Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution (2020) Review
A DISAPPOINTING POKEMON REMAKE
Back in 1997, the Japanese anime series of Pokémon (i.e. Pocket Monster), introducing viewers to a colorful episodic adventure within a cartoon world of the vast and diverse range of these Pokémon creatures and beings. In a nutshell, the original TV show followed the series main protagonist character of Ash Ketchum, along with Pikachu (his faithful Pokémon) and his traveling companions Brock and Misty, as they ventured across the Kanto region, encountering various Pokémon, battling gym leaders, and thwarting the troublemaking attempts of Team Rocket (Jesse, James, and their Pokémon Mewoth) as Ash inches closer to becoming a “Pokémon Master”. The original season, which would later be known as Pokémon: Indigo League, originally aired in Japan in 1997 and crossed the ocean to the US in 1998. In 1998, Japan released Pokémon: The First Movie, which had contained two projects: a twenty-minute short titled Pikachu’s Vacation and a full-length movie titled Mewtwo’s Strikes Back, a 75-minute film feature that takes place during the first season of Pokémon: Indigo League. As a side note, there is a third ten-minute segment (titled Origin of Mewtwo) that was only released in the Japan cut, not the US version. The movie crossed shores a year later (1999). Mewtwo Strikes Back tells the story of Ash and friends encountering Mewtwo, the cloned genetically engineered Pokémon of Mew. Pokémon: The First Movie received positive reviews for its Japan release, but faced mixed reviews for its English release (mostly due to non-fans of the show). Now, more than two decades later, OLM (Oriental Light and Magic) and directors Kunihiko Yuyama and Motonori Sakakibara release the 22nd Pokémon feature film titled, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, a CGI animated remake of Mewtwo’s Strikes Back. Does this remake endeavor shine and expand upon the 1998 original feature or is its unoriginal idea that tries too hard to capture “Pokémon nostalgia”?
When a group of scientists are offered funding into genetic research if they agree to try and clone the greatest ever Pokémon, Mew, the end result is a success and Mewtwo (Dan Green) is born. Gifted with incredibly strong psychic abilities, Mewtwo, however, is bitter about his purpose in life (a laboratory specimen) and destroys the lab along with the scientists in it. His hatred towards humanity is fueled further when Giovanni (Ted Lewis), the leader of Team Rocket, offers the genetically engineered Pokémon a place in his organization in attempt to hone and control his powers, but merely only used as a weaponized tool. Feeling betrayed, filled with anger, and holding a sort of “god complex” resentment towards Mew, Mewtwo seeks revenge upon the world (human and Pokémon alike) for his creation; setting out to prove he’s the world’s most powerful Pokémon ever and to cleanse the world of those who defy him. Elsewhere, Ash (Sarah Natochenny) and friends, consisting of his loyal Pokémon, Pikachu, and his two friends, Brock (Bill Rogers) and Misty (Michele Knotz), receive a strange invitation to compete in a challenge for the strongest Pokémon trainers; leading group to New Island, where other Pokémon trainers, who received a similar message, have gathered. Unfortunately, they soon find out there purpose there, cloning Pokémon, and Mewtwo’s ultimate plan for the Earth
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I previously stated before, I’ve always been a fan of Pokémon. Yes, even though I am an adult, I still like it. I guess I’m what the kids today are calling an “OG” fan of some kind. Of course, I was a fan from the beginning era (the whole Kanto region story and maybe a little of Johto); back when the creative design of the various Pokémons were fresh and fun (more so than the latter portions. So, as you can imagine, I was with the series from the beginning. Yes, I did “take a break” during the latter iteration of Pokémon, but I still love the brand name. Like many of my generation age (I think generation Y), I grew up watching the anime TV series Pokémon, especially when the original series first came out in the US. Ash’s episodic adventure (with Misty and Brock) through the Indigo League was stuff of my late middle school pre-teen years, which was filled with nostalgia for the show as well as playing the original Pokémon Red video game for the Gameboy (I eventually got Pokémon Yellow). Then I remember when Pokémon: The First Movie was released and boy was I super excited. Not only was the movie gonna be released in theaters (something I was little eager to see), but I did like how the TV series tried to “tie” a little bit of the events (i.e. Mewtwo’s armored appearance and Giovanni connection to him). Plus, it was cool to see an actual “legendary” Pokémon being the focus of the feature; seeing both Mew and Mewtwo in the movie was awesome. Yes, I’ll admit that the film wasn’t perfect (stuff was a little bland and underdeveloped in some areas), but I still liked the movie as it delivered a solid story of Gen 1’s most powerful Pokémon characters. I mean…. I always love Mewtwo’s line at the end of the movie “I see now that the circumstance of one’s birth are irrelevant; it is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are”. I love that line in the movie. As a side-note, I’ll admit that I did like the twenty-minute short Pikachu’s Vacation. It was cute, light, and fun to watch. In the end, Pokémon: The First Movie was a great start to wide collection of Pokémon movies of future installments. Maybe its just “poke-nostalgia”, but I still like watching the film from time to time.
This, of course, brings me back to talking about Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, the animated remake of the first Pokémon movie. I remember hearing plenty of rumors that a “teaser” was shown during some of the screens of Pokémon: The Power of Us that showcased the reimagining of Mewtwo Strikes Back for a brand-new feature. Although, I just initially took it as simply as “internet rumor”, it wasn’t before long that several images surfaced online has well as a few snippets of the new movie. Being a fan of Pokémon (as mentioned above), I was definitely intrigued by seeing this movie. I then kept on hearing little pieces about the upcoming film here and there when I was online. Personally, I thought it was gonna get a theatrical release…. much like Pokémon: I Choose You! and Pokémon: The Power of Us, but I guess the notion of releasing the project on Netflix, the more popular choice of streaming services, was more appealing. I did watch the trailer preview for it (before seeing it) and I did have mix feelings about it. As mentioned, I did love the whole Mewtwo Strikes Back narrative….even though there were some problems with it, so the story idea was still there, but I was more taken aback by the animation (the whole CGI creation). Still, with affinity for Pokémon, I was still gonna give the new movie a try and watched it during the whole COVID-19 outbreak pandemic (to pass the time of the whole #stayathomesavelives). And what did think of it? Well, it was a disappointing. While some animation bits were cool and the core fundamentals of the original are there, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is a bland re-shelling remake that doesn’t add anything to new nor stands out in compared to the 1998 feature. The story of Mewtwo gets a new coat of paint, but that’s it.
Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is directed by Kunihiko Yuyama, who served as the chief director for many of the anime’s episodes as well as directing virtually almost all of the Pokémon movies out, including 1998’s Mewtwo Strikes Back, with the project being co-directed by Motonori Sakakibara, who has a previous works includes CGI movie director for such video games as Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII as well as the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirts Within. Given Yuyama’s overall familiarity with the Pokémon brand as well as other anime project such as WIndaria, Wedding Peach, and Slayers Return, and Sakakibara’s knowledge of CGI cinematics, the two directors seems like a perfectly suitable choice to direct this Pokémon remake; offering up an updated version to the first Pokémon feature that’s new to some and familiar to others (i.e. walking down memory lane). Of course, I was the latter half, so I was quite happy to return once again to this tale of Ash Ketchum as he and his friends come face to face against Mewtwo, the self-proclaimed “strongest Pokémon alive”. The core tale of MSB is left intact in MSB: Evolution (more on that below), so it was interesting to relive it all once again, with a new cinematic animated medium. I do have admit that while I wasn’t the biggest fan of new CGI animation (again, more on that below), I did feel that some of the film’s battles were a bit more exciting and technically improved upon since the 1998 film. This also includes some of the movie’s CGI creation of water / fire, which looks quite fluid and amazing to see. Plus, some of the cinematography work in the movie is pretty slick. The famous ending battle of Mew and original Pokémon vs. Mewtwo and the cloned Pokémon clones is still there (although no “brother, my brother” song being played), but the camera working of showcasing the Pokémon fight sequence is quite ingenious with a one-shot camera appeal of it all. There are a few more moments that capture the newer animated technology, which definitely work in the film’s favor. And… for all of those wondering…. the infamous scene of what happens to Ash at the end of the story is still there, which might be touching for some and draw ire for others.
Unfortunately, MSB Evolution does falter within its execution and overall handling of recreating the original 1998 anime film, which reigns the superior of the two animated features. How so? Well, for starters, the biggest (and most glaring) problem the movie has is the simple fact of being exactly the same iteration / translation to the original movie. Much like what Disney did with 2019’s The Lion King, MSB Evolution is literally almost an exact “beat for beat” retelling of the original Mewtwo Strikes Back movie, including exact same scenarios, almost same camera angles, and same dialogue in even parts. Basically, you’re seeing a updated CGI generated movie of the original 1998 project and that’s it. What’s the problem? Well, the main problem is because there is nothing new that’s added to the story; keeping everything very much the same as it was before. While I personally feel that MSB was probably one of the better Pokémon movies of the collection, it wasn’t perfect and suffered from several lingering problems, including sluggish middle act and some perplexing / unanswered questions. MSB Evolution doesn’t seem to bother trying to create any new content or to even try to correct some of the bumps in the original MSB storyline as Yuyama and Sakakibara doesn’t even attempt to shake-up the already established narrative, which is quite disappointing. This means that the movie’s second part still lags and becomes uninteresting and several questions are left unanswered and confusing. This, of course, is my biggest frustration about the movie as MSB Evolution is just a carbon copy of the 1998 film, which (naturally) brings up the question as to why even recreate the movie in the first place. Such a disappointment.
While that is my biggest complaint about the movie, the secondary (yet still quite palpable) point of criticism that I have about the movie is the overall CGI animation. True, MSB did feature a few scenes that utilized CGI animation, but majority of the film was draw in the classic Japanese anime drawing animation from which brought forth the anime cartoon TV series (just a bit more detailed and cleaner). However, MSB Evolution’s animation utilized 3D computer generation for its animation, which is quite different from any of the Pokémon anime endeavors (be it TV series or movie). Unfortunately, this approach ultimately backfires and comes off as quite unappealing and wonky right from the get-go. There’s a type of unfulfilled potential by switching the animation style from hand-drawn to CGI and the result is something that doesn’t work. An example of this is in the overall character body movement, which is disjointed and feels robotic (personally) and not as fluid as it should be. Plus, the overall facial movement and / or expressions on all the characters is nonexistent, which certainly takes away from a lot of the film’s likeable for these characters. It’s just bad, ugly, and unappealing from start to finish. On top of that, the overall CGI animation of MSB Evolution is rather bland and dated. As mentioned above, some of the effect shots are cool, but most of the film feels starch and tasteless in the movie. Overall, it just felt like I was watching a very long cutscene from a Pokémon video game.
The overall English voiceover work in MSB Evolution is fine as the English dubbing from the original Japanese language has never been 100% percent accurate; a long-standing debate amongst anime fans (original Japanese versions versus English Dubs). That being said, the movie’s English voice talents (as a whole) get the job done in bringing these characters to life, especially with most of their background in providing voiceover work for English dubs of anime. Sarah Natochenny (Robin Hood: Mischief in Sherwood and Super 4) provides the voice for the Pokémon series protagonist character of Ash Ketchum. While Natochenny voice is solid enough in carry Ash’s vocal work through dramatic and lighthearted moments, I still prefer hearing Veronica Taylor, who was the original voice for Ash Ketchum. Likewise, the voice talents of Michele Knotz (TOME: Terrain of Magic Expertise and Queen’s Blade: Rebellion) and Bill Rogers (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphan and Hunter x Hunter) are sufficient enough for Ash’s companion / friends, Misty and Brock. Granted, like Natochenny, both Knotz and Rogers have previously voiced these characters before in the Pokémon TV series, so they are quite familiar with their respective characters persona. However, much like the problem with this movie, the CGI animation doesn’t quite match up to their voices (i.e. feeling lifeless and bland). Yes, they get the job done, but it doesn’t work as planned; making Ash’s two friends very uninteresting and unappealing. To me, even looking beyond that point, I still prefer the original English voice talents of Rachel Lillis and Eric Stuart in the roles of Misty and Brock.
Similarly, the same thing can be said about Team Rocket Trio, with James Carter Cathcart (Sonic X and Yu-Gi-Oh!) voicing James and Mewoth and Michele Knotz (who voiced Misty in the movie) voicing Jesse. I do know that both Cathcart and Knotz have been with Pokémon anime series (both in the cartoon series and the movies) for quite some time, but I still personally prefer the original voice talents of Rachael Lillis (Jesse), Eric Stuart (James), and Madeleine Blaustein (Mewoth). As for the villain of the film, Mewtwo, the vocal performance for the genetically engineered psychic Pokémon is voice by Dan Green (Pokémon 3 The Movie and Yu-Gi-Oh!). While Green has certainly proven himself to be a good animated cartoon voice on his various projects he’s worked on, Green is only middling when it comes to voicing Mewtwo. Certainly, his voice brings an overall gravitas to the role, which gives the powerful Pokémon character a strong sense of foreboding and imitation, but its not enough that comes as close in voicing Mewtwo as what voice actor Philip Barlett (his real name is Jay Goode) in 1998’s MSB. Although I have to admit that Green’s voice is much clearer (audio-wise) than Barlett’s was in the movie (always thought it was much too low). Still, I remember seeing the somewhat sequel film to MSB, which is 2001’s Pokémon: Mewtwo’s Return, that had Green first doing the voice of Mewtwo and (just like this movie) it was a bit disappointing.
Even the characterization of Mewtwo in MSB Evolution feels a bit lacking. Yes, it’s pretty much the same as what it was before, but almost to a lesser degree as there’s not much that material given to the character (or Green) to play around this. In fact, MSB Evolution’s portrayal of Mewtwo is a bit underdeveloped; making the character to be a bit more of a “lost soul” than villainous antagonist. To me, Mewtwo was powerful in the remake, but not as memorable. The same goes for the Pokémon character of Mew, the legendary rare Pokémon of which Mewtwo is based off of. He’s cute and cheerful, but the movie’s CGI animation lacks the fun and memorable moments of which made Mew endearing.
The rest of the supporting characters in the movie are adequate enough in their respective small minor character roles in MSB Evolution. They get the job done, but not quite enough to be considered great. Maybe it’s because of the CGI animation, but these small role characters were more memorable and bettered voice in the original MSB feature than this one. Lastly, it still quite a joy to hear voice actor Rodger Parsons once again as the iconic narrator of which bookends the feature. I will never get tired of hearing his voice in Pokémon.
Ash, Pikachu, Brock, and Misty head to New Island and are unprepared to face the wrath of Mewtwo in the movie Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back- Evolution. Directors Kunihiko Yuyama and Motonori Sakakibara return to the tale of Mewtwo’s rise to power and Ash (and friends) involvement in his ultimate plan. While some of the cinematics are slick and the core story remains the same, a great majority of the feature is rather lackluster and repetitive (due to the film being a “beat for beat ”carbon copy reprint of it the original 1998 feature) as well as some mediocre voice talents and the ever bizarre decision to use dated CGI animation. To me, the movie wasn’t terrible, but was definitely disappointing, especially since the movie doesn’t try to attempt anything new or creatively different to stand out against its 1998 original. There’s a sense of nostalgia I get with it, but it was more of a letdown stroll through my Pokémon memory than a pleasant reunion. Personally, I’ll choose the original Mewtwo Strikes Back than Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution any day. As you can imagine, my recommendation for this movie is a definite “skip it” as it really doesn’t really offer that much reason to view it…beyond the change of animation style. Just stick with rewatching the Pokémon: The First Movie instead (you’ll thank me for it). While I’m pretty sure that there will be plenty more Pokémon movies in the works, let’s hope that it continues with a more traditional style of animation than remaking older ones with CGI rendering. In the end, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is just a disappointing Pokémon remake that never truly stands out its own merits to warrant a revisit.
2.4 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: February 27th, 2020 (Netflix)
Reviewed On: April 14th, 2020
Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is 98 minutes long and is rated TV-Y7 (the equivalent of PG)