Mewtwo Strikes Back
The Review

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Dogasu's Backpack | Movies & Specials Guide | "Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution"

Whenever I go see a new Pocket Monsters movie I basically already know what's going to happen. Thanks to the manga adaptations I read in CoroCoro magazine that, with a few exceptions, usually spell everything out for you. I almost never go into a Pokémon movie blind. But this year...this year was something else entirely. 2019's Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution is basically a shot-for-shot remake of a movie I've probably seen about 30 times and so there are even fewer surprises than usual.

As I'm writing this review I'm curious how many times I'm going to use the word "except" because everything this movie does requires a little asterix beside it. The CG animation looks fantastic, except for the parts where it looks bad. It's a shot-for-shot remake of the longer Kanzenban version of the movie...except it cuts out the 10 minute Aitwo stuff at the beginning. The script is word-for-word the same as the original, except for the parts where it isn't. The music is OK, except for the replacement tracks. It's a good movie, except when it isn't.

I guess the thing that stands out the most about this movie is the CG animation. For the most part it was a lot better than I expected. I don't hate the designs of most of the characters as much as a lot of others seem to and the animation in this thing is really quite amazing once you get used to the art style. You don't see much of this in the trailers but the character acting in this thing is actually top notch, with small facial twitches and slight eye movements giving the humans' acting a subtlety you don't usually see in the other animated films. The Pokémon, meanwhile, (mostly) all look great and you can tell a great deal of care and consideration went into the design of each and every creature. There are a lot of other smaller things the animators do to make the rest of the movie feel alive alive. The Pokémon Trainers gathered in the Pokémon Center all have business going on in the background; they're not just standing there frozen in place the way they were in the original. When Kamextwo comes out of its pod about halfway through the movie it starts walking toward the exit but then stops when it notices Fushigibanatwo and Lizardontwo coming out of their pods before resuming its promenade. Nyarthtwo stretches itself like a cat the moment it's "born." These probably don't sound like much but they all add up to making this movie feel like a living, breathing creature.

But...there are problems. Pokémon like Lizardon (his proportions are off) and Pigeot (it looks a bit chonky) just look off. The quality of the flame effects on Gallop (and, to a lesser extent, Lizardon's tail) look like those cheap fire gifs people used to post on their MySpace pages back in the day. Sometimes it looks like Satoshi has a big toe on his hand instead of a thumb. But the worst of all is Kojirou, whose hair unfortunately looks like it was modeled after that flat-ass wig they made poor Andrew Rannells wear in Pokémon Live! The movie looks mostly good but when it doesn't...OOF.

The story is exactly the same as 1998's Pocket Monsters The Movie "Mewtwo Strikes Back!" with most of it being same script, so much so that Takeshi Shudo, the man who wrote the 1998 original, is given the sole writing credit. If you know the Japanese version as much as I do then you can basically quote along with this movie too. But...there are a few changes here and there. Some of them are fairly innocuous - the very 1990s "check "yes" on Kairyu's postcard" bit gets updated to a "tap the check mark on the Reply Card," Voyager's "ask the kamome (seagulls)" gets updated to "ask the Kyamome ("Wingull")" - while others are less so. There's this one part shortly after the opening battle where Joy indicates that she knows who Takeshi and Kasumi are, even though she shouldn't? And while the Rocket trio's Viking costumes getting swapped out for them singing a brand new song while riding a Laplace boat is fun  it's hard to look at that scene and not imagine Takeshi Shudo approving of such blatant advertising.

Another change made to the film is that there's a lot more filler than there was back in the 90s. The original Kanzenban version of the film, the one with the Aitwo backstory and everything, is about 85 minutes long. The CG remake, meanwhile, comes in at 98 minutes. But! The 2019 movie also cuts out the entire 10 minute Aitwo section from the Kanzenban and so the new version basically has 23 minutes more to work with than its predecessor did. How does it use this extra runtime? It expands various battles between the originals and their clones. It adds little scenes like a conversation about where our heroes should each lunch or a bit where Takeshi flirts with Sweet. It extends the "Mewtwo uses its magic Monster Balls to capture everyone's Pokémon" scene so that we see it capture each and every Pokémon, one by one. You know that scene of everyone crying over Satoshi's petrified body? Well it now lasts about a million years in this version. A five second shot of a character walking in the original will be extended to 10 seconds in the new version. Everything's longer because...well, they've got an hour and a half to fill and couldn't be bothered to mine the radio drama for any more content, apparently.

These padded scenes make the movie drag on longer than it should but don't worry, they also have the bonus side effect of completely messing with musical score! The BGM in this thing keeps jumping back and forth between remixes of music from the source material (in this case, 1998's Mewtwo Strikes Back!) and newer stuff from the XY & Sun & Moon eras and, just like in 2017's "I Choose You!", it doesn't work. Here's the music we know and love from the original and then oof! now here's a track that doesn't belong. Oh, phew, they went back to the original music...and now they switched over to playing a different song again. In a lot of ways it feels like watching the English dub, sadly. None of the replacement tracks even remotely work and even the ones that are the same suffer from timing issues, with Mew's "awakening" scene being the most egregious example. I'm sure a lot of the music issues would have been fixed if the scenes they were paired with weren't so much longer than they were back in 1998 but at the same time...just record longer versions of the original music? Seems like a fairly simple solution to a fairly simple problem.

Luckily, the other part of the audio of this film - the vocal performances - fare much better. The main cast and most of the special guest voice actors from the first film are back and they all do a phenomenal job. There are differences in the performances from 21 years ago, to be sure - Masachika Ichimura's performance here makes his work from two decades ago sound downright boyish, Megumi Hayashibara's Musashi sounds a bit more playful here than she did in the 90s, etc. - but they're all fantastic nonetheless. There's no depressing Dragon Ball Super-esque "oh no, that VA's too old to keep doing this voice..." moments here! Pretty much everyone who's not a main character has been recast but you probably won't be able to tell because they all do a perfectly fine job of bringing their characters to life in their own way. A lot of attention in Japan is also being brought to the fact that this is the last time we'll get to hear an original recording from Mr. Unshou Ishizuka (he recorded his lines in March 2018 and passed away in October) and yeah, it is pretty bittersweet.

If you've read this far then you probably think, voice acting aside, that I hate this movie. And, like...I don't. Probably. And despite everything I've written...I thought the movie was at least worth a watch or two. It's Mewtwo Strikes Back!, first and foremost, and so a lot of your enjoyment of this movie will depend on how much you liked the original. Takeshi Shudo's story has its main character struggle with the question of which is better, the original or the copy, and in this case I would say the original wins hands down. But this copy I watched over the weekend is still as deserving of your attention as the original was.

Stray observations:
  • The English subtitles used during the Anime Expo showing on July 4th were reportedly accurate except for the parts where the translator would throw in dub quotes at random scenes. I can tell you now that those "translations," as reported, were not accurate. The script of this remake is the same as the script from the original Japanese version and has not been edited to more closely match the English dub in any way.
  • With that said, Brock inviting Neesha to eat jelly-filled donuts with him was originally Takeshi asking Sweet to eat a special onigiri together.
  • I hope you like DYNAMIC. CAMERA. ANGLES because the camera almost never stops moving. Extraneous camera pans, zoom ins / outs, tracking shots, cameras circling characters...the camera almost never sits still in this movie.
  • There's a shot of the inside of the Rocket HQ where we see hundreds of Rocket grunts gathered in a giant hall with these big R flags draped from the wall and it honestly looks a bit like a Nazi rally to me. This franchise will sometimes (like, once or twice a decade or so) use vaguely Nazi imagery with the organization so it's not like this wasn't on purpose either. It''s certainly a choice alright.
  • Armored Mewtwo is pretty pointless as it doesn't do anything it couldn't do in the first movie.
  • The battle between Sakaki and Mewtwo that was in the manga adaptation isn't in the actual movie itself.
  • The pirate-like Trainer gets completely redesigned.
  • No new Gen 8 Pokémon appear in this movie, and the only non Gen 1 Pokémon who appear are Togepi, Donphan, and Kyamome, though the latter only shows up as a still image during the end credits
  • The Mother of Rohta appears with her daughter during the end credits. An Eevee is seen walking beside them..
Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution was released in theaters in Japan on July 12th, 2019 in Japan.




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