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September 25, 2015

VGFlicks: Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Part 1)

Now with more species than the human
brain can remember!
Today begins a new theme month: The second edition of Poké-Month! Yes, I know, we’re not quite in October yet. I know that. But despite offering only two reviews in October, I felt like I needed to start early. Reviewing a main series Pokémon game can be extremely long and arduous, so I will try to shorten the resulting review, but I can’t make many promises. Either way, I decided to open this new edition of Poké-Month by taking a look at the first entry in the cinematographic side of the Pokémon anime. So far, there has been 18 movies in the franchise, and no, I am not gonna review all of them. Just one. Maybe another one much, much later if I’m running out of video game films to review. The latest film in the series, titled Hoopa and the Clash of Ages, involves Hoopa the Ring Pokémon, and a dark version of himself, fighting into what becomes a full-blown war in which they pull just about every other Legendary. This can only end well. The anime franchise also includes 27 Pikachu shorts (and please understand that, for the sake of shortness, I won’t review the one that came with today’s movie) and 890 episodes, and then there’s the second (very short) series named Pokémon Origins, all the side-games and spin-offs, and who knows just how many manga series, both amateur and professional… Just who wouldn’t panic at the thought of going through all of this?

Long story short, I’m only reviewing one Pokémon movie for now, and it’s the first one. And I know I’m probably the 1000th critic do be reviewing this particular film. Almost everything has already been said about it. Pretty sure that, if you’re a Pokémon fan, you know everything about it. So, don’t complain if I’m doing something that’s been done. We never know, I might actually bring some new points. I guess I’m writing this review for anyone who doesn’t know much about the franchise… and also because, due to being an adaptation of a video game series, I had to talk at one point or another about the Pokémon anime, and give my thoughts about it. Think of this as a review that covers enough ground for the newcomers and makes many precise jabs at the franchise for those who know it inside and out.

As is the case for many “First Movies”, there was a world to set in place. There had to be an explanation of the special elements of the universe depicted here. As a result, Pokémon: The First Movie was dubbed with the intention to explain everything in great detail, to make sure every newcomer to the franchise could watch and learn, immerse themselves into this odd world of colorful and mythical creatures, and...


Just kidding, they throw the viewer into it with next to no explanation whatsoever. Because who cares for all that stuff, right? This is a franchise for da widdle keeds, right? What we really need is to replace every vaguely-Japanese aliment with good ol’ American food, remove most moments too silent or dramatic, and ramp up the silliness!

Okay, okay, I’m aware that beating on 4Kids is beating on a dead horse. There’s no denying that the Pokémon anime as a whole could have been a whole lot better, had this enterprise not been dubbing it and making a buttload of stupid decisions along the road. So, I won’t spend too long discussing that aspect; just know that one of 4Kids’ decisions was to cut certain scenes from this movie that would have added some much-needed emotional depth to this film’s villain.

I needed to put together two screencaps for this picture.
I'm rather proud of the result.
So, the film begins with some philosophical questions about life, stuff that would be interesting if more time was dedicated to it immediately. Sadly, that’s not the case, and besides, life in the Pokémon world is no longer a mystery, ever since Arceus appeared in the fourth Generation. We follow a pink catlike creature swimming in a lake… which cuts to another creature in a watery tube, being stared at by a bunch of scientists, and staring back at them. The creature uses psychic powers to cause a crack in the glass and frees itself. The head scientist, Dr. Fuji, explains to the newborn Pokémon (who already has an adult male voice in his thoughts) that he is the result of the scientific team’s attempts at cloning, and that he is a clone of the legendary Pokémon Mew. The new creature’s name? Mewtwo. Yeah. Hard to have any sort of self-esteem when even your name indicates that you’re not the Number One. When Dr. Fuji reveals that they’ll have to pass more tests, Mewtwo realizes that humans only consider him a tool, so he destroys the lab (and everybody in it) with those same psychic powers bestowed to him through Mew’s DNA.

"We dreamed of creating the world's strongest Pokémon... And we succeeded."
This line alone packs all the punch of this backstory.

Yes, mass murder in a Pokémon movie. Between this, local terrorists in just about every region from Kanto to Kalos passing by Orre, and implications of genocide as part of the villains’ plan in the sixth Generation, expect lots of dark moments from this series! Contrary to popular belief, Pokémon only looks “for kids”. The reality is otherwise. A lot of elements in the series turn out to be straight out of a child-friendly horror film. And that’s the explicit stuff. The implied elements are even worse. And of course, there’s also the gameplay elements, which one can only perfectly master after years of playing with the games of the main series…

I should also explain that in the original Japanese version, a short scene showed a child-sized Mewtwo playing in his consciousness with three clones of the Starter Pokémon from Gen 1 and a little girl; it’s implied that Dr. Fuji was trying to clone his dead daughter back to life, and the cloning of Pokémon was a side-project. And sadly, only Mewtwo survived the experiment. That’s a very poignant scene that explains a part of Mewtwo’s angst. Not to mention that in the original version, Mewtwo is portrayed in a much more sympathetic way, as a confused creature who doesn’t know better and tries to prove its superiority. Here? Straight-up Take Over The World kind of bad guy. Really creative there. I swear we don’t have enough of that type of villain around already.

This montage isn't as good as the last one.
You can clearly see a line in the middle.
Sorry about that. Darn lighting.

After this rampage, Mewtwo is recruited by Giovanni, the head of the local mafia/terrorist organization, Team Rocket. Equipped with a robotic armor, Mewtwo helps the villains in catching a lot of wild Pokémon, but at some point realizes he’s once again a tool… and destruction ensues, once more. Although, to be fair, Giovanni did help Mewtwo learn to use his psychic abilities more efficiently… but then Giovanni shows once more how humans can be total bastards, reinforcing Mewtwo’s view of them. After his destructive lightshow, Mewtwo swears to find his way in life, even if that means destroying all those who oppose him.

A Pokémon Master 17 years in the making...
and he's still a rookie.
After a neat title animation, we open on the actual heroes of the story. First is Ash Ketchum, idiot protagonist, age 10, from Pallet Town. At this rate, he’ll hit puberty around 2050. He’s known to use his head, but he doesn't always use it to think. And of course, there is no Ash without an adorable Pikachu; for those who don’t know, Ash arrived late to get his Starter Pokémon, so the normal choices (Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle) were all gone; he wound up with this electric rodent who, at first, hated him with a passion. After they saved each other from a flock of angry rapacious birds, and destroyed a bike in the process, they became true friends.

I couldn't find a shot of her alone in
the first 15 minutes of the film.
Next is Misty, the obligatory female character to interest the het-shippers and bring some much-needed grace to what would otherwise be a cast of guys. Oh, she’s also the one whose bike was destroyed. Though I think at some point she forgot about it. She’s also a Gym Leader in the games, a title with quite a bit of prestige to it. But in this world, she has sisters who sorta take care of it for her. Then again, being a Gym Leader means you have to stay strong enough to pose a challenge, yet weak enough that Trainers can defeat you and earn the badge. It’s not as awesome as it seems.

He's also the team's cook.
Now I'm hungry.
Next is Brock. He also was a Gym Leader, but he chose to tag along with Ash and Misty. He has more knowledge of Pokémon than both of his friends combined, and he’s a skilled Trainer, but working as a Gym Leader and taking care of his 8 siblings means that he had to stunt his own growth. As a result, he’s a half-human, half-raging hormones hybrid who falls for any girl at least his age, and even more for adult women. Needless to say, a lot of comedy in the series is centered on this guy, and not just frying pan puns.

You are now... Thunderstruck!!!
The trio has stopped for lunch when a Trainer comes up to them and challenges Ash to a battle. Hey, no fair! Ash didn’t even walk past this guy! We get the first complete Pokémon battle in the movie, in which Ash demolishes the opponent’s team, even with things that should be impossible…such as, I dunno, having Pikachu defeat a Ground-type Pokémon with an electric attack. Which is so very much the opposite of the games, where Ground and Rock-types don’t even feel electric attacks. Ash also shows how much he loves his Pokémon, congratulating them after every victory. And we notice that he’s being spied on… by a Fearow with a camera around its neck, and also by Team Rocket.

In some continuities, Jessie and James end up together. Awww. What?
I'm a Rocketshipper. Oh, and Meowth is only adorable as long as you don't
watch him for too long; his Pokémon-Amie model screams Uncanny
Valley; his big eyes and lack of nose make him kinda creepy in there...
For those who don’t know, if any, Team Rocket refers to the criminal organization, but it’s also short for the trio of losers who follow Ash and Co. around in hopes of stealing Pikachu. Their obsession is based on a single proof of great power from that Pikachu, in episode 2 of the entire series. They’re sure that this electric rodent is ultra-valuable, so in every episode they try to steal it. The trio consists of Jessie, James (geddit?) and Meowth, one of the rare few Pokémon to have transcended the language barrier and speak fluent English. With his mouth, not through telepathy or something like that. Those three rarely pose a threat, so they’re treated as laughingstock. It’s like a Wile E. Coyote type deal; after a while, you start feeling sorry for them. And then you remember that their boss is Giovanni, yes, THAT Giovanni mentioned earlier, and you stop feeling sorry. They’re some of my favorite villains, if only for their undying passion for crime (despite constant failure) and the corny introduction they always say when they’re up to no good.  And of course, they usually get the funniest lines. Seriously though, if that’s just money they want, they could set up Meowth as a translator and have him decode, for a price, what Pokémon are telling their Trainers. That, or set up a school where the cat would teach other species to speak English… If I were in the Pokémon world, I'd invest in that!

Too bad this Dragonite can't say "You've got mail!"
A Dragonite (a large Dragon-type Pokémon, in case the name didn’t somehow make it clear) lands near the group and hands them an invitation card, which contains a hologram of a woman inviting them to a tournament held on an island by the “strongest Pokémon trainer”. Wait a second, a hologram? On a card?? What year is it in the Pokémon world??? Seems Ash really IS going to be 13 by 2050! The hormonal half of Brock makes him think it would be a good idea to go, if only to meet that robotic-sounding woman, and Ash wishes to know just who that Trainer might be. Thus, the group heads off to the nearest city to take the ferry.

Moments later, we see that the “strongest trainer” is none other than Mewtwo! The Psychic Pokémon starts manipulating the weather to stir up a storm outside. I didn’t know he could do that. By all accounts, he can’t. But then again, the anime did take quite a few liberties with the source material, so I’ll let it pass. If Sabrina, the Psychic-type Gym Leader and a psychic, can be an insane womanchild who can shrink people or turn them into dolls (which she did to her own mother!!), I guess Mewtwo can control the weather. But don’t tell Kyogre, Groudon or Rayquaza! They’ll be pissed!

The storm has gotten pretty damn strong by the time our protagonists reach the nearby town, so much so that the ferry won’t take them to the island. Of course the owner of the harbor pretends that this unnatural storm was predicted by some prophecy, because everything needs a goddamn prophecy, am I right? And as if things weren’t already bad, the Pokémon Center is closed, as their Nurse Joy has mysteriously vanished a month prior. Gee, good to know they don’t have more than one employee! She shouldn’t be hard to find, she looks exactly like every other Nurse Joy.

Of course he finds her cute. He'd howl "HELLLOOOOOOOOOOO
NURSE!" if she was there in person. He falls for every Joy and
Jenny out there. And they're adults, while he's... not.

But the storm won’t stop the dedicated Trainers! One flies over to the island on his Pidgeotto. Two others use Water-type Pokémon who know Surf (a move needed to cross bodies of water in the games). Ash really wants to go there, but none of his Pokémon know Surf or Fly. Same for Brock and Misty. They have no way to reach the island! Well, we all know they WILL reach the island, it sounds like that's where the plot wants them to go… but how will they get there? You know what, this part has been long enough. Tune in this Monday for Part 2!