When was the last time you saw Pokemon: The First Movie? If you happened to see it as an adult, you probably won’t find this review of the 3DCG remake of the first Pokemon film all that surprising. If you’re still holding onto the fond memories you had of it as a kid, I’ll admit that I’m a little bit jealous. Taking a step back and viewing this movie through a critical lens helped me appreciate just how far some of the newer Pokemon movies have come in their storytelling. Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is a near direct recreation of its predecessor. While the new animation style makes action scenes more flashy and there are still some genuinely funny and emotional moments, its story still starts to drag about halfway through and never quite recovers (it’s also a shame that the delightful Pikachu’s Vacation didn’t make the cut for a 3DCG remake).
If you missed it the first time around, Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is Mewtwo’s origin story. Scientists find the mythical Pokemon Mew’s DNA, decide to try and clone it in an attempt to make the most powerful Pokemon in the world, and end up with a very mad and confused Mewtwo. This introduction to the movie is mostly good, except for every time Mewtwo questions its purpose or its origins. Unlike the rest of us, Mewtwo is actually given an answer to both rather quickly, and sure, they’re not satisfying nor are they kind answers, but they’re answers nonetheless. Mewtwo keeps asking these questions over and over anyway. I wish the writers would have rephrased Mewtwo’s questions as the situation changed while the Legendary Pokemon was working with humans to give Mewtwo a little more depth.
Once Mewtwo escapes its captor, it decides to prove that it can be not only the most powerful Pokemon, but also the most powerful Pokemon trainer. This is where the classic quartet of Ash, Pikachu, Misty, and Brock come in. The group — along with a few other trainers — are invited to battle on New Island by a self-proclaimed world’s greatest trainer. Their journey to the island is the best part of the movie. Ash gets a fun battle with his core first generation Pokemon set to a theme song, there are some great Team Rocket jokes, and some of the environmental challenges that test the trainers’ abilities to actually get to the island are neat before those scenes go on for a little too long.
The actual events on the island, though, don’t always make sense. The trainers make weird, rash decisions upon meeting Mewtwo and oddly serve as passive spectators during critical moments when they too have the power to do something. And while Mewtwo’s distrust of humanity is valid, its actions, goals, and ambivalence to Pokemon are odd. Some prolonged, trainerless battle scenes that lack the flair of battles that happened just minutes before get stale quickly too. The bright spot in the latter half, though, are the devious goofs Team Rocket. Their meddling provides some comic relief during the island drama that seems to move at a snail’s pace.
The new animation style makes most battles and action scenes fun spectacles. Explosions are brighter, Poke Ball effects shine in a neat way, and Pokemon moves look powerful regardless of their effectiveness in battle. The world is far more detailed too. The opening scene where researchers are looking for Mew is a particular standout; the wild forest is rich with Pokemon. Most Pokemon look great in the 3DCG style too, but the clay-like features seem to limit both human and Pokemon expressions.
Retelling the story in 3DCG is really the biggest change from the original movie to Evolution, and while I think purists could appreciate that, I do wish director Kunihiko Yuyama would have used this opportunity to strengthen the story. There was a deleted plotline in the original movie about a deceased child who was also being cloned alongside Mewtwo that could have been reworked in to strengthen Mewtwo’s motivations. We know Pokemon isn’t afraid of getting dark. Even some subtle changes to side character actions would have helped make the latter half better. Instead, we got what seemed like longer pans across battling Pokemon that diminished the impact of one of the movie’s (and Pokemon’s) saddest moments.