Film Review Pokémon Series

Anime Eiga Review: Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution

Note: For the Pokémon series, Anime Hajime refers to both human characters and Pokémon by their English names.

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Original Release Date:e July 12, 2019
Directed By: Kunihiko Yuyama
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution. Reader discretion is advised.***

Film Synopsis

Created to be the most powerful Pokémon in the world, Mewtwo (voiced by Masachika Ichimura) wakes up wondering who he is and what purpose lies before him.  Unfortunately, the humans who gave him life fail to answer those questions. Knowing he is so much more than a mere science experiment, Mewtwo rebels and determines to become the strongest Pokémon trainer in history.

Meanwhile, Ash Ketchum (voiced by Rica Matsumoto) and his dear friends Misty, Brock, and Pikachu (voiced respectively by Mayumi Iizuka, Yuuji Ueda, and Ikue Ootani) are continuing their adventure. Then out of nowhere, Ash and his groupan invitation to participate in a most unusual Pokémon tournament.

Film Positives

This cannot be a usual Anime Hajime review; I mean, how can it be?

Now, I am not above critiquing remakes or reboots; they, at least, typically have something new to offer. Hence, Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution (Evolution) was neither. No, this was more of an…update? A reimagining? I’m not sure what to call it.

You see, Evolution was just 1998’s (1999 in the US) Pokémon: The First Movie (First Movie), but with full CGI animation. Therefore, if you were to ask me whether this film is worth your time, I would respond with a question of my own:

Have you seen the original?

If the answer is “no,” then regardless of Evolution being good or not, I would recommend checking out First Movie – well – first. As such, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a proper review of that film over this one? And having now said that out loud, I would expect to see an Anime Eiga Review: Pokémon – The First Movie spotlight by the end of the year (this post went live in September 2021).

Incidentally, if your answer is “yes” to my question, then you already know what Evolution has to offer. Accordingly, you are here for the animation and the nostalgia. Of course, that is assuming you even enjoyed First Movie. If you didn’t, then: 1) you most likely are not the biggest Pokémon fan to begin with, and 2) there is no way in hell you’re going to like this film any better.

So if you’ll excuse me, I would like to lean into the aforementioned nostalgia-angle.

But before I go whole-hog on that aspect, I suppose I should still do a little bit of reviewing.

Therefore, the animation – it was a boon to Evolution. Granted, that is the case if we are only speaking of the landscapes and the Pokémon. There were points in this movie that were quite beautiful. If anything, this film was like test footage of what an open-world Pokémon game might look like. And on an unrelated note, I hope Arceus ends up being good.

However, it was the Pokémon themselves that were the highlight of Evolution. Their CGI incarnations were fantastic, the byproduct of solid creature designs. And unlike many of the usual 2D shows and movies, you could get a real sense of how big something like Gyarados really is. Additionally, as you might expect, Pikachu, Mew, Bulbasaur, and the rest of the tiny Pokémon were adorable.

That said, Ash’s Charizard in Evolution had a lot less sass than I remember it having.

Also, that one scene in First Movie that we all remember because it traumatized every single one of us was just as sad now as it was back in 1998. HOW DARE YOU MAKE PIKACHU CRY…AND IN CGI DETAIL, NO LESS.

With that out of the way – I wanted to see Evolution because, yeah, the nostalgia was through the roof. That, and it seemed like a perfect test to see how far I have come.

For I was there, Gandalf. I was there 3000 years ago – during the late 90s, where VHS was still king, floppy disks were viable forms of information sharing, and IF someone had a cell phone, it was in black and white, the size of a brick, could survive a nuclear blast, and had a number pad. Thus, when I hear kids talking about the newest Pokémon game, I think to myself:

“Foolish children; I have been here since the beginning. For I was Blue, my starter Squirtle, there were only 150 Pokémon, and I could name them all from memory. I have wanted to be the very best – like no one ever was – catching them has been my real test, and training them has been my cause LONG BEFORE YOU WERE EVEN A CONCEPT.”

I saw First Movie when it released in theatres, I got the special hologram Mew card (which I still have), and I have been riding that high ever since.

So, yes, I had a lot of fun with this movie. And you will, too, supposing you accept this film for what it is.

Evolution is commemorating the twenty years since First Movie came out. Yes, this film is simply a CGI reskin of something that has existed for two decades. If you want to call that a cash grab, if you want to say it was a lazy effort, I’m not going to stop you. Nevertheless, I like to see this as a chance to show the newest and future batches of trainers where this series started.

And by the way, Evolution is purely gen 1. I thought new Pokémon would make an appearance of some kind; I had assumed this would be a full update. But, no, it is First Movie through and through. I, personally, loved this since I am a little behind with the (as of this review) 800+ Pokémon currently on the roster.

This film’s entire strength, its full enjoyment factor, comes from the memories of those watching. Evolution is a bridge connecting past to present. Should you be expecting anything more out of it, you are asking for disappointment.

Film Negatives

It was weird to hear Pokémon in Japanese. Although I prefer subtitles over dubs, a handful of series only sound natural to me in English – the two most prominent being Dragon Ball and, you guessed it, Pokémon. And yet, I watched Evolution in Japanese for this review because I saw it in Japanese in theatres. I figured it would be best to keep up the consistency.

That is not a complaint against this movie, but I didn’t know where else to put it.

But what IS a complaint – the animation. Yes, the settings and the Pokémon might have looked fine, but if there was a human, dear god.

Ash, Misty, Brock, Team Rocket, they looked off.

When I say Evolution was a CGI update, that was it. This film did not attempt to adapt anyone’s character models to better complement computer animation. As a result, you still had all the big, crazy anime hair and body shapes that work fine in 2D productions. However, in something like this movie, it was silly and awkward.

While Evolution’s animation and visuals were nice at times, they were a huge detriment as well.

Also – side rant – there was a scene where Ash straight-up tried to punch Mewtwo. Let that sink in. This scrawny little twig thought he could deck the most powerful psychic Pokémon in existence. I don’t remember that happening in First Movie, but I might have just blocked it out. After all, since it was extremely stupid now, it must have been as stupid then.

Be that as it may, much like the Film Positives section, any other negatives I might have with Evolution should wait for a First Movie review. Again, this flick was a trip down memory lane more than anything.

Final Thoughts

This is not the sort of movie you watch because you want to get into the Pokémon series. If you’re going to do that:

  • Play the games
  • Watch the anime
  • Sit through the original movie
  • Then get around to this film

While this review was less a critique and more of a let-me-reminisce-about-my-childhood-for-a-moment word dump, wasn’t that the whole point of this film? I think it was, and I had a lot of fun because of it.

So, supposing you are a long-time Pokémon fan or a newbie trainer wanting to see where it all started, Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution has earned a recommendation.

But these were just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this film? How would you advise Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m Odyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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