A 3D remake of the very first Pokémon movie, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution arrives on Netflix. Liam Maguren tries to figure out who this is for and why this even exists.
You know something’s a phenomenon when it has the gall to name its first movie ‘The First Movie’.
Following the success of the cartoon show, Pokémon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back was a mega-ultra-super hit back in the late ’90s. It was the height of Poké-fever (I was a proud Poké-freak, myself) and its entry into cinemas was the tentpole cementing the impact of the videogames and TV series. It also wasn’t very good, a fact easily seen if one were to take off their rose-tinted nostalgia goggles.
(One could also keep those goggles on and do The Bart Man all the way to their grave.)
Impressively, Pokémon’s appeal never died. They kept making good money from new games, new shows, and new movies—22 features as of writing—with last year’s Pokémon: Detective Pikachu achieving the colossal feat of being a live-action videogame movie that didn’t suck.
None of this explains why Oriental Light and Magic made Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, a CGI remake of The First Movie that’s now available on Netflix. It’s baffling for several reasons.
1) It recreates the original almost shot-for-shot and yet it’s somehow 25 minutes longer.
2) With a plot that pivots from the first seasons of the TV series, The First Movie was solely aimed at the youth of the ’90s—not kids from the distant year of 2020.
3) It attempts the Disney method of rebooting classic 2D animated films into 3D… but with the graphical power of a Nintendo Switch game.
4) While The First Movie gave ticket-holders a special edition Mew card on entry, Netflix has no plans to mail each viewer a visually-updated one. Heathens.
Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is a strange and cynical release, one built off the fumes of childhood nostalgia. Dipping into nostalgia isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but there’s a considered approach and then there’s the not-giving-a-shit approach.
In the former is Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!, an alternate timeline film that essentially remixes the first few episodes of the show into something new. This involves a talking Pikachu, which infamously made grown men shriek “Nooooo!” in a movie theatre.
Such blasphemy aside, I Choose You! found a respectable way to reboot the first series. Original plot points were mere touchstones for telling a different story and new characters aided Ash and Pikachu on their journey. It proved successful enough to warrant a second film—The Power of Us—in this ‘alternate timeline’ series, both of which are on Netflix.
Again, none of this explains why OLM made Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution. At this stage, I can only posit two theories.
1) With all 52 episodes of Pokémon’s first season (AKA the Indigo League) available on Netflix, the original’s seen some sort of resurgence and OLM studios chose to capitalise on it.
2) The grown men shrieking “Nooooo!” were really crying for “the good ol’ days” and OLM studios chose to capitalise on it.
Whatever the reason, it’s resulted in a confused, bland-looking, drawn-out blast from the past that wasn’t that good to begin with—making it extra egregious that they didn’t take the chance to tighten the pacing, expand on the thin-but-noble theme of science abusing nature, and completely change the bogus ending that saw Pokémon literally cry dead Ash back to life.
There’s only one real benefit to Evolution—it’s now on Netflix and The First Movie isn’t. For those wanting a simple nostalgia kick, it might be enough.
It’s also worth mentioning that the English language version of Evolution played in a few Western cinemas last year. I’ve yet to see a video of a movie theatre with the audience cheering “Yesssss!”