Welcome back to Pokemon Movies in Review, a weekly recap of the entire Pokemon cinematic universe. This week we’re revisiting Kyurem vs. The Sword of Justice, the second film in the Black & White era and the introduction of the Legendary musketeers Virizion, Terrakion, Cobalion, and Keldeo.
While Sword of Justice is certainly a step up in quality from Reshiram and Zekrom, it still lacks the thematic complexity and dramatic tension that made the first 13 Pokemon movies so great. It also bastardizes Black & White’s lore significantly, which many fans consider to be Gen 5’s greatest strength. Sword of Justice has a short, simple story, with a thin message about never giving up your dreams. On the surface it may seem like the most forgettable Pokemon movie, but surprisingly, Keldeo’s journey here parallels Spider-Man’s arc in the MCU – Sword of Justice and Spider-Man: Homecoming even share the same fatal flaw.
When we first meet Keldeo, it is training to become a member of the Sword of Justice. Unlike the Legendary musketeers in the games, the Sword of Justice is a group of heroes that travel the world protecting both Pokemon and people. Though it isn’t yet an official member, Keldeo is eager to prove itself by challenging Kyurem to a fight. The heroes, (Virizion, Terrakion, and Cobalion), are certain that Keldeo will lose since Kyurem is known to be the strongest Dragon-type Pokemon in the world, and urge Keldeo to continue its training until they decide it’s ready. Of course, Keldeo ignores its mentors and ventures to the creepy abandoned mine where Kyurem lives. Keldeo then receives the ultimate lesson in “Fuck around, find out” as Kyurem beats him half to death and breaks off his horn. The Sword of Justice tries to intervene, but Kyurem freezes the trio in a block of ice. Keldeo escapes the mine and – you guessed it – runs into Ash and his friends, with Kyurem hot on its trail.
The MCU Spider-Man parallels are already piling up in just the first five minutes of the movie. Like Peter, Keldeo knows it’s destined to become an Avenger/Sword of Justice one day. Though it’s young and inexperienced, it has unbelievable power, exceeding even the rest of the musketeers, as we later discover. But that power gives Keldeo an inflated ego and a dangerous amount of confidence. Despite being told it isn’t ready, Keldeo takes on Kyurem just like Spidey took on Vulture, and both heroes-in-training got their asses summarily kicked.
Determined to make Keldeo finish what it started, the dragon pursues Keldeo to Roshan City, which seems to be completely abandoned for some inexplicable reason. The only character we meet there is Nurse Joy, who heals Keldeo and tells Ash about Kyurem and the Sword of Justice. When Kyurem arrives and starts attacking the city, Ash and Keldeo head for the mine to rescue the musketeers while Cilan and Iris split off to try to distract it. Undeterred, Kyurem follows Keldeo back to the mine and forces it into a rematch. Summoning all of its strength, Keldeo transforms into its Resolute Form and learns its signature move Secret Sword, which transforms its horn into a giant beam of light. With Resolute Form, Keldeo is able to defeat Kyurem, earning the dragon’s respect and securing its rightful place among the Sword of Justice.
Keldeo tries to run away from the mess it created, but in the end it realized that responsibilities can’t be avoided. It found the strength it needed from within and it finished what it started. It’s a thin message, even by Pokemon movie standards, and it fails to teach us the lesson Keldeo should have learned.
By ignoring the Sword of Justice’s warning, just as Peter ignored Tony’s, Keldeo put everyone in danger. Keldeo was disrespectful to its mentors and went against their wishes, but in the end it was rewarded for it. There were no consequences for challenging Kyurem when it was explicitly told not to by every member of the Sword of Justice. By giving Keldeo Resolute Form so it can defeat Kyurem and become a Sword of Justice, the movie tells us “Don’t listen to anyone, just do whatever you want. Other people will suffer, but as long as you get what you want, it doesn’t matter.”
Spider-Man: Homecoming has the exact same problem. Peter is told repeatedly by Tony Stark not to take on the Vulture, but he does it anyway. When Peter fails to capture Vulture on the Staten Island Ferry, resulting in Iron Man needing to come save the passengers, Stark once again reprimands Peter for disobeying him and takes away his suit. Like Keldeo, Peter disregards his mentor and pursues Toomes once again. After getting crushed in a collapsing warehouse and crashing a plane onto a beach, Peter does defeat Vulture by himself – and is subsequently rewarded by Stark with an invitation to join the Avengers. Unlike Keldeo, however, Peter turns down the invitation to join the team, realizing he’s not yet ready for the responsibility – as Stark told him the entire time. Still, both Keldeo and Peter were ultimately rewarded for their hubris. I can appreciate an anti-authority message, but neither of these stories are about underdogs stepping up to The Man. Iron Man and the Sword of Justice ended up being wrong, so you don’t have to listen to your parents either, I guess?
I have a few more stray thoughts:
- The obligatory Team Rocket appearance is the most obligatory ever here because they don’t even speak once in the movie. I swear there must be some law about including them no matter what.
- I thought I had been pronouncing all of the musketeers wrong my entire life, but I’m positive all of their names are mispronounced in this movie. Cobalion is cobalt and should be pronounced co-ball-ion, but in the movie it's co-bail-ion. Similarly, Virizion should sound like viridian, but here they say vir-eye-zion.
- This movie has a fascinating obsession with modes of transportation. It begins on a train, then a subway, then Iris takes a zeppelin while Ash rides a gondola. It doesn’t seem to mean anything, but it's an interesting motif.
- It's the shortest Pokemon movie with the thinnest plot, but the action is non-stop and the animation style has taken a huge step up in quality. I don’t love the story, but I enjoyed the spectacle.
- The movie ignores everything we know about Kyurem and the Sword of Justice from Black & White. Here Kyurem can transform without absorbing Zekrom and Reshiram. Also, Resolute Form makes Keldeo as powerful as Kyurem, but in Black & White it's just an alternate form. Kyurem also doesn’t have anything to do with the Sword of Justice in the games, and they’re not even called the Sword of Justice.
The Black & White generation continues next week with Genesect and the Legend Awakened, which features the long-awaited return of Mewtwo.
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