This flashy version of the original film used a complete CG makeover, but it wasn’t very effective in a padded and largely charmless retelling.
It’s Pokemon Day! And while I had no idea that was even a day we paid attention to, Netflix has nonetheless decided to mark the celebratory anniversary by releasing Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back — Evolution, the rather ungainly title for this complete 3DCG remake of Pokemon: The First Movie from 1998. The nostalgia is strong with this one, and Pokemon is kind of enjoying a resurgence at the moment, but unfortunately aside from the visual gloss that’s really all you have to go on – in recreating the original so faithfully, only the facile pleasures of the new aesthetic feel fresh, and while I really liked the makeover personally it’ll undoubtedly divide fans and annoy purists.
While there are, admittedly, some additional scenes in Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back — Evolution, they’re trivial inclusions that do nothing to flesh out the story being told or the mythology surrounding it, and while I haven’t seen the original in quite some time there seems to be an overabundance of unnecessary exposition here. But functionally Mewtwo’s origin remains the same: Scientists stumble on the DNA of the mythical Mew and attempt to clone it, naturally botching their efforts of creating a subservient all-powerful being and instead producing a very annoyed and existentially curious Mewtwo who promptly escapes, sets out to prove its superiority, and continually asks the same questions again and again.
Mewtwo’s point proving obviously comes to incorporate the original all-star quartet of Ash, Pikachu, Misty, and Brock, and meddling by Team Rocket, and the original batch of Pokemon, all of which is perfectly fine with me since I staunchly deny the existence of anything that wasn’t neatly contained in the Red/Blue Pokedex. But even the nostalgic pleasures of these early sequences in Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back — Evolution are tempered a bit by a sense of padding and a been there, done that feeling which saps some of the original’s charming wonder. We know these characters and we know this plot, and returning to both largely serves as a reminder that it worked better when we didn’t.
There are definitely some fun gags and some nice visual sequences in Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, especially before everyone gets to New Island and the pace slows to a crawl. Obvious padding becomes more and more rife as things progress, though, and at that point even the visual flair does little to spice up a stale jaunt from one plot point to another. I’m a fan of the film’s effects, spectacle, and richer, more vibrant aesthetic, but its diminished expressiveness undermines some of the attempts at genuine emotion. As an idea, I think it would have worked better as a battle showcase rather than a warts-and-all retelling of a franchise classic.
Yet, here we are. It’s Pokemon Day after all, and we mustn’t grumble about obvious effort expended in rejuvenating a childhood staple, even if we can lament the fact that it was much better when we were kids.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.