HAPPY POKÉMON DAY EVERYBODY!!! Growing up in the 90s Pokémon was a huge part of my childhood. I collected the cards, watched show, and I still to this day play the video games both old and new. I remember when the first movie, “Mewtwo Strikes Back”, was released. It was awesome to see my favorite characters and, at the time, the most powerful Pokémon finally arrive on the big screen. It was quotable, fun, memorable and even packed in a now-iconic emotional moment that still breaks my heart to this day. It was an instant classic of a generation…so let’s remake that thing!!! Yup, over twenty years later “Pokémon The First Movie” has been remade and reimagined this time utilizing CGI animation with the more recent cast of the show voicing the characters for the English dub which Netflix debuted today for North American audiences. As a big fan of the original film and a long-time fan of the property I was genuinely excited to see a new interpretation of the original movie although I knew in my heart of hearts it was an unnecessary remake at best. So, on this Pokémon Day let’s dive into Netflix’s first ever Pokémon feature film and see if this remake can compete with the OG classic. This is my review of “Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution”.
Okay so let’s get something out the way right now. This is a Pokémon movie…for Pokémon fans…kids and adults alike. If you don’t like Pokémon, you won’t like this movie no matter how good or bad it might be. Plain and simple. I always hated it when critics would rate a movie and forget that sometimes a product is meant to pander to its specific fan base. For me “Mewtwo Strikes Backs” has always held a special place in my heart. It was one of the most epic fan experiences of my youth. This remake though, it’s not even close. Is it bad? No, not if you’re a fan of the franchise. But as a fan of the original movie it’s just not the same. “Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution” takes the basic layout and idea of the original movie where the genetically engineered Mewtwo seeks revenge on humanity and tries to build on it in different ways while keeping the same general premise intact. But the changes alter the personality and feel of the film, mostly for the worse, creating what I can bluntly call a far inferior adaptation.
While the original movie had its detractors because of how much it changed things from the Japanese film and the decision to turn Mewtwo into a more tyrannical and heartless figure for English audiences, for me it still had charm. The lines were delivered nicely, at least in an effective manner my young brain could understand, and, let’s face it, the original voice cast was far more enjoyable than what we have today. The current cast of the show takes over for the original voice actors and their deliveries fail in bringing as much life to the new iteration as was done in the first movie. Most surprising for me though was Dan Green who I genuinely thought played Mewtwo in the first movie. But no, that was Philip Bartlett and while Green is a very fitting voice actor to take on the genetically engineered antagonist he just doesn’t sell it the same way Bartlett did. Bartlett’s performance felt patient. His delivery and pacing could sell the philosophy behind Mewtwo and his monologues were both engaging and intimidating. Green sounds like he’s going through the motions. He genuinely seems like he’s trying to mimic what Bartlett did and as a result he pulls off the same monotone delivery but without the charm and believability.
To its “Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution” does try to expand on Mewtwo’s perspective, but only minimally and with very little pay off. Mewtwo is presented as a more confused and lost soul in this movie whereas the original film showed him to be a sympathetic villain driven by the despair over his mistreatment from his creators. He knew he was made to be a weapon but in seeking to be something more he turned into the weapon he was built to be, just outside of human control. This remake does try to develop Mewtwo as more of a lost soul but still works to develop him as a tyrant meaning now we’re seeing two personalities being mixed together with no more time or effort than the first film put into establishing who Mewtwo is. So instead of getting someone more complex we get someone more bland and confused. The original film knew enough to only develop Mewtwo so much while still making him a challenging villain for kids to experience, one they didn’t feel like they should hate but we knew was doing the wrong things. This Mewtwo, as similar as he is to his 1998/1999 counterpart, just feels bland and predictable.
It also doesn’t help that the film adds in new dialogue and changes many lines for seemingly no reason and fails to find a solid tone where its predecessor felt like it had its footing for most of the runtime. On the plus side this remake does update the moves of the Pokémon and makes some minor adjustments to make up for more dated features of the original and noted errors from the previous version. Yes, Team Rocket do actually call Scyther a Scyther this time. I’ll also admit the battle sequences feel so much more intense with a CGI makeover, but otherwise the new animation just felt unsightly. I found myself very much missing the traditional 2D animation of the original. On the one hand the fire and water effects look beautiful as do the set pieces, but the characters look like they were stripped right out of the video games and that’s not a good thing. In an era where CGI is a dominant form of animation I expected so much more especially with already established character sprites to work off of. The final nail in the coffin for me though was the severe absence of the music and soundtrack from the original film which, especially in the key scene involving Ash and Pokémon tears, really helped sell the mood and tone of the film. In this movie the music is subdued, sometimes nonexistent and clearly forcefully updated to be in line with 2019/2020 standards. It completely stole all the grit and emotional resonance from key moments in this remake.
To conclude, to say I hated this movie would be a lie…I was simply disappointed and honestly I should have expected it. Like “The Lion King” before it this was a remake of one of my favorite movies of my childhood. While I was excited to see it again what I was really excited about was seeing the movie I loved not a new take on the movie that wasn’t the same. But even when I put aside by bias fandom this still wasn’t all that impressive. “Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution” does try, but in the end the animation feels gimmicky, the emotional resonance is lacking, the voice acting is inferior, and the minor changes don’t even improve the overall narrative but rather make it even less engaging. For all its updates it’s an inferior version of a Pokémon movie that, for what it was, was already decent and didn’t need to be remade. If you’re a fan of the first movie or Pokémon go ahead and give it a try. It will probably entertain. I’m not sorry I gave this film a chance myself, but all it did was remind me how much I liked the first movie as a kid and now I can’t wait to watch the original 2D animated film in all its glory to experience the superior effort from over twenty years ago all over again.