Seven months after hitting theaters in Japan, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back - Evolution, the remake of Pokémon: The First Movie, has finally premiered in the States, landing directly on Netflix. And, surprise: it’s just as heartbreaking as the original.
The new, dimensionalized version follows the same plot as the original: Mewtwo, created from Mew’s DNA, starts questioning his existence. His stint with Giovanni left him tired of working alongside humans, so sets out to see if anyone can beat him. The challenge gives him a reason for living. He invites the strongest trainers to his island to battle him, including Ash, Misty and Brock, and chaos ensues.
The only difference between this movie and the 1999 original is the rendering of every character and pokémon with 3D CGI animation, as well as some more small details about Mewtwo’s descent into madness. The style is a jarring change from what we’re used to seeing from the more graphic 2D Pokémon anime. In 3D, Ash and his pals just look ... a little puffy. The eyes aren’t quite right. My brain tells me this isn’t Ash, but Sash, his weird, ugly cousin.
But paired with how lively the Pokémon behave, the animation still functions to tell the same story with the same emotion. While Ash and his friends look a little strange, the Pokémon are even more alive. Meowth and Pikachu are fuzzy and adorable, and the style is still simple enough that the curl on Wigglytuff’s head isn’t rendered as a jarring strand of hair, like in Detective Pikachu.
The remake’s message still holds up, with its hard-hitting story about how life can come from many different circumstances and how what you do with your life is up to you, but the real surprise was how it got me thinking more about how Mewtwo did nothing wrong. Watching the movie as a child, I felt like Mewtwo was clearly a villian. He puts these kids in danger and steals their Pokémon, clones them, and forces them to fight each other. That’s a villian.
It’s hard to say if the minor tweaks to Mewtwo’s performance made me feel this way, or this is just how I feel watching it as an adult, but ... man, he didn’t ask to be born! Watching Mewtwo come to life at the hands of scientists who don’t account for the ethical dilemma of creating an all-powerful creature from the DNA of a god and then get told that he exists solely to serve humans certainly made me feel bad for him.
Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back - Evolution recreates some of my favorite scenes one-for-one. The best might be when a Dragonite hands the mail to Ash and flies off, only to be stopped by Team Rocket, pushing a frying pan against his head. Even the scene when Ash epicly emerges from smoke declaring, “You can’t do this. I won’t let you,” in defiance to Mewtwo — a scene I remember watching and thinking was the coolest thing in the world as a kid — is recreated. Watching through one of my favorite childhood movies redone with enhanced graphics was a treat. It turns out that watching sad Pikachu slap each other in 3D CGI is just as sad as watching it in 2D animation.
The movie also contains a new and pretty meta reference to the Pokémon “jelly doughnut” joke, as Brock attempts to swoon a girl with his cooking, telling her to “eat [his] famous jelly doughnuts made with love.” The original Japanese audio has him saying onigiri, which could have just been translated to just about anything else, like “cooking” or “stew,” which he made earlier in the movie. But this is the big change to Evolution, which tells you everything.