Review: Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution (2020)

Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution. Directed by Motonori Sakakibara & Kunihiko Yuyama. Toho, Netflix, 2019, 2020.

Premiere Impressions

            If you were not in the know, a significant portion of the Pokémon fans in the world are queer millennials, who grew up watching, playing, and trading. If you ask someone of this group if they still watch the anime from time to time or get excited for the newest video game, they will likely reply with, “yaas!” In some respects, Pokémon is similar for millennials as Star Wars was for Generation X, mostly due to the sheer volume of media and merchandising. As one of the millennial gays who wishes Jigglypuffs were real, I experienced a severe rush of giddiness when I discovered Netflix would be distributing Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, a 3D remake of the first Pokémon film, Pokémon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back (1999). The film, now streaming, is a gorgeously animated nostalgia trip that offers little to viewers outside the existing fandom.

            Since the film is quite aware that it primarily exists to remind viewers of their childhood wonder, all of the originality of the film comes from the animation style, rather than the story. Even more so than last year’s animated update of The Lion King, Mewtwo Strikes Back is essentially a digital recreation of each shot from the original movie. Pause at any time and you could perform your own side-by-side comparison. Even though this adds nothing new to the narrative, the visual style really pops in this adaptation. The aesthetic design is video game-esque, which translates well considering the source material. More than anything, the design really allows the Pokémon to shine on screen in a way that both respects their cartoonish roots and retains their most important attribute, whimsical adorability. I mean, just look at these sweet babies!

For Pokémon fans, watching the 3D update of a major movie from their youth—and swooning at the newly dimensional monsters—will likely provide a welcome and affectionate return to the past. For the unconverted, the fun likely stops after the cuteness loses its initial impact. Number one, I cannot imagine anyone who does not have an emotional connection checking this out (unless, of course, you’re one of my fives of fans who now wants to experiment with Pokémonality). Number two, because the movie is a recreation of the original, all of the original film’s flaws are still on display, though now a bit prettier. The narrative is still unsure whether Ash Ketchum or Mewtwo is the protagonist, leading to odd shifts in character. The script still drags quite a bit after the Mewtwo-centric prologue, only regaining momentum during the still emotionally resonant, yet confusing, climax. Oh, and the whole thing is still about Pokémon, which is probably off-putting if you are not a fan.

Post-Screening Snippets

  • A Frankenstein-esque Pokémon who lashes out at the human race for playing God and creating him, and therefore, clones existing Pokémon to create a superior species? Even without an existing appreciation, Mewtwo, or at least the idea of Mewtwo, makes for a sincerely great cinematic villain.
  • In one of the film’s only new additions, Team Rocket cement their status as queer icons through a fabulous, but brief, musical number complete with sailor suits.
  • I have not seen a lot of English-dubbed media, but even I know this was not an A+ dub job.
  • WIGGLYTUFF IS MY CHILD

The Final Tea

            Unlike, say, a new Pixar film, the story just is not strong enough to bring in people from outside of the fandom. Nostalgia will certainly outweigh the flaws for existing Poké-people, others need not apply.

GRADE: B-

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