Why I Think Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution Sucks
Pokémon And The Understanding Of French DVDs
When I was young, my mother bought my siblings and me a triple pack of Pokémon DVDs. We were incredibly obsessed with the franchise. So much so, it quickly became an integral part of our childhood, as it was for many others. My brother, being the eldest, would play the classic titles on GameBoy first. Then, once he was done, he would pass down his Pokémon wisdom to my younger sister and me. Suffice to say, we were ecstatic that we had Pokémon DVDs! Unfortunately, there was a catch. You see, all three of the DVDs were in French. This wouldn’t have been an issue if there had been English subtitles. Alas, there wasn’t.
Surprisingly, I have fond memories of our French copies. To this day, I have never watched them in English and have no intention of doing so. I distinctly remember enjoying the incomprehensible French Pokémon movies, more so over the extremely popular Pokémon: The First Movie. For reference, I watched that one in English. So, when I heard that a remake of the first Pokémon movie was coming out, I reacted as one would to Nintendo re-releasing yet another of their titles.
My Original Review
When it released back in July of 2019, I was working on a film blog. I decided to write a review for it as it seemed to have a significant amount of hype surrounding it. It is directed by Pokémon series veteran Kunihiko Yuyama, who even directed the original film back in 1998. It is quintessentially the same film as the original, with only minor script details and the visuals being altered. Of course, the main selling point of this new remake was its transition to 3D in visuals. Kunihiko Yuyama claimed that they had always planned to use 3D animation for a Pokémon movie, and by using 3D visuals, they “could portray maybe an extra level or different dimension [for] the Pokémon world”.
After watching the film, I gave it a scathing review. I have, unlike this movie, improved and altered much of it for this article. It has been a long time since the film’s release. However, I can still confidently say that I, without a shadow of a doubt, still prefer those French movies over the dull, elongated piece of utter rubbish that is Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution.
Plot, Pacing And Patience
I think my biggest grievance with Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is its plot. Or, to put it bluntly, the lack thereof. Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution has an unfortunate tendency to rush through important events, character development and necessary exposition. However, unlike the brilliant Dragon Quest: Your Story, it doesn’t hurry through its plot at breakneck speeds because it has a lot to say and very little time to say it. Instead, it is quite the opposite. Each event often feels as if they’ve come and gone so quickly because there’s so little substance in each one.
For example, in the beginning, we witness the cloning of Mewtwo. Mewtwo is angered that he is nothing but an experiment to these doctors and rebels as a result. After eradicating the scientists, Giovanni approaches him and convinces Mewtwo to join forces. However, upon realising that Giovanni is using him for nefarious means, he breaks free and escapes. Unfortunately, these two introductions essentially establish the same character traits and backstory of Mewtwo. Either opening would have worked individually. But as both illustrate the same exposition, it feels like a complete waste of time.
Following these events, we are introduced to Ash. Within minutes Ash is challenged to a Pokémon battle with another trainer and comes out triumphant. Almost immediately afterwards, he’s invited to Mewtwo’s castle to take part in a competition. While we’re given two identical sequences to introduce the villain, Ash is barely given screen time or character development. In Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution‘s defence, context is everything. The original film came out during the first run of the original Pokémon series. Fans of the film would have already seen the series. As such, they would already know about Ash and his adventures. However, I’d argue that this is not a suitable excuse for including no character development for your central character.
The first-ever Pokémon game released back in 1996, and the anime in ’97. The film only released two years after the inception of Pokémon into gaming and anime culture. I find that basing a film’s character development on the presumption that everyone viewing it is already established with its central protagonist is a little brazen. Even if you could argue that everyone watching the original film and, by extension, its remake was familiar enough with Ash Ketchum’s character, I’d still argue it is lazy screenwriting to offer barely any development of his character depth and growth.
“It’s impenetrable for an uninitiated audience member.”
Frustratingly, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution had the opportunity to grow Ash and his friends’ character quite significantly. It is, after all, a remake. In its defence, by the time this film released, Pokémon was already a well-established franchise, with the series having run for the past 22 years. Still, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution’s lack of innovation upon the original is highly detrimental to the overall narrative.
It is a shame, too, as smaller, more character-centric moments would have helped alleviate the film’s dark and contemplative tone. It could have also helped endear the audience towards its central cast, who do little more than scream and shout. Alas, aside from a very brief moment during the beginning of this film, there is no time to get to know our central cast and bond with them. Everything is in service of a greater plot. Unfortunately, it adheres so strictly to the anime it is based on that it’s impenetrable for an uninitiated audience member.
Elongated Animations, I Choose You!
Ironically, despite its breakneck pacing, scenes in Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution are excruciatingly prolonged. Each event is dragged out with meaningless exposition, philosophical babbling, or excruciatingly annoying screaming. Characters will ask inconsequential questions we’re already privy to the answers for or will act uncharacteristically and illogically brashly just so the droning dialogue appears more exciting. It also suffers from a facet of animation that I have always despised.
Not too long ago, there was an era of shows where characters would perform the same actions or animations each episode. Creators did it in an attempt to save money and extend the length of the episode. It falls under the same vein of animated shows that used still images and simply animated mouth movements to simulate actions and save on costs. Shows such as Power Rangers, Huntik: Secrets & Seekers and Pokémon would consistently contain the same animations or actions of characters getting ready, or summoning a creature. This film suffers from the same issue. It is infuriating as it drags the 1hr and 37 minutes into what feels like an eternity.
Writing And The Failings Of Philosophy
In my original review, I made a point of jotting down some of the most egregious lines in the film. I was very blunt about my disdain for the film’s writing, and for the most part, I stand by that. Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is riddled with low-quality writing, but I’m not entirely sure I should have been surprised. Pokémon isn’t a well-written show. According to IMDB, there are 1152 episodes of the show, an enormous amount, comparable to Neighbours and Home and Away. To expect quality writing in each one would be ludicrous. You could argue that transitioning from a TV show to a film with a budget of $30 million would afford the writers some more time to show their talent, but I’m not altogether convinced.
Allegedly, the original film was intended to tie in with some of the mainline show’s episodes, explaining its backstory. I posit that as a result of this, the film’s writers believed that the writing needn’t be as high-quality as other anime films releasing around the same time. (Princess Mononoke came out in 1997, and My Neighbour The Yamadas in 1999). It was entirely their intention to have the film be an extension of the show. As a result, it makes sense that the film would be of the same quality as the show, at least in terms of writing. While The Pokémon Company inevitably delayed these episodes due to the Dennō Senshi Porygon episode of the anime, which caused the hospitalisation of 685 Japanese children, it seems unlikely that the script would have changed all that much in response.
Nevertheless, I still believe the writing of Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is of poor quality. The excuses afforded to the original film doesn’t apply to this one. Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is supposed to be a remake of the original, and as such, it had the opportunity to fix the narrative shortcomings of that film. While it was undoubtedly easier to use most of the original script, it doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do. It is just a shame that the newer version didn’t get the improvements it needed. I will include the lines that I found so humorously terrible in the remake below. Bear in mind; I watched the Japanese version with English subtitles:
“Listen to the harbour Wingull, but there’s no need.”
Brock says Pokémon can’t be rushed, and then minutes later says: “Who didn’t know you can’t rush a Pokémon?”
Mewtwo says, “Humans, I have no cause to harm you”. Then he proceeds to tell them to swim through a hurricane without their Pokémon.
Once the hurricane finally disappears, and the sun comes out, the harbormaster says, “The ships can sail first thing tomorrow”. This is despite it being perfectly acceptable weather conditions for them to sail right then and there.
Pokémon And Dog Fighting – An Allegory
It feels prudent to comment on the philosophicaland ethical themes and motifs of Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution. Not unlike Ghost In The Shell, this film comments on the concept of cloning, genetic mutation and existentialism, or more accurately, what it is to be human (or, in this case, a Pokémon). While these themes may have been topical for the time, they feel antiquated in our contemporary society. Once again, the writer’s inability to innovate on the original script is detrimental to the overall narrative. It fails to grasp what is contemporarily relevant and instead relies ona fear we had over 20 years ago.
I’m also not convinced that these themes are handled particularly well within the film itself. In my original review, I commented on how the concept of whether or not both clones and the original version were “real” or “alive” was barely touched upon and was entirely unforeseeable. In hindsight, I’m not altogether convinced that I was right. However, I am also not convinced the film discusses these themes with any grace or gravitas. These are heavy subjects, and while they may have been well received by Japanese audiences back in 1998, in 2021, they feel outdated. Blade Runner, released in 1982, had already covered the themes with far more sincerity and depth than this Pokémon film could ever hope to.
An element of the film that I had regrettably failed to pick up on in my original review was that this film has an anti-violence message. This is comically ironic for a film about people forcing two Pokémon to fight each other. Pokémon has been countlessly parodied and criticised for being an unintentional allegory for dog-fighting. Including a message about non-violence seems highly inappropriate.
Playdough And Picasso
Unfortunately, the film lacks the innovation it deserves as the only aspect of the film that has been updated is the visuals. While I predominantly prefer 2D animation, I am not predisposed to disliking 3D animation. In fact, some of my most beloved anime films were developed with 3D animation, such as the wonderful Dragon Quest: Your Story. For the most part, the updated visuals of Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution are passable.
Some of the earlier scenes, especially whenever the characters are in grassy environments, look incredible. But the film spends so much of its run-time in a drab, monochromatic castle shrouded in dark grey clouds that any lustre left by the initial impressions of the film were immediately squashed, never to return. I’m not wholly convinced I believe the original to be visually impressive, at least not compared to its contemporaries. But at the very least, the 2D style has more charm and evokes more emotion than the glossy, plasticine 3D style of the remake.
Who’s That Pokémon?
It also bears mentioning that the fights, outside of the initial Pokémon battle between Ash and the other trainer, are incredibly dull. They consist of little more than Mew and Mewtwo bouncing into one another, while the other Pokémon act as if they are kissing, hugging, and nudging one another. I appreciate that toward the end of the film, the Pokémon are so exhausted from fighting that they’re barely able to swipe at one another. Still, even before this point, the combat is so unimpressive that it feels as if the creators put little effort into it.
Furthermore, as this film is predominantly about cloned Pokémon fighting against their originals, I had hoped that the character designers would rectify an issue of the original film and clearly distinguish between the two Pokémon. Unfortunately, they have not. While initially, the cloned Pokémon have markings to indicate that they are indeed cloned, once the rest of the trainer’s Pokémon are taken and turned against them, they lack any distinguishing features to indicate I shouldn’t be rooting for them. I understand that this better illustrates the motifs of non-violence and differentiation in nature and nurture. However, I don’t believe they executed it effectively. All it does is render the audience confused as to which Pokémon is purportedly the “good guy” and the “bad guy”.
I concluded my original review by stating that I fully believed the film needed remaking. I still stand by that sentiment. There are 24 films in the Pokémon franchise, and as previously stated, 1152 episodes. It’s an excessive amount of content, especially for someone uninitiated to the franchise. The fact that the remake utilised 3D animation, something extremely common in the West, and premiering on Netflix, meant it stood a good chance of introducing newcomers to the franchise while also offering a nostalgia boost to returning fans.
Unfortunately, the lack of character development and a heavy reliance on its integration with the show means it is entirely unenjoyable for someone not indoctrinated with Pokémon lore. Its 3D animation is neither nostalgic nor terribly impressive, and its lack of updated and contemporary themes may alienate returning fans. I’ll retain the conclusion to my original review below, as it still reflects my opinion of this movie accurately. Enjoy.
The Original Conclusion
After finishing the film, I still don’t understand what Mewtwo’s plan was. I don’t understand his motivation, or really any of the character’s motivations. Things happen, and not a lot is really said other than pseudo-philosophical nonsense and otherwise poorly written and often expositional dialogue. If this film had more substance to it, bothered to add smaller, more intimate moments into its run-time, and offered a little more explanation during some of its longer, more drawn out scenes, then it may be enjoyable. But it doesn’t, and as a result, it’s a bad film. I think I’ll let Mewtwo himself finish this review. Take it away, bud.