REVIEW: Pokemon the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution: A Nostalgic Glow-Up

The first time I saw Pokemon the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, I was eleven years old, dragging my excited little brother and my decidedly less than excited mother to the movie theater to see my then-favorite show on the big screen. It may not have had the most solid plot, but eleven-year-old me didn’t notice or care; she was too excited to see Ash and company on the big screen.

Twenty years later, I sat down in a panel room at Anime Expo 2019 with several thousand other fans to watch Pokemon the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, a 3D rerender of the original Pokemon movie I’d sat down to watch so long ago. The plot held no surprises – it’d been out, and in my mind and in the cultural memory, for two decades. The question was, how did the movie look with its 3D animation glow-up?

Pretty amazing, as it turned out. While humans in Pokemon’s particular art style render a bit oddly in 3D, it’s not enough to distract from audience enjoyment of the movie; I stopped noticing it in about ten minutes. The Pokemon, on the other hand, look phenomenal. These designs were made for 3D, and it shows: colors and textures pop, motions are smooth, and more than anything else, Pokemon look like they belong both in the world around them and in this particular art style. (There was, for me, one exception: while Gyarados’ default expression of slackjawed indignance can easily be tuned out in 2D, once I realized just how goofy it looked in 3D, I couldn’t stop noticing it, which occasionally detracted from the more dramatic scenes. Sorry, Gyarados: you tried.)

There were a few changes to the structure of the movie itself that also helped enjoyment: namely, that it was a bit longer. Some of the length was in added scenes, mostly of Pokemon battles, and were absolutely there to show off the 3D art and animation. This became blatantly obvious the longer the movie went on, but honestly, it didn’t make the scenes any less pretty, and thus they fulfilled their duty. Other scenes of character development were extended – namely, Mew is given a much larger role in the movie, and more emphasis is placed on its mischievous, carefree nature, helping cement its role in the movie and contrast it against Mewtwo.

Sadly, Mewtwo suffers a bit in this movie. To give context: the original movie had about half an hour of footage at the beginning that was cut for the American theatrical release, namely because it dealt heavily with cloning and cloning was a controversial issue at the time (Dolly had just happened). That first half hour included a young Mewtwo forging a psychic link with the other clones: Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, and a clone of the head scientist’s young daughter, who had passed away earlier offscreen. The girl shared her life experiences with the Pokemon clones, teaching them about the outside world and emotions, and finally teaching Mewtwo about tears when she and the other clones died when the cloning project started to fail, leaving Mewtwo the only survivor and successful clone.

(On one hand, yeah, this is some pretty heavy subject matter for a movie aimed at a younger demographic; on the other hand, Disney has done worse.)

Oddly enough, Evolution makes the decision not to include that 30 minutes of footage. There’s no explanation as to why, though I suspect it was a budget decision, but Mewtwo’s character suffers for it. Instead of having a rich depth of character and a tragic backstory informing his actions, he instead becomes Johnny the tackling alzheimer’s patient from Scrubs: attacking people and demanding to know who he is. For a character with the potential for such nuance, especially after Detective Pikachu earlier this year, the decision to omit his backstory and his subsequent characterization are a disappointment.

All in all, Evolution is exactly what it promises to be: a newer, shinier, prettier version of the first Pokemon movie. It doesn’t do anything new story-wise, but honestly, with the visuals as stunning as they are, it didn’t need to. If you enjoyed Pokemon the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, or if you were too young to experience it when it first came out, or if you really just want to relive your nostalgia for a few hours, I highly recommend giving Evolution a try.

— Katie Cullen

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