Welcome back to Pokemon Movies in Review, a weekly recap of the entire Pokemon cinematic universe. This week we’re revisiting The Power of Us, the second movie in the rebooted canon and the first movie that wasn’t directed by Kunihiko Yuyama. This is the only Pokemon movie with a ‘Fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it’s easy to see why. The Power of Us breaks the Pokemon movie mold by introducing an ensemble cast and juggling five compelling storylines with exceptional pacing and satisfying payoffs. Though the film’s story of people and Pokemon learning to work together has been told plenty of times before, this is almost certainly the best execution of the theme we’ve ever seen. The Power of Us is a quintessential Pokemon movie and without a doubt the best written in the series to date.
Sometime after meeting Ho-Oh in I Choose You, alternate-universe Ash and Pikachu find themselves in Fula City during the annual Wind Festival – a celebration of the city’s origin myth. Though it was once a desolate wasteland, the Legendary Pokemon blessed Fula City with strong winds after witnessing the strong connection between people and Pokemon. The city harnessed the wind to produce energy and grew into a bustling metropolis. Now they celebrate every year by calling Lugia to the city using a relic called the Eternal Flame.
Related: Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You Neutered Ash's Origin Story
During the first day of the festival, Ash meets five residents of Fula City who are all struggling with different mental blocks. Risa is a champion long-distance runner, but after suffering a leg injury she doesn’t think she can ever run again. Callahan is an older man that has a habit of telling lies to impress people, in particular his niece, who believes he’s a master Pokemon trainer. Toren is a brilliant scientist whose work is suffering due to a lack of confidence. Harriet is an elderly woman that lost her partner Pokemon in a tragic accident many years ago and incidentally lost her ability to love Pokemon. Finally, the mayor’s daughter Margo is a little girl with a big secret: the most wanted Pokemon in the city is her best friend.
Many years ago, the people of Fula City became obsessed with capturing the Mythical Pokemon Zeraora that lived in the nearby forest. They tore down the trees and burned the brush to try to flush Zeraora out, but they eventually lost control and caused a massive forest fire. Zeraora saved as many Pokemon as it could, but the people from Fula City ran away and did nothing to help. This caused Zeraora to hate all humans, so to protect it, the mayor told the city that Zeraora died in the fire and left behind a curse that forbid the people from ever going in the forest again. The lie persisted for 50 years until the new mayor’s daughter discovered Zeraora when it saved her from being crushed by a rock. Zeraora was injured in the process, so Margo decided to secretly nurse it back to health without telling anyone that Zeraora was still alive.
The Power of Us explores each of these five characters’ dilemmas as their choices lead their stories to intersect and unknowingly cause devastating consequences for Fula City. Toren helps Callahan win a Pokemon catching contest in exchange for Callahan presenting his research for him at a seminar, but during his winner’s interview, Callahan lies and says there’s a rare Pokemon in the woods so that people will think he’s a Pokemon expert. Margo is worried that people will start searching the forest for the Pokemon and find Zeraora, so she steals the Eternal Flame in order to shut down the festival, simultaneously preventing Lugia from being summoned.
Meanwhile at the Seminar, Callahan fails to show up on time after Risa catches him in a lie, so Toren is forced to give the presentation himself. Harriet, who has been accidentally doused with a sample of Sweet Scent and is now being followed around everywhere by Pokemon, waits backstage for a cure while Toren does his terrible presentation. She finds Team Rocket there and attempts to scare them off, but they manage to steal a sample of Toren’s experimental Effect Spore sample. Ash and Pikachu give chase but Team Rocket manages to escape, though they lose the Effect Spore in the process. The sample breaks, causing explosions that set the forest on fire once again.
Now it’s up to the five people that started the fire (and Ash) and stop it, but they can’t do that until they overcome their trauma and mental blocks with the power that comes from people working together with Pokemon – the power of us. Ash tells everyone on several occasions throughout the film that you can do anything with a Pokemon by your side, and one by one each character discovers what that means for themselves.
Toren heads back to his lab to invent an antidote for Effect Spore, which is poisoning the forest Pokemon, but lacks the confidence to make it until his partner Chancy helps him look in the right direction. Harriet, who spent the whole movie trying to run away from Pokemon, works together with them to restart the generator at the power station where her Snubull died so that they can use a giant fan to disperse the antidote across the jungle. Callahan finally becomes a true Pokemon trainer when he catches a Sudowoodo – a Pokemon who pretends to be something its not – and works with it to deliver that antidote into the fan system. Risa is the only one fast enough to take the Eternal Flame back to the tower where it belongs but she doesn’t believe she can run again until she’s encouraged by her Eevee who also has a leg injury. Its perseverance convinces Risi to try, and she manages to reach the tower and summon Lugia so that it can call the rain to put out the fire. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Zeraora sees Ash’s willingness to sacrifice himself to save Pokemon and finally forgives Fula City. While Risa, Harriet, Toren, and Callahan learned to trust Pokemon, Zeraora learned how to trust people. After saving the forest and curing the Effect Spore, the mayor revokes the lie of the Zeraora Curse and declares that the people will from now on live side by side with Zeraora.
The Power of Us is the story of a city righting its wrongs and resolving its shameful past. The Zeraora Curse may have been made up by the former mayor, but it turned out to be true. Lugia blessed Fula City because it saw the strong bond between people and Pokemon. As the five protagonists demonstrate, that bond was broken after the original fire. The second fire, then, was fatalistic: a test for the people and Pokemon of Fula City to prove they were still worthy of Lugia’s favor. By working together to save the forest and the Pokemon that lived there, Fula City was finally able to heal.
Normally I end this column with my stray thoughts, but I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge how well-crafted The Power of Us is. The summary format of these reviews may have made it seem straightforward and perhaps even a bit on the nose, but this is a far more complex film than any Pokemon movie before. It introduces a dozen new characters that are more developed than any of Ash’s previous companions and manages to overlap and intersect all of their individual storylines in clever and efficient ways. It may explore well-worn themes in the Pokemon universe, but it takes a narrative approach we’ve never seen before and it handles it beautifully. If I had to recommend one Pokemon movie for a non-fan to watch, it would be this one.
Next week we take a momentary detour away from the animated series to re-review of Detective Pikachu. After that is the remake Mewtwo Strikes Back—Evolution, then onto our final film – for now – Secrets of the Jungle.
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