This Pokémon Movie has been on Netflix for a good while now and while I originally planned to review all the Pokemon movies leading up to it, I have felt the call call of nostalgia. Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution is the CGI remake of the first Pokemon movie. It’s weird animation style caught the eye.. and the critique of many. So is this movie truly an evolution or did I wish the original had it’s everstone equipped?
Update: I found out I can’t make Netflix Screencaps! So while I actually had an impressive selection of cool screenshots.. we will have to do with stock google images.
How does it Look?
I think it is best to address the elephant in the room first and that is this movies looks. It uses a fairly strange CGI look that has gotten a lot of fans scratching their heads. Ash looks like a young boy! Also everything looks almost as if we are watching a weird claymation cgi hybrid. Models can feel a bit oily and this doesn’t really match with any pokémon style we have seen so far. After seeing the entire movie twice now though I must say, I am not opposed to this , I am not in love with it but I think it has some big advantages over the old style on the one hand and comes with a few downsides on the other. A mixed bag of negatives and positives.
Let’s start with the negatives as most people out there come in with a negative mindset about this movie, rather than scaring you off by proving your are wrong right away, I will side a bit with the haters first. While modern animation is increasingly moving towards fluidity in motion and stripping things of non essential elements to increase focus on what is important, this is not what can be seen in Evolution. There is a level of clunk to the motions, the models seem to polished and glossy and Ash his redesign seems odd. Brock feels a lot more dishevelled, team rocket seems a bit overly moe and way less “mean spirited” and there are some odd choices when it comes to certain pokémon. As a result this definitely is a style we need to get used to. It doesn’t feel right and that feeling is indeed hard to turn off. Due to the clunkiness in some motions but the focus on detail it’s flaws really stand out as well.
Yet to me there is a charm to this clunk. A lot of the clunkier attack animations really reminded me of playing Pokémon Stadium again or the later Coliseum games. There is a level of mechanicalness that conveys something computer game esque.. and for a series that started out as a video game, I actually kinda see a lot of charm in that. I would love to see a pokémon game in this graphic style someday, and while Ash design is weird, for the first time I believed he was 10. Misty and Brock are visibly older than Ash which validates his demeanour a lot more. While I watched the original run I often find myself annoyed at Ash. Stupid choice!.. Now I see him much more as a naive kid and I feel much more in tune with his mindset.
The action also feels a lot nicer in this 3d style. While the animations to fire off an attack can feel clunky, these models have more weight to them.. smoke animations feel more simulated, dust clouds more calculated. If Charizard is dropped in the sand.. it feels like someone just threw a heavy creature in the sand. Fire has more “heat” to it, water actually feels wet..instead of being a spirally blue beam. Pokémon eyes feel more alive, where watering eyes in normal anime style are usually a cycle of frames there is more motion to them. While this does not apply to all pokémon and less to the humans this version had a sense of gravitas in some of it’s graphic design. Which I think is very important in things like these.
I can see people hate this and would not think they are wrong but I can also see people really liking it. It has that Jump Force feel to it and that isn’t for everybody but I do think it makes battles more exciting.. and that’s an important part of pokémon. Now regardless if you like the style or not this movie has some stunning cinematography. Shots are really beautifully framed. Camera angles are so much more carefully chosen. It feels a lot more cinematic in the big moments. The moment Ash rises from the clone laboratories followed by all the other pokémon nearly dropped my jaw. The end framing and the secret ending again..both beautiful shots! Regardless if you like the style or not, the shot choice was among the greatest in pokémon history.
How does it sound?
Now that you all think I am nuts for being positive on the looks let’s throw my credibility further in the trash by talking about how much I loved the sound design. The weird star trek and star wars stock sounds that were everywhere in the first movie have been replaced by long standing sounds in the pokémon anime. When Mewtwo activates stadium lights we no longer hear the first tones of a lightsaber and when Mew is waking up under water we don’t hear star trek effects from his shield. Explosions sound like proper explosions now and feel like they are canon to the pokémon series but done really well. It seems all the voices have been re-recorded as well to match the new animation flow a lot better than using the old tracks would…unfortunately that doesn’t always pan out.
Not all the voice work in this movie is great. Mew firstly feels a bit less cutesy than it did in the original..which was a source of great joy for me. The original mew sounded a lot more dreamy, while this one sounds a bit more kiddy. It isn’t bad just not as great as the original..I kinda cringed while it laughed once. It’s giggle is pretty bad. Speaking about bad. Jessie and James have been voiced really poorly in this movie. I could not decide who was worse. James voice lines really feel phoned in.. but match the character while Jessie tries harder but really REALLY feels off brand to me. Her normal tones of arrogance and disdain are gone. While the new voice does line up with the cuter model more.. I can’t help to constantly think these are not Jessie and James. It somehow makes them have even less impact on the movie than before. Misty and some of the other trainers are a bit meh as well.The ace trainers who use their Blastoise Shellshocker and a Venussaur called Brute-Root I really had trouble understanding. At least when they called out their pokémons nickname.
Misty was okay but at times she was a bit flat.
Ash and Mewtwo are quite okay and Brock has his highlights but the real star is the voice actor of Pikachu. You can sense Pikachu’s emotions so well from the Pika Pika’s. During the chase by Mewtwo’s pokeballs we really can hear the fatigue in it’s cries, but the best moment is absolutely following Ash’s death/petrification. The anguished cries of Pikachu felt so real.. there was so much pain inside just the word Pikachu being repeated, it was crazy. Never EVER have I felt so much for Pikachu. I could tell exactly how distraught it felt and it’s tears weren’t even show! Instead of constantly focussing on Pikachu.. that cinematography cuts away .. allowing us just to hear its voice as we can hear it’s little spirit break. Some great sound design in that scene and some incredible voice acting.
The music and the sound design are amazing in general. Gone is “Brother my Brother” that melodramatic song from the first version that I absolutely hated. Instead they choose for much more neutral background music that sound like they could be in a Final Fantasy game.
Which again enforced that video game movie feeling for me. Where the vocal song had issues keeping up with the story beats and felt poorly timed and thus melodramatic this version goes for a different approach. Silence, during a few scenes this movie decides to fade away the sounds only leaving some impact sounds or for a brief period even nothing at all. It works so well as you see the seen as Ash sees it.. something terrible. The Final Fantasy esque music oddly really fits the setting of Mewtwo’s castle as well and keeps for a much more neutral accompaniment of the story. It boosts the story and scenes rather than trying to explain it on it’s own and overall I’d say this movie does it waaay better than the original.
How did it change?
I am not going over the movies story again because I think this story is so famous it would be redundant and I already embellished way too much again on looks and sound. Are there any significant changes to the story? Yes and no again honestly. The story is mostly a one on one translation of the original. However this time we get the extended cut.. not the Pikachu’s vacation stuff that was placed there to hide the dark and twisted beginnings of the original! This time…. ..it’s darkest part is still skipped. We get a set up for Mewtwo.. but the story about Fuiji’s cloned daughter dying in front of Mewtwo is completely emitted from the story again, so if you want to see that you will still have to watch the first movie, in Japanese.
Missing this however causes a slew of narrative problems that the first dubbed version also had. In the sub version we see a young mewtwo growing up in the tank. Sharing a collective dream with the three starter pokémon and a young girl. They are happy together and monster 150 learns about friendship. Something goes wrong and all the clones end up destabilizing/disintegrating including the little girl which taught Mewtwo about humanity. Her disappearing is accompanied with him crying.. the girl tells the ultimate pocket monster that he should not cry as she has to go and it can not be helped. However when a Pokémon sheds true heartfelt tears it is claimed to have some healing powers. We then see Mewtwo being picked up by Team Rocket and strapped to another machine.. alone.. his humanity fading away. While the second part is included as we start with Giovanni finding Mewtwo.. we see the evil part.. however the good part.. and the big reason why he has his change of heart are omitted and it is a worse movie because of it.
However this movie knows it had to censor that important scene so they make their fair attempts to rectify this. While Mewtwo is the 2 dimensional version of himself they use Mew’s dialogue as a reason to snap him awake more. Mew,although somewhat uncharacteristically , tells Mewtwo that true strength doesn’t come from the advanced techniques his clones have.. it comes from the heart. This prompts Mewtwo to make his clones attack without using techniques or their special ability he will just win with their presence. This explains why the pokemon suddenly just try to slap each other and why they get so tired and hurt with it.. they don’t have the heart for it. It lifts up one of the weaker scenes in the original and it gives Mewtwo a makeshift redemption arc in the fact that due to seeing Pokémon truly care.. and their heart is more in stopping the fight and everyone siding with Ash that he can acknowledge their strength and stops thinking of himself as a superior. It isn’t as strong as feeling his heart again but at least it’s something.
Other than those changes not a lot has been altered, some lines are a bit different here and there. For some reason Jessie and James don’t show up as vikings anymore.. but now dress like sailors on a paddle boat, which was random. The best joke from the movie is a alteration when Brock tries to seduce a girl with his “famous Jelly Filled Donuts” hinting at that dubismn and there have been some changes to the layout of the arena. Which makes much more sense the way it is now. It’s all fairly minimal but I would say that this version has a lot more consistent world building.
Did it Evolve?
So is this movie a true evolution? Honestly?! Maybe… It fixed almost all the issues I had with the initial version but replaced them with some others. Storywise it’s a step up from the dub, sound wise three steps up from the dub and visual.. well that depends on the person. So if I had to say if it is an evolution I’d say yes. However it isn’t a particularly useful evolution. It’s like your typical normal or bug type evolution. It helps your Pokédex out but you don’t really gain that much more from it otherwise. It’s a more contemporary , cohesive and impactful version of the story. It looks weirder now and packs a bit more punch, but in the end it has the same moveset and really doesn’t add anything to your team. It’s nice that it’s there but the memories you made with the pokemon come from when it was unevolved. Back then it mattered.. right now..only for completing.
Since it is on Netflix I do feel it is the perfect medium to see such a movie, so I do recommend you take a peek at it. I really hope they will do something else with this visual style.. preferably a coliseum like game for the switch or so. For this movie it’s fine, I did not waste time watching it but I also gained little experience. It’s like using an old rod to get a Magikarp in order to train your level 60 Zapdos. Sure it can be fun to blow the fish away and it offers even some experience, but if we put it in perspective it hardly seems to matter. It’s good with my favorite moment being the “death” scene by the great voice acting. Yet it is also very inconsequential.