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October 2, 2015

VGFlicks: Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Part 3)

This isn’t the most complex movie out there, but you sure would want to know what’s going on here, so if you haven’t done so, go and read Part 1 and Part 2 of this review before reading this article!

You know what, I’m kinda tired of hypocrites. Yeah, okay, I use hypocrisy as a joke every once in a while, but I just write reviews on the Internet as a hobby. I’m not the Psychic creature claiming that Pokémon owned by human Trainers are traitors or something like that, all while using Pokémon himself in order to get his plan into action. The age-old hypocritical argument of “It’s only alright if I’m the one who does it“. The Fearow that spied on Ash’s battle, the Dragonite who delivered the letter? Yeah. I’m of the belief that you must judge a person by their actions. And I’ve seen enough hypocrisy in the world to know how bad this sort of thing can be.

Is it really a good thing that Ash can see all of these
Pokémon fighting to the death?
The fight between clones and originals has begun, and without any special abilities, they’re all forced to use their fists, feet and/or teeth. This won’t end well… Sigh. Why can’t we be friends? And from where he stands, Ash can see the whole thing. Pokémon punching each other in the face, biting or headbutting or kicking each other… Compared to what Pokémon battles usually look like, this would be boring, if it was between normal Pokémon. I think it’s too late to go around and sprinkle some Attack+ on the originals? Oh right, I had forgotten; save from the Kanto starters, all cloned Pokémon look exactly the same as their original counterparts! Oh hey look, the two Psyduck are just bitch-slapping each other.

It always makes me chuckle.

Even Pikachu has his personal opponent.

Electric Pokémon VS Electric Pokémon.
Most boring battle ever?

Soon enough, the fight reaches uncomfortable levels of realism as Pokémon fall left and right, and no, before you ask, the clones aren’t winning any more than the originals. It’s ex aequo. And thus begins the ever-mocked scene where every single human character contemplates in sadness and exclaims, “Pokémon aren’t meant to fight! Not like this!”


Hey, who wrote that? Linkara, is that you?

.livna taht no daeh ym gnittih morf noissucnoc a
tog I kniht I
I cAn'T WriTe riGHt anYMorE.
Seriously though, let’s count how often the point is beaten into us; I’ll mimic the effect of this on the audience by bashing my head on an anvil for each sentence that states the point. First is Nurse Joy. BANG Then the girl Trainer who used Surf to get there. BANG After  which     it’s     Brock. BANG A n d t h e n M i s t y BANG I like caramel… A ndth eni t’sJa meso fTeamR ocket BANG and jessssssssssssie BANG Nah mommy, I dun wanna go to school today, the other kids keep making fun of me! Chasing me ‘round the yard, kicking me into the playground… I wanna go home…

The forced repetition of a moral an absurd number of times, to have it stick into the audience’s heads is called “Anvilicious” for a reason, ya know… first off, OW. I’m gonna need something to heal my forehead.

Second, what none of them ever takes a few seconds to explain is that, in the Pokémon world, battles are regulated. It’s cockfights, sure, but it's a professional sport. There are rules. You don’t steal the other trainers’ Pokémon, you can’t harm Pokémon that aren’t yours outside of a Pokémon battle, be a good sport whether you win or lose… and oh yeah, when a Pokémon’s HP hits zero, that Pokémon doesn’t die. It faints. It can then be “revived” at a Pokémon Center, where its Hit Points bar will be refilled, any status ailments will be erased, and your team is once again good to go. Here, we’re talking straight-up fights to the death. This never happened in the main series of games. The actual moral here isn’t that Pokémon battles are wrong (though I can see why some people would take issue with them), it’s that this very particular kind of fighting, where one emerges victorious and the other gets killed, is wrong. Does it really matter which are the originals and which are the clones? They’re all living beings, right? In fact, that was the moral at the end of the Japanese version; all life is equal, because a person’s actions in life are more important than how they came into existence. 4kids fucked it up, and changed it to “fighting to the death is wrong”. Never mind that this particular scenario only started happening ten minutes earlier in the movie, while the moral in the Japanese version was built up from the very beginning.

Hell, just have a look at Team Rocket's Meowth and his clone. Instead of fighting, they start waxing philosophical on how they both live in the same world, and how everyone would live in peace if we started looking for similarities instead of differences… and frankly, that kind of message should apply to humans as well. Others may be of a different ethnicity or gender, speak a different language, but we’re all humans. You know what, these Meowth have all of my respect right now. A round of applause for the smartest cats I've ever seen!

I think I'm the only one on the Internet who still hasn't used this gif.

Mew and Mewtwo are still fighting, and as Ash descends from where he was stuck, he sees his Pikachu getting the crap beaten out of him by his clone. But Ash’s Pikachu refuses to fight, and just keeps getting slapped across the face. Other reviewers have already done the “Stop hitting yourself” joke, so I’ll just allude to it and move on. Both psychic cats finally land from their airborne bubble fighting, causing all the other fights to stop. This is it, the final confrontation. They both charge up their attacks… and Ash has a plan. Quiz time! What is Ash’s plan?

…No need to ask the question, we all know what he does. He just runs to the middle of the arena as the two powerful characters are about to release their psychic attack. And of course, he gets hit. Way to go, Ash, now you’re dead.

Or rather, somehow this turns him to stone. Pikachu runs up to his now-dead master, and tries desperately to wake him up. No, the shots of Pokémon running out of energy to fight didn’t make me cry, but this definitely did. It’s so hopeless…

It's a good thing I kept a box of tissues nearby...

Both the original Pokémon and their cloned counterparts, sans Mewtwo and Mew, start crying. Oh hey, it seems they were ready to fight to the death, but they weren’t ready for death itself! And, for some reason, these tears turn into magic, and sparkly stuff starts converging towards Ash’s stone-cold body. Somehow, this causes the young Trainer to come back to life.

Dammit! After all these years, I was sure I had seen this
scene enough times to be desensitized! I was wrong!

Alright, so this was foreshadowed in a throwaway line earlier, but I still find that little deus ex machina hard to swallow. But it works and Ash is revived. Well, duh. Kids aren’t ready for downer endings. And Mewtwo realizes that if a human is ready to sacrifice himself to save the Pokémon, then maybe humans aren’t all that terrible after all. Of course, no word about how both the original Pokémon and their clones were pretty much equal in strength during the fight…

The Psychic-type Pokémon finally understands that the worth of each is determined by their actions and not the way they were born, which is something he could have learned quickly hadn’t he been such a knucklehead through the entire film. That's always how it goes; bad guy has an ideology the heroes rally against, bad guy refuses to listen, something major happens, bad guy changes his mind. Mewtwo uses his psychic powers to take all of the clones, and flies away with them. It may sound corny the way I describe it, but it’s actually quite a touching moment.

Oh, and Mewtwo stops the storm, then brings all the humans and their Pokémon back to the nearby town’s pier, and… erases their memories of this adventure.

Son of a-!

Well, you know what that means. Next time Ash finds himself in the middle of a fight between Legendary Pokémon, his reflex will be to run into it. Again. Because he forgot his lesson.

Screw that part of the ending.

But as his friends and he look at the sea from the pier, Ash thinks he sees a pink cat flying in the clouds, but it disappears before Misty or Brock can see it. And yes, before you ask, Team Rocket are fine as well, they’re just stuck on the island where Mewtwo’s lair used to be. The end. Oh, we get a few pop songs during the credits, because 4kids sure liked its pop songs back in the day (looking at you, Digimon The Movie), and now I can say it’s over.

So, was it a good movie? Ehh… It’s okay, I guess. Did I like it? Heck yes. Is this the best Pokémon movie? Not really. I grew up with the first four films on VHS, so I saw them quite a few times. I think some of the Pokémon films aired on Télétoon many years ago, but they stopped around the sixth or seventh film. I also had the first 32 episodes on VHS, I think. Whatever. For some reason, I have a deeper nostalgic connection with the Pokémon movies than I do with the anime series.

The main problem with this movie is the disconnected story; no big surprise there, the 4kids dub is to blame. Due to changing the plot and the moral at the end, many of the dubbed lines make little to no sense. For starters, turning this plot into the basic “good versus evil” story seen everywhere else, taking out the more interesting aspects of Mewtwo’s psyche and just replacing them with a layer of card-carrying villainy. Don’t you like it when psychologically-complex villains are reduced to stereotypes? Sure, Mewtwo’s tragic backstory is retained, but the scenes that were cut from the Japanese version were much more effective at explaining said backstory than anything that has been kept in the English dub. Sure, there are a few great moments of comedy in the version we got, but none of it excuses the drastic changes and the removal of any form of ambiguity. Here, Mewtwo = evil, Mew = good. Black and white. And fighting to the death is bad, though regulated cockfights are a-okay. And true strength comes from the heart. In the original, it was much more complex than that, with “Nature versus nurture” doubled with an “all life is equal” Aesop. The sad part is that Takeshi Shudo, who penned the Japanese script, hoped the film would be as enjoyable for adults going to see the movie with their kids as it would be for the kids themselves. You know, a family film that everyone gets to enjoy. It’s no wonder, then, that the Japanese version is held in much higher regard by fans of the franchise.

Despite these flaws, Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back is still an okay film to watch if you’ve got 75 minutes of free time. Like I said, it could have been better, but knowing how certain video game movies turn out (I’m not pointing fingers this time around), it could have been way worse. Mewtwo remains a powerful villain, the other characters are likable, and just the right dose of funny makes this story memorable... again, despite the glaring flaws of the 4kids dub. And if you're a Pokémon fan and you don't mind subtitles, you might be interested in checking the original version. As for the English version, it will also appeal more to Pokémon fans, as it doesn't serve too well as an introduction to the series for newcomers (though, I guess a newcomer watching it with a fan would have a simpler time understanding).

The animation is great, definitely a step up from the anime series… which is kind of the point for a movie based on a series. However, there are some mistakes here and there that can be spotted easily, like a pink Nidorino in a scene (when this species is supposed to be purple), or a Nidoqueen colored like a Nidoking (purple instead of blue). The CGI in some scenes looks really fake, especially the doors that are opened and closed by Mewtwo's psychic powers. The pop music that peppers certain scenes of the movie should also be forgettable, as we never quite get to hear them, but a few are pretty good on their own, like “Brother Oh Brother” (though one could argue that the style of this song clashed with the scene it was used in, even though the lyrics are spot-on) or Christina Aguilera’s “We’re A Miracle”. In the orchestral category, we have “Tears Of Life”.

So yeah, it’s really not the best movie out there, nor is it the best Pokémon movie; but it’s definitely watchable, and all the more enjoyable for fans of the Pokémon series. As I said at the beginning of this review, I have no plans to review the remaining 17 films. But I definitely see an interest in anime and film adaptations, and how they can differ so wildly from the video games they are based on.

Next Friday begins another epic review. An actual Pokémon game! And not just any game; Pokémon HeartGold, which left me heartbroken and shattered… but not for the reasons you think.