel of Life, but Ash is fading from the timeline, and Arceus is there on the brink of death, drowning in liquid mercury...
And here is where the movie completely fucked up the whole time travel plot. Damos manages to apologize to Arceus. Arceus is no longer in a rage and accepts the returned Jewel of Life. Back to its full power, Arceus rebuilds the town, clears away the mercury, gives everyone a blessing, and the twerps can return to their own time in the present.
Happy end? No! They changed the past! They fell directly into the alternating timeloop paradox that Marcus was talking about a few minutes ago! It has been already established that the problem cannot be solved in the past! It must be solved in the present with information gained in the past!
On top of suddenly forgetting how the time travel plot works in the middle of the time travel plot, when the twerps return to the present, Arceus appears to still be in a state of rage and fighting against the other legendaries, which are all on the brink of defeat. We have a moment of, oh no, was this all in vain?
Then, Arceus sees Ash, and the changed past ... like, catches up with the present??? The new timeline arrives in the form of a sweeping wave across the land??? And as the wave crosses, the ruins are repaired, and other timeline alterations occur, and even the Team Rocket trio, who had found the real Jewel of Life in the present, watches it vanish from Jessie's hands.
And Arceus is like, oh hi Ash! Good to see you again.
...What? How does the new past catch up??? That doesn't make any sense, even by the standards of a brain-twisty time travel movie.
The part that bothers us the most is that the writers clearly knew how to tackle a time travel plot for most of the movie, and even drew attention to the concept of a time paradox, and then threw that all away in the last few minutes, mostly for the sake of extending some cheap drama. We just had plenty of climax. We didn't need the ending after the ending where Arceus needs to recognize Ash before the timeline can be resolved. It serves no point narratively or logically.
We can think of at least two ways the ending could have gone instead. Off the tops of our heads, we propose a passable ending option and a badass ending option.
The passable ending option
First, the passable option: Ash and friends just return to the present time to the altered timeline. Everything is happy, and Arceus says, good job. Nevermind the whole time wave thing. This still doesn't address the time paradoxes, so we are aware that this wouldn't be the ultimate solution, but at least it would make sense on a surface level. And, to be fair, lots of time travel movies end up having some unaddressed fridge-logic paradoxes, and, if the movie had this ending, it would be far from the worst offender.
The badass ending option
Now, the badass option: in the past, Ash fails. They all fail. Ash is down in the mercury pit with the real Jewel of Life, and because Dialga is being defeated in the present time, it needs to use the last of its strength to retrieve them from the past. Ash is starting to disappear. Pikachu has already vanished. Arceus manages to escape from the mercury and returns to its own dimension to recover its strength. All hope is lost. But in the last moments in this timeline, Ash picks up the empty staff (that Sheena had dropped down into the pit earlier), and he realizes what he must do!
During the course of the movie, even as it stands right now, the scene sometimes changes to show us what is happening in the present time. One of the plotlines follows Team Rocket as they explore the ruins, contrasting with how the twerps see the same places in the past. Along the way, Team Rocket finds the ancient staff, and at one point, they open it, so the audience knows that, in the present, the Jewel of Life is inside the staff.
So, in the past, we see Ash with the Jewel of Life, and the empty staff, and we can have the epiphany that it must have been Ash to have put the Jewel there, and we watch him do it in his last moments in the timeline, and then he fades away.
The problem was not solved in the past, so, in the present, we see that Arceus is still in a rage, and the other legendary Pokémon are on the verge of defeat. But Ash sees Team Rocket holding the ancient staff, and he knows that the Jewel of Life is inside it. And Ash calls out to them to open the staff and give the Jewel of Life back to Arceus.
And Jessie can be there holding the Jewel of Life and seeing how beautiful and wondrous it is. Team Rocket had been discussing earlier in the movie about what they would do if they were to find such a jewel, and how they could get so much money for it...
And then, selflessly, Team Rocket holds up the Jewel of Life to Arceus and offers it back. Arceus had lost all faith in humanity, and yet now, some of the lowest, the criminals, Team Rocket of all people, are able to repair the broken promise. Team Rocket, despite their greed and despite their own desires, are able to redeem humanity!
Damn, if this is actually how it went, this would have become one of our all-time favorite movies, not even just Pokémon movies, and we'd have to tell everyone that the Arceus movie is actually one of the best movies ever made, believe us, it will blow your mind... but, alas, that's not how it goes. We think that the writers were too afraid to show Ash losing for even a split second, and too enthused with adding random drama, that they made this whole beautiful plot that they set up so diligently go to waste.
We want to give special credit to this movie for its interpretation of Arceus's design. Until this movie, all we had of Arceus was the leaked sprites and the official Sugimori artwork, and neither of them really showcase what's interesting about Arceus. Instead, this movie did a great job with making Arceus look good, and to pose it in ways that highlight the features of its design. In the movie, we can see that the golden antlers in the middle of the body look like the religious symbols of the wheel of rebirth and also a stylized halo when Arceus is seen frontally. The movie plays with this visual a lot, but the official art and the sprites don't show this aspect of Arceus at all. And generally, Arceus's design for the movie has been tweaked and streamlined in ways that we think improve on it.
Then, the plates. In the games, there are 16 different plates that can be found throughout Sinnoh, which are primarily meant to be Held Items for Arceus. Arceus's type changes depending on which plate is equipped. In the Generation IV games, Arceus changes color based on the equipped plate, but the plate itself is not seen in battle. The plates do get icons in the bag menu, where they appear as simple rectangular tiles of a solid color matching their type.
Instead, this movie reimagined this mechanic as Arceus generally possessing all 16 of the plates, and the plates orbit around it like a halo. The plates were redesigned to all look the same, and to appear more like iridescent glass wedges pointing towards Arceus. We think this was a great idea, and really makes both Arceus and the plates look more mystical and majestic.
Sheena! ...and Kevin
We mentioned before that Ash and friends met Sheena, guardian of the quantum orrery and caretaker of the ruins, descendant of Damos, and inheritor of his special magical power to connect with the hearts of Pokémon...
...and her boyfriend, Kevin. He's just a guy. He says hi.
Realistically, we get it, Sheena's boyfriend doesn't need to be equally overpowered to be able to date her. It's just funny to have this duo of a mystical psychic priestess and ...Kevin.
He's so irrelevant to the plot, that when Dialga sends our heroes back in time to save the day, he's not even included as one of the heroes. He's just left back in the present to watch the legendaries fight in helpless horror. He doesn't even move from his designated place of distress.
But there's another time-travel paradox that we haven't discussed. Sheena is a descendant of Damos, but there is no evidence that Damos had any children. When the twerps go back in time, they find him in prison, all alone, with the spiky-eared Pichu as his sole ally. In the original timeline, Damos died immediately after. So, if he had any descendants, they would have needed to have been conceived before this moment. It is possible that Damos had offscreen children, but given the events of the movie, why wouldn't his children exist in the narrative? Or maybe he has unknown children as a result of, well, sowing his seed... but then Sheena wouldn't be able to trace her lineage, and also this is not something generally included as a plotpoint in a children's movie.
We think that what happened is that the writers invented Damos and Sheena separately, but didn't consider how Sheena being a descendant of Damos would be possible in this time-travel story.
Even though Marcus's involvement in the betrayal is supposed to be a surprise, we need only need to see his design to know that he's a villain. Look at him, with the red toga, and the bandages on the skinny arms, and the sharp red hair, and the ominous crown, and just... his design just screams evil traitor villain. We love it.
But is he as much of a villain as his design wants us to believe? Marcus was afraid that giving the Jewel of Life back to Arceus would doom the town to starvation. It was a barren wasteland before they had the Jewel, and won't it become a barren wasteland again when they give the Jewel back? And if so, what are they going to eat? He doesn't want to watch his family and friends starve for the sake of some god's sick joke.
And it turns out, he was right! In the final conclusion of the movie, Arceus explains that yes, giving back the Jewel of Life would have meant that the town would no longer have the blessing to make the harvests be so plentiful. But, in the altered timeline, all the people cooperated with the Pokémon to make the land fertile without divine intervention. Presumably they developed irrigation and the calendar and all of that good early-game stuff from Civilization.
So, in the original timeline, had the Jewel of Life been given back, the land would have returned to a barren wasteland, and the people would not have forged a friendship with the Pokémon, so... Marcus was right! They all would have been doomed because a fickle god decided time's up!
Arceus did nothing to explain what will happen without the Jewel of Life. Arceus could have worked with Damos to ensure that the people have some sort of contingency plan for when the Jewel needs to be returned. But no, Arceus just left them to their anxiety about the future, and did nothing to mitigate that.
And even though Arceus acknowledges that Marcus would have been right, the narrative treats Marcus as an absolute villain, rather than a sympathetic antagonist. Yes, the twerps need to stop him, but instead of talking with him, they just attack him, both with their Pokémon, and personally! Such uncalled-for violence!
And then, as the mercury causes the building to collapse, he falls down a hole and dies. We even get the shot of his crown left on the edge of where he fell - the cinematic equivalent of flashing HE DIED on the screen.
This is framed as the triumph of good over evil... but it's actually the tragic death of someone who had legitimate concerns, who felt the need to take drastic measures to prevent mass starvation and a future apocalypse, and who was treated as a villain not even worth talking to. We're not happy to see him die! The framing of his death comes across as mean-spirited and cruel.
But then, Marcus is shown alive and well in the epilogue, working in the fields besides Damos. How did he live? He fell a thousand miles into liquid mercury! We know he's dead, they did the hat shot! This is just the same as what happened with Darkrai. First there was the whole death scene, and then, in the ending, somehow they're alive, with no explanation for how are they not dead. Like, it's not a major leap to extrapolate that Arceus saved Marcus as he was falling, but obscuring that information so that the audience will have a reaction to his apparent death and then later revealing that no one really died... Why does this keep happening in Pokémon movies? Probably, once again, for the sake of more cheap drama.
Since we're here talking about Marcus, let us mention his Pokémon.
Marcus's primary Pokémon is Bronzong. It floats ominously beside him for most of the movie, and Marcus made use of its psychic powers to hypnotize Damos in the original timeline. Bronzong is based on an ancient tarnished bell, so, when the twerps travel thousands of years into the past, wouldn't Bronzong have been a modern, freshly-gleaming bell? This isn't actually addressed, but we think that's why anime team decided to give Marcus this particular Pokémon, as a small teehee.
And Marcus's second Pokémon is Heatran. Yes, one of the Legendary Pokémon of Sinnoh is Marcus's second Pokémon. Marcus uses Heatran as essentially a pack-mule, and we can sometimes see it crawling around on the walls in the background of other scenes, and that's it. We think the anime team gave Marcus this Pokémon to wedge in one more legendary in this trilogy's eleventh hour - even with three movies worth of screentime, they still didn't manage to show every single legendary from Sinnoh, and all that was left for Heatran was this irrelevant cameo. And as for everyone else who didn't make the cut - sorry, see if you can get an arc in the anime instead, bye! ✽
When the twerps go back in time, they find themselves in a time before Pokéballs, before Apricorn balls, before even Pockets. So, the titular monsters are not called Pokémon or even Pocket Monsters, but "Magical Creatures". They are not kept in balls, but in cages and harnesses, in outright slavery. When Pikachu and Piplup end up in ancient times, they're immediately separated from the group and thrown in the slave cell with all of the other slaves. Later, they manage to escape, and make it to the kitchens, where they see how the human slavedrivers force the Pokémon to prepare the food. In particular, there's a Chikorita that must use its razor leaf to chop the daikon...
Pikachu, Piplup, and the spiky-eared Pichu help to free the enslaved Pokémon, break their harnesses, and organize a rebellion. The freed Pokémon strike back against their oppressors.
Even with the Pokémon that appear to be closer to humans, there is actually no bond of friendship. For example, Marcus's Heatran has the harness on, and when Pikachu frees it, it no longer listens to Marcus.
The only exception is the spiky-eared Pichu, who appears to genuinely like Damos. Right, the spiky-eared Pichu, one of the most baffling event Pokémon ever… In Heart Gold/Soul Silver, there first was an event where you could get a special Pokémon from going to a GameStop. The special Pokémon was the so-called "Pikachu-colored Pichu". Did you know that Pichu is normally not exactly the same color as Pikachu, but rather a slightly lighter shade of yellow? Neither did we. Anyway, once you have the Pikachu-colored Pichu in your party, you can then unlock a second special Pichu, the spiky-eared Pichu, by finding it near the Ilex Forest shrine, and then Professor Elm will tell you that the spiky-eared Pichu traveled through time with Celebi, and you can't trade it or evolve it. The Pikachu-colored Pichu instead can be evolved (into a Pikachu-colored Pikachu - brilliant). You could also potentially trade it to your friends so that they could unlock the spiky-eared Pichu too - it's a whole Pichu-based economy. So, yeah, you can unlock an event Pichu to unlock another event Pichu that unlocks perplexion and disbelief. And maybe one sentence of Celebi lore, but not Celebi itself.
It sounds like we're making up bullshit, but this is really how it was. We'll talk about it more in the next movie review, but the Heart Gold/Soul Silver era was really rife with the strangest events you could think of. So if you were wondering what was up with the design of the Pichu in this movie, that's unfortunately what's up. It's promoting this incredibly weird movie tie-in event.
Anyway, going back to discussing the movie itself... When the Jewel of Life is returned to Arceus, Arceus is able to free all of the enslaved Pokémon. Because Ash and Damos make a point to tell Arceus that everyone cooperated to help, Arceus specifically blesses the Pokémon as well, which we suppose is the beginning of the era of free Pokémon, which is how everyone was able to work together to cultivate the fields without the help of the Jewel of Life.
Still, something strange must have happened between this time and the present. They went from "Magical Creatures" and slaves to being best friends and battle companions. They are also now named... the creatures that go in the pocket... so... it's like... if at some point we started calling all animals "meat". And that's the name made in times of friendship...
Speaking of magical creatures, at the beginning of the movie, Sheena mentions that, long ago, the town was saved by a human with an electric magical creature. Since this is a time travel movie, by the end of the story, we know that the legend is about what Ash and Pikachu do when they are sent back in time. But that doesn't match the time travel model from the rest of the movie. For the most part, this movie follows the idea that the effects of the time travel event are apparent only after the twerps return to the present (and witness the time wave). Nothing from the altered timeline can be present in the original timeline. So where does the legend come from, and who could it be about? The only other human accompanied by an electric Pokémon was Damos with the spiky-eared Pichu, but Damos went down through history as a traitor, so there couldn't be a legend obliquely referring to Damos as a hero. This plot detail doesn't make any sense, and it's so unimportant anyway that even this mistake doesn't matter a whole lot.
For this movie, the anime team got to go to Greece for their inspirational trip. We can definitely see that Meteora must have left an impression.
As the credits are scrolling, the audience is treated to what appears to be ancient artworks of humans working alongside Pokémon to restore and cultivate the land. These artworks are really beautiful and charming and... heavily reference the ending credits of Pixar's WALL-E, with Baltoy in the place of EVE.
Denise also kept debating with herself if the Arceus movie took inspiration from Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal or if she's just seeing too much because she's too much of a fan. We'll leave it for you to decide. (Open comparison...)
The Diamond and Pearl movie trilogy, allegedly
As we mentioned in the beginning, this movie is the final movie of the Diamond and Pearl trilogy. Now that we've watched all three, we can discuss the trilogy as a whole. And we want to say, as a whole, the trilogy is not a trilogy at all. The plots are not actually intertwined. It's just three movies that feature the same set of twerps, and happen to have some recurring laser-shooting dinosaurs. The only way the movies are connected at all is because, in the second two movies, there are characters that claim to have seen the events of the previous movie(s) through wormholes in the fourth wall. However, the fact that they saw this doesn't impact them in the current movie, and serves only as a useless recap moment of events from the previous movies that are in no way relevant in the current movie. The big reveal in the Arceus movie is that the events of the first two movies happened because Arceus's awakening was causing disturbances in the neighboring dimensions, but this doesn't actually matter. As we said in the review of the Darkrai movie, Dialga and Palkia fought because they met, and the belated explanation that they met because Arceus was yawning doesn't add any meaning to the previous or current stories.
The only thing that the Arceus movie added to our understanding of the previous movies is that we had a passing wonder about what happened to Zero after the end of the Shaymin movie: did the police open the hatch just to rescue Zero, or were they going to arrest him? In the credits of the Arceus movie, we see that Zero did go to jail, and Newton is visiting him in jail, so, maybe they patch up their relationship after all the thesis drama. But yeah, this callback hardly makes these movies a trilogy.
We think that these movies were branded as a trilogy as some sort of marketing stunt because at the time, marketers thought people particularly liked trilogies. After all, Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings was a trilogy and it did well and people loved it. What they loved about it was the fact that it was three movies, right? If you make three movies to be a trilogy, it is sure to be a success, because the Lord of the Rings was a trilogy and it was a success. That was the magic formula for a successful movie: make three of them. Yep. (We also saw how well that went with The Hobbit).
Out of the supposed Diamond and Pearl movie trilogy, we liked the Arceus movie best. It's good that it focuses on one storyline and one Pokémon, rather than spreading itself thin with three mismatched legendaries and love triangle subplots. Compared to the other two, the Arceus movie has a proper plot, and a pretty ambitious one at that, with time travel of all things. Our main criticism is that, although this movie has ambition, it also kinda chickened out in several points for the sake of cheap drama. But if we don't think too much about our badass alternate ending, we can enjoy the movie for what it is.
- Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies presents Temporal Theory 101, a website that discusses theories of time travel as it appears in many different movies.
- Serebii.net - Pokémon Heart Gold & Soul Silver - Pichu Event, with details and screenshots of the spiky-eared Pichu event.
- Cresselia, Phione, and the Lake Guardians will need to talk to the agent, along with Suicune, the Pichu Brothers, and Regigigas.