Reviewby Callum May,
Pokémon the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back EVOLUTION
A team of scientists use the DNA of a rare Pokémon, Mew, to create the world's strongest Pokémon, Mewtwo. Not wanting to be used as an experiment, Mewtwo uses its psychic powers in a violent rage to destroy the scientists who created it. Mewtwo then tries to learn how to focus his powers with the aid of Giovanni, the man who funded the scientists' operations, but discovers that it is being used again. So Mewtwo decides to find its own purpose in life, and carry out its revenge on humans by destroying life on earth by using a deadly storm. Ash Ketchum and a group of other Pokémon Trainers are summoned by Mewtwo to have a battle with it, but they soon discover that they're only being invited so Mewtwo can clone their Pokémon for its own purposes. Ash then tries to find a way to stop Mewtwo's plot before it can be carried out.
It's not often that you sit through an entire film waiting for it to justify its own existence, but that was my experience watching Pokémon the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution, an exact 3D remake of the original 1998 film. If you have any recollection of seeing the first movie, then you'll likely spend your time, like me, thinking “Oh, that scene was better in the first one,” and “Oh, that actually looks a bit cooler this time.”
For that reason, you probably already have a good idea on where you stand in regards to Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution's story. The cast still succeed in delivering on the film's key emotional moments, with Ikue Ohtani delivering one of her best performances as Pikachu during the climax. Like multiple Pokémon stories since, it's a tale of forgiveness and the understanding that your future does not need to be shaped by the circumstances of your birth, and these themes are explored in the remake with scrupulous accuracy.
But whilst the story does hold up, it lacks the same impact of the original film purely due to the time in which it was released. This was the first Pokémon film, taking the intrigue of the Cinnabar Mansion notes and turning it into a wholesome and fulfilling tale. The film also had multiple teases for the upcoming Pokémon Gold & Silver, with Ash battling a Donphan near the start.
The problem is that for much of the audience, there's going to be some level of detachment. There's no reason for Donphan to appear in the remake outside of a strict loyalty to the source material, and the film yields no new surprises of its own. It's possible to argue that this is just a new way for younger audiences to experience the story, but there's multiple references to events in the Indigo Plateau series that go unexplained (Not to mention younger fans' only reference for Brock and Misty being from Let's Go Pikachu & Eevee). It's also worth mentioning that in 2013, the Pokémon team already released a film with similar themes and ideas, titled Genesect and the Legend Awakened.
What's most baffling about Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution's existence is that the original film still holds up. It's well produced, has interesting mechanical designs, and the remake doesn't do any better job of telling this classic story. The film is available on DVD and some regions offer a Blu-ray version for less than the price of a movie ticket. It's certainly worth considering.
EVOLUTION's main draw is its CG animation, created at OLM Digital and their US partner, Sprite Animation Studios (founded by the creators of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within). I've personally been looking forward to the point at which a 3D Pokémon movie is released, since the films have been getting more inventive over the past couple years. Last year's The Power of Us was particularly outgoing in that they brought in Wit Studio and character designer Shizue Kaneko to help create a new vision.
However, whilst a 3D approach is certainly new grounds for the Pokémon anime, the direction feels inconsistent, tame, and ultimately safe. It's not hard to draw comparisons between the commitment to realism in May's Pokémon Detective Pikachu, and the confused approach of Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution. Whilst many of the creatures have realistic fur or feather textures, the models barely deviate from their in-game appearances. The genius of Detective Pikachu's design work is that the creatures were created in a way that emphasised the way they move and exist within a real world, but EVOLUTION attempts to mix realistic elements with toon models.
Not only does this create abominations like a cartoon Rapidash with eye-destroying realistic fire elements, but it also hinders the way in which they can navigate the world. The creature animation ultimately feels stiff and lifeless with Mew and Mewtwo as the only exceptions. As with the story, there's no surprises to be seen in the animation and even some of the more creative moments in the original have been simplified.
One of the most consistently realistic elements is the effects animation which are by-and-large the most interesting parts of the film. With the exception of Rapidash's back, the fire is fun to watch, lighting up the environment as it wildly erupts from Charizard's jaws. The same is true for Mewtwo's psychic powers, which truly demonstrate his claim as the strongest Pokémon with much more complexity and impact than the original 2D film.
But the issue with realism is that with success comes greater standards. That is to say, when something looks like it could exist in the real world, audiences become more skeptical about other ways in which these effects are applied. For example, the remake mirrors the original source by constantly using dust explosions during impacts, but there's little context as to where this dust lands. Even when Blastoise only collides against a wall with his shell, his entire body is evenly covered in dust. More noticeable is the dust coverage during the battle between clones. It's not difficult to see that the dust marks on one Pokémon have the exact same pattern as their clone.
It may seem like minor issues, but they emphasise the film's inconsistent vision that feels afraid to commit to any particular style. OLM Digital and Sprite Animation undoubtedly have incredibly talented teams based on their other work, but they need the freedom to be able to demonstrate it. By creating shot-for-shot recreations, EVOLUTION invites unfavourable comparisons that haunt its entire runtime. Whilst 2020's entry will be returning to 2D, I'd like to see these teams tackle an original Pokémon film in the future with the same sort of animation and design freedom given to MPC on Detective Pikachu.
Overall : D+
Story : B
Animation : C-
Art : C-
Music : B-
+ Classic story is recreated faithfully, impactful effects animation
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