Title: Pokemon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back
Release: November 10th, 1999 (North America)
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Writer: Takeshi Shudo
Starring: Veronica Taylor, Ikue Otani, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, Rodger Parsons
*Warning, this review may contain spoilers.
First off, let us just say that we are going with the North American release for Pokemon, mainly since we reside in that area. We know that it was released a year before in its native Japan.
Oh Pokemon The First Movie, one of my first movie theatre-going experiences as a child. After being away from the Pokemon franchise for more than a decade, besides beta testing Pokemon Go, I’m personally amazed at how far the franchise evolved since the first 150. I’m also appalled, as Mewtwo Strikes Back hasn’t been able to hide from the remake cannon, even to the point of difficulty finding appropriate original assets. This time on Modern Rewind we need to sit down and see if Pokemon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back stays strong after 20 years and deserves the remake gun.
A Step Back To 1999
During the film’s first theatrical release, it was actually bundled into a package deal. Even before the opening credits roll we are treated to such a lovely (to this day) experience…set the stage for Pikachu’s Vacation. Essentially having an appetizer for the rest of the feature, this short is 2o-ish minutes of sheer spotlight for the franchise’s most recognizable pocket monster. Pikachu and his friends enjoy a fun-filled and competitive day at their local theme park, even going so far to deal with a group of Pokemon bullies in a series of games. Growing up I was a definite Pikachu stan, so this short was anything I could ask for. While the sparks have long since faded, Pikachu’s Vacation still brought a small smile to my face.
Once the opening sequence concludes, Mewtwo Strikes Back takes an unsurprisingly dark turn that children and fans of the franchise had rarely seen before. Giovanni sets the events of the movie in motion, creating the ever-powerful Mewtwo as a living weapon from the mystical Mew. Under the leadership of Pokemon experiment Mewtwo, a group of cloned pokemon (made of our favorite starters and their evolutions) battle other Pokemon trainers to prove who is the Pokemon master. When Ash, Misty, and Brock join the adventure, the movie takes a 180 and stands against Pokemon fighting. What a change of faith.
Why Was This Forgotten?
Now here is the core problem with Mewtwo Strikes Back, many movie-goers in 1999 merely dismissed the entire movie to be a marketing ploy. While the anime and games were definitely on the rise at that moment, this comment still somewhat confuses me. I’m actually more middle of the road than anything. Since I obviously didn’t have any form of business and marketing mind at 8 years old, the animation and pretty colors served as a distraction. Now, mainly due to my knowledge of how anime is traditionally marketed, I understand why people would pass it off. Due to the monumental budgets of Japanese animation, most of the time the series is made to promote the manga/light novel/game. That is where you find the money printer.
While Ash, Misty, and Brock are the protagonists of the original series, you shouldn’t expect much from the supporting cast. Since the story essentially boils down to Mewtwo vs Ash, Misty and Brock hopped on the wagon simply for a free ride. Oh no, poor Brock and Misty, it is almost like you added to the story in general. Mewtwo Strikes Back doesn’t just hinder Ash’s friends, but even the over the top Team Rocket villains that we loved as children. Now I know that they were nothing more than a bother for Ash and company, but they should’ve just written out of the movie entirely.
Not going to lie, even twenty years later the climax still reached my dead core. While doing additional research for this piece, I discovered that this clash of morals is the result of North American distribution choices. It actually doesn’t exist in the original Japanese version! Pokemon doesn’t normally approach the concepts of death and permanent injury but the NA distributors made a solid stance against the fighting of wild animals, seeing as it is futile in the greater scheme. With Ash caught in the crossfire and petrified, the Pokemon stop fighting and take a moment to grieve for their fallen comrade. While the effects are not permanent, even if I 100% wanted them to be in 2019, Mewtwo Strikes Back posing a moral quandary is not something that would be expected.
As the Wheel Turns…
As the curtain falls on 2019, Pokemon is arguably still soaring through the popularity ceiling if not shattering into plenty of broken pieces. While I may have fallen in love with Mewtwo Strikes Back as a child, there is no need to revisit it any longer. With a fully CGI remake on the horizon, Mewtwo’s story will be retold to the new wave of fans brought by Pokemon Go and Detective Pikachu. Pokemon’s own evolution as a franchise intrigues me to this day, even if I may have personally fallen to the wayside. Pokemon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back served it’s purpose and can be left behind in the rubble of the first generation. If you were a fan as a child, keep your find memory alive and not hit repeat.
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