Released: July 2019
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama and Motonori Sakakibara
Budget: $27 million
Stars: Sarah Natochenny, Michele Knotz, Bill Rogers, Ikue Ōtani, James Carter Cathcart, Michele Knotz, Dan Green, and Kōichi Yamadera
Cloned from the genetic material of the rarest Pokémon of all, Mew (Yamadera), and enraged at his mistreatment at the hands of humans, the Psychic Pokémon Mewtwo (Green) lures Ash Ketchum (Natochenny) and his friends to its island to witness its plan to enact revenge against all humanity.
No doubt you are familiar with Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present), a role-playing videogame for Nintendo’s Game Boy and handheld consoles that, with no exaggeration, took the world by storm back in the late nineties. Everyone who was anyone rushed out to buy a copy of Pokémon: Blue Version or Pokémon: Red Version (ibid) back when they first released and, before long, kids everywhere were hooked on the seemingly never-ending stream of multimedia merchandise released by Nintendo. Chief amongst these was the still-ongoing Pokémon (1997 to present) anime series which, while somewhat removed from its videogame source material, nonetheless enthralled kids everywhere and, perhaps inevitably, led to the production of a feature-length animated movie, Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998). Then, for whatever reason, the decision was made, in the midst of a soft reboot to the Pokémon film series and anime alike, to remake this iconic movie entirely through the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), resulting in this modern twist on what is, in my opinion, still the best Pokémon movie ever made thanks, largely, to the power of nostalgia.
Basically, Evolution is exactly the same story as its predecessor but with a few noticeable changes; the most obvious is, of course, the CGI animation but other things, such as dialogue changes, narrative changes, and changes to the music, all help to freshen up the original movie. The opening scenes are largely the same (but, once again, the film skips the prologue that sees Mewtwo make friends with other clones who heartbreakingly die right before his eyes) as Mewtwo is cloned from a single cell of Mew and, unimpressed with the motivations behind his creation, destroys the facility in which it was created and kills all the scientists who birthed it.
Summarily manipulated by Giovanni (Ted Lewis), the evil leader of Team Rocket and the mastermind behind its creation, Mewtwo’s rage against humanity leads it to organise a Pokémon tournament in order to build an army of clone Pokémon to “strike back” against the world that treated him so badly. In the middle of their journey through Kanto, Ash, Brock (Rogers), Misty (Knotz), and Pikachu (Ōtani) receive an invitation to Mewtwo’s island and, after braving a storm it created, immediately take umbrage to Mewtwo’s twisted world view and rally a group of trainers, their Pokémon, and even their long-time enemies from Team Rocket, Jesse (Knotz), James (Cathcart), and Meowth (ibid), in opposing Mewtwo’s plans.
Let me state first of all that, unapologetically, I absolutely love Pokémon the First Movie; I still remember going out of my way to purchase a bootleg VHS tape of the film back in the day before finally getting a legitimate copy from a car boot sale. As much as I’ve enjoyed subsequent Pokémon movies, nothing beats the nostalgia of revisiting the original film. It may have some flaws, largely based around the numerous changes made when dubbing the film into English that made Mewtwo far less sympathetic, but I will defend it to this day simply because it came right at the peak of Pokémon’s popularity for me; Pokémon: Gold Version and Pokémon: Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999) were due to be released around that time and the hype was real concerning brand new Pokémon, to say nothing of finally seeing Mewtwo in all its glory (it had been teased in several episodes of the anime prior to the movie’s release), much less going head-to-head with Mew, which was the most elusive of game secrets at the time due to their being no legitimate way to catch it outside of Japan.
Thankfully, Evolution doesn’t really alter that much from the original film, meaning that the only thing you’re really missing out on is the gorgeous anime aesthetic from the original. The CGI looks good on the Pokémon but the human models look a little…off, like they’re made of plastic, which gets a bit distracting at times.
Additionally, there were a few odd choices made here; dialogue is altered significantly, to the point where it feels much closer to the original Japanese dialogue (if that makes sense) but then, about halfway through, the dialogue changes and is almost exactly the same as in the original film (Mewtwo’s closing monologue, for example, is pretty much word-for-word). There’s also the criminal decision to supplant the original dub score with a new one (those who preferred the Japanese score will likely be thankful for this, however) and completely remove Blessid Union of Souls’ ‘Brother My Brother’ from the epic final clash.
One change I did appreciate, however, was the complete remove of the “tears of life” sub-plot; in the original, Ash and the others are fed a nonsense story about Pokémon tears being able to restore the dead to life, which was completely missing from the original Japanese version. While this did bring a lot more context to Ash’s resurrection in the film’s climax, it never sat well with me in the original as it always felt wedged in there.
Similarly, Mewtwo’s mechanical suit gets on hell of a bad-ass upgrade, Team Rocket’s amusingly ridiculous disguise as Viking sailors, of all things, is removed completely (and for the better), and minor niggles like Pokémon being referred to incorrectly have been addressed. There are also some improvements made through this remake, as well; the ambiguity surrounding Mewtwo’s motivations that was explicit in the original Japanese release is far more prevalent here than in the original dub, for one thing. Some of the battles also receive a makeover, such as Ash’s initial battle during the iconic Pokémon theme song and the battles between the cloned start Pokémon and their biological counterparts.
In the end, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is a nice little update to a childhood favourite; it adds in a lot of subtle story beats that were missing, beefs up some of the battles and content, and adds a fresh coat of paint to a classic. Yet, at the same time, it feels incredibly redundant; beyond the CGI overhaul and a few of these alterations, there’s not much new happening here and, considering the fact that the Pokémon movies are completely removed from the anime, it feels a bit weird to have this suddenly released upon us. A big factor into my final score comes down to my unconditional love for the original movie but even I kind of feel like much of the same could have been accomplished by releasing a high-definition, digitally remastered version of the original movie with all of the cut content restored alongside the recording of a new dub and the option to watch in the original Japanese.
What did you think of Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution? Do you think it is a good tribute to Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back or do you, perhaps, not share my fondness for that movie? Whatever the case, feel free to share your Pokémon thoughts and memories in the comments.