So I just watched Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution, and is it too early to flash this gif?
So I get that in the SuperGeeks world, I might be one of the few Pokénerds in the crowd, but I think this is still relevant enough to talk about. But before I go on, I should probably describe a bit about my love of the franchise. Arguably, I was much more into Pokémon as a child growing up. Yes, we all had that one thing we enjoyed as a kid. Being born in 1990, I was the prime target for the late 1990’s Pokémon fever that struck the United States. I remember just how big Pokémon was back in the ate 90’s. It was life itself. I was a huge collector of the trading cards, I watched the anime like it was crack, and I played plenty of Pokémon Yellow before the game cartridge itself was damaged. Good times, man.
And yes, with this epidemic of Pokémon in the States, I was one of many who went to theaters and saw the very first Pokémon movie in theaters. I remember this time with fond memories. I remember the Burger King toys they had for this movie, I remember the trading promo cards for the movie, I remember the card that came with the then very new DVD that I still own, and I remember my dad taking me and friends to go see this in theater.
And I honestly feel like I owe him an apology.
As much as I enjoy my memories of Pokémon growing up, and as much as I will admit that I still check out the franchise from time to time, I am not above saying that I am well aware that Pokémon is not very good when you analyze it for long, and I am not above saying that as an adult, I will not heckle it. The anime in particular has aged spectacularly in that “Wow, how did I ever like this?” kind of fashion. Granted, I actually own quite a few seasons of this show, and quite a few movies (Don’t you judge me!), but on the off-chance they are actually being watched, I find myself poking fun at it every single time, and I’m kinda accepting that the only real reason I still have these is that eventually, I’d like to be a happy father, and I’m 100% certain my children will find it as charming as I did growing up.
And since I intend to be a good father, I intend to keep this remake off their radar, because regardless of my stance of the film, whether or not I hold it in good regards as a nice bit of nostalgia, Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution is about as good as an average Disney Live-Action remake.
Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution is the CG-remake of the movie with the same name, and I am 100% convinced that had I seen this as my eight or nine-year-old self, I would think it’s just as bad as I do now. I just wouldn’t be able to fully comprehend just how much of a weird place Pokémon seems to be in right now. I don’t wanna sound like that one guy who is blinded by the nostalgia goggles over their eyes, but this just doesn’t do it for me. I had a pretty low bar watching this, and by the time the credits rolled, all I was asking myself was “Why did I watch this?”
So, inevitably, I’m going to be comparing a lot of this movie to the old, and some might say that this hinders my ability to fully comprehend the film as an adaptation, but the movie pretty much is a scene-for-scene remake of the entire film. It doesn’t do a lot different, and it does far too much in far too similar a fashion. If you’re gonna do this, I say the floodgates for comparisons are open and I’m going to enjoy swimming in it. Let’s just dive on in, shall we?
So before I rip this film a new one, I will go ahead and list off things I actually liked about the film. For one thing, I actually appreciate how the movie opens up. The movie opens up in a jungle where we see a small expedition coming upon some ruins which house carvings of the Pokémon, Mew, one of the rarest Pokémon in existence. The scene mainly serves to provide some exposition and setup for how they stumble upon a Mew fossil, and how they intend to use that fossil to clone Mew, but it’s a scene that was completely cut from the theatrical release of the film, so it was nice to see them include it here, especially since I believe it was a sequence that was originally included for Japanese audiences back in the day.
Another thing I can appreciate is the visuals. Why lie? Some of the animation in this remake is spot on. While admittedly, some of the character models are pretty weird, I will say that little details are actually really well done. The fabric of the clothes, blades of grass, shadows in the daylight, wrinkles in the clothes, the water looks fan-fuckin-tactic in this movie. Seriously, that water looks amazing! I just wanna go for a nice big swim in that water! 10/10 on that water! Even the Pokémon models are pretty stand-out for the right reasons with details and realism you wouldn’t normally see in the hand-drawn animated film being easy to spot and appreciate, from fur to scales.
I can also very much appreciate the battles and action in this same aspect. They do take full advantage of the CG here, and do their best to make these aspects look as good as they can with the new technology that arguably was not there for them back in 1999 when originally making this. I applaud some of these visual effects that they incorporate into this film, because it does look very good.
Okay, so it’s got the look. But what about the feel? The essence? Well, I mean I already flashed my MST3K response up above so I guess that answer is pretty clear.
By the time the familiar plot begins to lay itself out, I couldn’t help but notice something strange, and it’s a problem that plagues most Disney remakes of today. Despite having the longer runtime, it seems to want to rush through some of the scenes that it really shouldn’t rush. The opening sequences of this movie feel like they are so rushed as far as introducing Mewtwo, and who he is. Mewtwo in the original is far more questioning about who he is, and why he was created. It isn’t until he realizes that the scientists who created him care little about him that he decides to kill everyone in the lab… yeah that happens. Little moments such as him learning to clench his fists, or thoughts about him not alllowing himself to be just a simple experiment to be tested and studied are completely glossed over. It wasn’t anything masterful by any means in the original, but it was far more impacting.
Even when Giovanni arrives at the scene, he’s not nearly as manipulative as he was in the original. In the original, he earns Mewtwo’s trust (as short lived as it is in the runtime) by telling him that he and Mewtwo can control the fate of the world together. He makes awesome metaphors to how a wildfire destroys everything it touches, similar to how Mewtwo’s powers do, and that he can help Mewtwo better control those powers. Here… Giovanni barely touches this manipulation. He just kinda comes across as this black and white bad-guy who is somehow even more one-dimensional than his anime counterpart. The sequence of Mewtwo facing test after test doesn’t hit as hard when you don’t hear Mewtwo’s thoughts on him discovering just what he’s capable of. I mean sure, in the original, it was just a couple lines, but it delivers the point home that Mewtwo is still learning to control his power, and it better lands here. The same can be said for when he realizes that Giovanni sees him as nothing more than a tool for Giovanni’s own agenda; a moment that was so pivotal, it was shown to us twice in the animated media beforehand. I hate to say it, but so much of Mewtwo’s inner psyche and his inner thoughts on his existence, and the vendetta he develops with humans is completely gone. I just don’t care about it here. As silly as the original movie is, the goals and thoughts of Mewtwo are far better.
Man… all this over a Pokémon movie that’s 20 years old…
This of course brings us to our main protagonists of the story, and yes… it was nice to see Misty and Brock by Ash’s side again, even if their new voice actors leave a lot to be desired (one thing 4Kids didn’t mess up). But it’s around this point in the movie that I noticed one very strange thing that proceeded to bug me throughout the entirety of the film… the dialogue. So much of this film’s dialogue is absolutely terrible. And that’s not me watching a kid’s movie with an adult mindset, that’s me comparing the two movies dialogue together. The original is far more charming. And no, this isn’t nostalgia talking. The dialogue of this movie just sucks. For comparison, here’s a moment that happens towards the beginning when Ash Ketchum, in his weak and hungry state, is challenged to a Pokémon battle by a trainer. Ash happily accepts the challenge. And here’s how it plays out in each adaptation. First, the original:
MISTY: Ash, you just said you were too weak to work!
ASH: That’s right, I am too weak to work, but a Pokémon battle isn’t work!
BROCK: That’s progress. At least his mouth is working.
And here’s this same sequence in the remake:
MISTY: What happened to the guy who couldn’t move a muscle?
ASH: I can have a Pokémon battle before breakfast! Maybe two!
BROCK: You’re forgetting one thing… you’re battling before lunch.
Look, even if you’re not a Pokémon fan, I think you know what the more charming exchange is. And this movie is absolutely FULL of these changes. None of which is better than the original. Whether it’s taking out a little comedy in the chemistry of the characters like the example up above, or making Mewtwo not as intimidating, or making Team Rocket look like an even bigger joke than they do in the original, none of the dialogue changes work in this movie for the better! They messed it up! Granted, I’m not saying it should have been the exact same, but I mean would it have been too much to at least try and make it somewhat good? The fact that I could remember the sequence up above BY MEMORY (no, I did not watch the original movie prior to watching this) only goes to show what is the stronger batch of writing!
Another example? In this same area of the film, when Team Rocket is spying on our main heroes, watching them eat lunch, well here’s the original, by memory:
MEOWTH: I’m starving.
JESSIE: (takes out a frying pan) I can cook something!
MEOWTH: Thanks, but the last time you cooked, you wiped out eight of my nine lives.
And now for the remake:
MEOWTH: Am I hungry!
JESSIE: (takes out frying pan) I’ve got a frying pan!
MEOWTH: But without something to fry, it’s little more than a round anvil made out of iron!
Fuck this dialogue. And fuck Team Rocket in this film, they’re terrible. Granted, they never had a standout role in these movies, and were always on the back burner, but even in the original film here, they did FAR more than simply stand around and deliver weak comic relief. They actually helped piece together the mystery of Mewtwo’s creation in the original film to the audience, by showing us some decently executed exposition in the original. It’s been heavily watered down here.
I’ll once more give seriously props to the animation of this film, especially the water. Holy shit does it look good. I especially like how the characters actually look wet when the water clings to their clothes. Credit where credit is due, the visuals succeed with flying colors, and it’s almost enough to distract me from the terrible substance of this film.
As happens in the original, Mewtwo Sends out challlenges to a group of trainers to come face him, but creates a storm to challenge those trainers, so that only those who cross the sea in the storm and make it to his arena are deemed worthy to face him. And I was very tickled to see that they kept a certain highlight of the film. In the original, you can see a trainer flying across on a Fearow to Mewtwo’s island. Yet when we get to the island, that trainer is nowhere to be seen. And it’s heavily implied that this trainer died in the crossing.
Well, they not only keep this trainer in the cut here, they add another trainer as well! And none of these two trainers appear at the island. So not one, but TWO trainers get killed trying to get to Mewtwo’s island. I find this absolutely charming. Does that sound maniacal of me? Shut up!
Ash and his pals get to the island, and here’s something that I found odd. They kept a small section of Mew’s filler scenes of the original. Yet elongated it. Why? I have no idea, but there’s a section where Mew is being amused by a windmill in the original movie and it makes for a small bit of cute. And somehow, it’s just not as good in the remake. How do you mess that up?
See what I mean? Why elongate the newer one?
Bla bla bla, Mewtwo appears, we get more replaced dialogue that isn’t as good as the original, long story short, Mewtwo hates humans since he sees them as dangerous and he hates the Pokémon who would willingly work with them. And it was around this point where I was actually starting to look at the runtime of the movie. It felt slower. The original had its moments where it dragged, but not like this. It was still relatively quick to the action, and could keep my interest. Here, I can’t help but wonder if the energy is gone. And I think I know why…
It’s the music score. It’s terrible.
The music of the original was nothing spectacular by any means, but it’s not present much of the film here. There are way too many instances in this film where I was asking myself “Is it just me, or is this movie unusually quiet?” The original had a score that played when it was appropriate, and it gave the film more presence. Without the music score here, it feels like there are just one too many awkward pauses in dialogue between character or whatnot. There isn’t even any background noise for a good chunk of it. It really hinders my ability to enjoy this movie. The overall tone, atmosphere, and enjoyability of the movie is just not as good because the music takes such a backseat. This really hits the rest of the movie. And for any of you other people wondering if they still play the “Brother, My Brother” song by Blessid Union of Souls in this remake, no they don’t. Which is a pity because that actually kinda fit that movie. I guess it’s pretty sad when a 90’s throwaway single by a band no one knows about is one of the takeaways of your childhood movies.
As in the original, Mewtwo challenges the trainers to a battle, they lose spectacularly, leading Mewtwo to take their Pokémon, and create clones of them for his new world. Not only does this sequence feel not nearly as exhilarating as the original, but it results in more bad dialogue. Mewtwo isn’t nearly as intimidating here as he was in the original for one thing, and we get terrible lines from Misty like “Are you stealing our Pokémon?!” Where’s my pillow? I need to let out a loud groan into it.
Mew eventually shows up which leads to a standoff between the army of the trainer’s Pokémon, and Mewtwo’s clone army. Mew lets out that little “mew mew mew” speech about how powers don’t determine the true strength of Pokémon, but that true strength comes at the heart, which Mewtwo misinterprets, and the iconic powerless battle starts. This is where Blessid Union of Souls would start playing.
And it’s ironically here where I would say that Blessid Union of Souls would benefit the film, because without it, and with the quiet musical score paired with the sequences of Pokémon battling makes for a very weird sequence, and it feels far longer than it should feel. It also feels far more tame than I remember it feeling. I don’t know, it just has far more impact and far more brutality in what it shows in the original. Even the watered down morals that the film has about fighting being bad and whatnot have more impact. The morals of this movie were never strong to begin with, but the fact that they take such a nosedive here really says something.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens. Ash tries to stop the battle, he runs in between Mew and Mewtwo like a moron, get hit by the combined strength of their attacks, and dies. A pivotal moment of the series, as this was the first time we’d seen something like this. It’s a landmark childhood moment to be sure. How is he brought back? Well, the Pokémon are moved by Pikachu’s sadness for his death, and they share in Pikachu’s sadness, crying him back to life pretty much. The thing is that the original explains this a bit better since they establish that long ago, a catastrophe resulted in the near extinction of all life on the planet, and that the tears of surviving Pokémon were the only reason life was able to survive again. As stupid as it is, they explained why Ash survived after the Pokémon brought him back to life. Here… no such explanation exists, so I’m left with the assumption that Pokémon just have magic tears or something.
The one thing you probably couldn’t mess up in the film, and you messed it up. Good job movie.
Even Mewtwo’s epiphany about the situation after Ash’s sacrifice feels watered down. It feels like he comes to the conclusion that all life is precious on his own, rather than having been influenced by Ash’s sacrifice. He barely pays the fact that Ash just killed himself any attention whatsoever.
I need to wrap this up so we all know how it pays out by now. Hopefully anyway. Mewtwo takes the clones and leaves, erasing the memory of everyone on the island, he sends them back to where they came from, the storm disappears, Ash sees Mew briefly, and the journey continues.
Holy shit was this a chore.
Look, even without my nostalgia goggles, this just isn’t very good from so many different angles. If you want to talk about a movie that no one asked for, this is it. If anything, this remake just makes me appreciate the flawed mess that is the original that much more! It’s not perfect, and you probably had to be there to enjoy it as I did, but I mean even to the kids of today who are getting into it I would say that the original movie is worth their time much more. The biggest problem with Evolution is that it has little to no heart. It might look and even sound Ike the movie it’s based on, but the essence that made is a true gem of my childhood is completely absent. And that might sound like bias, but I mean, there’s a reason most Disney remakes get this kind of criticism. They lack what made the original so special, and it’s no different here.
I don’t doubt that there was genuine intent to try and make this special, and it might just be the dub that suffers these problems (I have no idea if the Japanese version of this film differs), but from what I was shown, this just doesn’t have what made the original that special to so many of us Pokéfans.
And it’s a damn shame.