Although slightly intriguing at first, “Mewtwo: Strikes Back” quickly becomes incongruous and extremely tedious.
Pokémon (contraction that means Pocket Monsters) is one of the most successful media franchises in existence. It’s owned by video game developer Nintendo and it was created in 1996, it quickly became the second most profitable game franchise, just after the Mario series. The Pokémon merchandise includes toys, manga, trading cards, video games, books, a TV series and various movies. If you’re reading this review you probably know what the series is all about, but let’s describe it really quickly. In the fictional universe of Pokémon most people are really interested in the popular hobby of collecting little creatures. These people are called Trainers and their main goals are to capture every single pocket monster in existence (“catch ‘em all” is the series’ motto) and to train the most powerful lineup of creatures to compete against the best trainers in the world. This main concept proved to be universally appealing and it became a massive phenomenon in both the US and Japan.
The basic plot of the movie is in fact quite simple: some naïve scientists decided to clone one of the rarest Pokémon, Mew. The result of these experiments was Mewtwo (a very original name guys), one of the most powerful creatures in the world. The problem is that when the latter finds out he’s a mere carbon copy of another monster he goes berserk destroying everything in its path. Soon enough, Giovanni, the leader of a criminal organization called Team Rocket, offers him help in exchange of Mewtwo’s fearful power. The Pokémon agrees, but as soon as he finds out he’s once again been manipulated by humans, he becomes angrier and decides to host a deadly tournament to prove he’s the best. Only the best trainers are allowed to attend and Ash and the main characters of the TV series receive a formal invitation to this event.
After this, the movie is a total train wreck and it’s a shame, because the introduction is actually quite strong. Mewtwo starts asking himself questions proper of existentialism (Why am I here? Where do I belong in this world? What’s my purpose?), making the movie much darker and complex, the problem is that soon enough it starts contradicting itself. Not only the main plot becomes contradictory, but it also turns woefully inconsistent. The underlying message is continually changed and by the end of the movie some people (probably little children) will start wondering things like: Is violence good or bad? The main concept of the franchise doesn’t translate very well to a movie (or even to the Anime for that matter) as it basically encourages young children to use little helpless creatures to fight against each other. The problem is that the film itself shows Pokémon fighting in a very romantic way at one moment and right after that as a demoralizing experience. I don’t understand this choice, mainly because it leaves in evidence a clear ambiguity that’s most than illogical.
The movie makes lots of references to the TV series, the Trading Card Game and especially to the first seasons of the Anime, and even though it’s not necessary to have watched it to understand the main story, it’s important if you want to get some of the inside jokes. In fact, most of the puns and references have a tendency to rely heavily on repetition. For example, if you’ve ever watched the original TV series you may have noticed that some characters appear over and over, like nurse Joy or the policewoman, and even Team Rocket repeat their motto in every single episode. The thing is that gags are specifically associated to these characters.
The film’s animation was really good when the movie came out, but after so many years and especially considering how much Japanese animation has changed over the past decade or so, it doesn’t look as great as it once was. It still should be taken into account that Pokémon was never about the animation, yes there are many flashy effects here and there and most monsters are really detailed, but the franchise’s mythology is what this is all about. Moreover, some very archaic 3D effects were included in the film and their addition is more than awkwardly inadequate as they don’t blend in at all.
The audio seems accurate enough and it looks like most voice actors from the TV series were casted once again for their respective roles in the film. The musical score is actually pretty good, as it creates a unique atmosphere during the various scenes (mystery, danger, success, etc.). Also, it should be noted that the rest of the soundtrack is terrible and yet another horrible interpretation of the main song was once again included in the introduction of the film.
In conclusion Pokémon: The First Movie isn’t a very good film. It keeps contradicting itself since the beginning and the underlying message doesn’t seem appropriate for young children. Ultimately, the movie is hard to recommend because it doesn’t retain any of the qualities that made the video game so popular. It’s a shame, but no matter how old you are you won’t become a better Pokémon trainer after watching this film.