Length: 93 mins
Dir: Kunihiko Yuyama (Japanese production), Michael Haigney (US Adaptation)
Starring: Veronica Taylor, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, Ikue Otani, Adam Blaustein, Phillip Bartlett.
The First Movie" is comprised of two different pieces of
animation - the opening short, "Pikachu's Vacation,"
and the main feature, "Mewtwo Strikes Back."
A somewhat bizarre vignette, where Dexter the Pokédex observes Pikachu and the other Pokémon as they have fun in what appears to be a kind of Pokémon holiday resort or theme park. Togepi's in a bad mood, and Pika and co.'s attempts to take care of him aren't helped along when they get pulled into a series of contests with the "bully" Pokémon of the park, which ultimately lead to Charizard getting his head stuck in a jungle gym. All the Pokémon work together to free him, and a good time is had by all, hoorah.
It's a particularly childish story with little of Pokémon's trademark humour (except from Meowth), and some truly psychedelic cut sequences of Pokémon dancing and whatnot on seriously acid-trippy backgrounds, which last too long. The animation is roughly the same quality as a well-done episode of the TV series. But it's just appetite-whetting for the main feature.
"MEWTWO STRIKES BACK"
The VHS release of the movie contains a minute or two of extra footage prior to the "Pikachu Project Presents:" opening credit that wasn't in the theatrical release. This footage contains a little more information on Mewtwo's origins, as we learn of the search for the fossilised Mew hair. This footage, however, is still only a smaller portion of the longer prologue that was included in the original Japanese version of the film, where the motivations of the doctor who heads up the project are revealed. The entire prologue is included on the "Mewtwo Returns" DVD, though. I've got problems with it on the whole because of the fact that the film doesn't even TRY to hide the fact that a Mew is still alive. It's right there, flying about, in your face. There's no mystery.
We're then treated to Mewtwo's dream world before he awakens, which is suitably freaky and draws comparisons with "Ghost in the Shell." The voiceover Mewtwo delivers is particularly creepy. He then awakes, gets narked off that he's just an experiment, and slaughters all the scientists. I find it a little over-the-top - they're really forcing the notion that Mewtwo is the evilest of the evil on us here, but he repents it all by his next flick anyway. Giovanni shows up and extends Mewtwo an offer of partnership, which he accepts. We then see Mewtwo serving Giovanni, and see scenes from the TV episodes in which Mewtwo appeared, creating a nice, firm link with the series, which I, being a stickler for continuity, very much enjoy. Mewtwo breaks free and returns to the island where he was created, deciding to rule the world. It's at this point that I started to get annoyed at Mewtwo's voice, not because it sounds bad, or the acting's bad, or anything, but because the echoing distortion used to convey his telepathy makes his voice very difficult to hear.
Then it's time to drop in on Ash and co, as Ash battles another trainer with a nice remix of the Pokémon theme playing, and whups his ass, naturally (defying the rules of the game, as Pikachu's thunderbolt affects a Golem). Spying on them are Team Rocket... and a mysterious third party. Oh, gee. I WONDER who it could be. That's probably the main issue I have with the film - Mewtwo is lacking in any kind of mystique. It's blatantly obvious that he's this "Pokémon master," but it takes another good twenty minutes before they "reveal" it.
Anyway... a Dragonite gives Ash and co and invitation to come to New Island, where a Pokémon tournament against the "world's greatest Pokémon master" is being held. He accepts and the gang head for the harbour, but Mewtwo creates a fierce storm to weed out the weak. But no ferries are going out, as the storm is too strong, and the harbour master (who's got the thickest Eastern European accent I've ever heard) warns of a legend that spoke of a storm in the past, where much life was lost, and only through the tears of the surviving Pokémon was it restored. This woman greatly annoys me, as she's only in the film for the purpose of talking about this - but we'll get to why THAT'S annoying later on. Officer Jenny comments that the nurse from the Pokémon centre is missing, and Brock looks at her poster, saying she looks familiar. Now, the inference is that she looks like the hologram who invited them to the island, but... Brock, man, she looks like all the other Joys. But I suppose, Brock CAN tell the difference...
Ash and a bunch of other trainers ignore the warnings, and try to reach New Island on their own. Ash and co. hitch a lift from some passing Vikings - naturally, it's Team Rocket, doing some particularly amusing voices. The storm shatters their boat, however, but Ash and Misty's Pokémon manage to haul the kids to the island, where they are greeted by Mewtwo's aide, who Brock recognises as the missing Nurse Joy. They're taken to the main room, where they see that three trainers also made it to the island - they shall henceforth be referred to as Fat Trainer, Girl Trainer and Other Trainer. Mewtwo makes his grand entrance, but the thing that's more on MY mind is that this show really needs some new voice actors. Fat Trainer is simply Gary's V/A (Jimmy Zoppi), Other Trainer is Tracey's (Ed Paul), and Girl Trainer has one of the small number of generic voices that all females in the Pokémon world have. Wouldn't bother me so much if they were, y'know, using another voice, but nope. Same old, same old.
Team Rocket, meanwhile, have washed up on the island, and are being followed about by Mew, unbeknownst to them. They find Mewtwo's laboratory and see the video record of his creation, and then the machines in the lab produce a clone of Meowth. Clones of Venusaur, Charizard and Bulbasaur are summoned from their vats by Mewtwo, and then engage in battle with their natural counterparts - Mewtwo seeks to prove clones as superior beings, and captures the trainers' Pokémon, planning to clone them, and keep the clones on the island with him while his storm devastates the world. Ash pursues the captured Pikachu down into the lab, where he saves him and the other Pokémon - but not before clones of them are produced. Ash confronts Mewtwo, but it hurled aside by the Pokémon's psychic powers, only to be saved by... Mew! Mewtwo and Mew lay the smack down on each other, while the clones and Pokémon battle - but Mewtwo has blocked their special powers, so the fight is tooth and claw. Ash watches as the happy pop "Brother, My Brother" plays. While it's lyrics are highly relevant and fit the scene perfectly, the music itself is the complete opposite - a cheery, happy tune slapped over what should be a dramatic and somewhat horrifying moment. The trainers are all horrified, anyway, and say that Pokémon aren't meant to fight.
Oookay. Hey kids! Let's contradict everything the games and series have told us!
Well, obviously enough, the message is that fighting just for fighting's sake is wrong. But the English dialogue is suitably iffy, and even then, it's a silly, SILLY moral for a show that's BASED on fighting. As Pikachu and his clone duke it out - the clone slaps Pikachu around, in a scene that is rather chillingly devoid of humour - Ash attempts to stop the battle by running into the midst of it all, only to get blasted by Mew and Mewtwo's psychic beams. He is turned to stone, and the fight stops, as everyone is shocked. Then, in accordance with the legend recited to us earlier by Russian Harbour Master Woman, the Pokémon start to cry, and their tears transform Ash back to flesh and blood.
Why is this annoying? Because it's a *totally unrelated* legend that lacks both logic and explanation. It's a horrible cop-out ending, and it's obviously used because they couldn't end the movie with a big wham-bam fight, as we've just been told fighting is wrong, even though that's what the Pokémon universe revolves around.
Additionally, by crying together, the clones and Pokémon are proving that they're all really the same on the inside. Mewtwo seems to get this at the time, but when "Mewtwo Returns" rolls around, he's done a one-eighty, and is back to moping about how the differences between the clones and Pokémon are irreconcilable. I'm surprised the clones hung around him for so long - I know that *I* certainly couldn't stick listening to him day in, day out, for... what is it, two years?
Anyway... Mewtwo realises the error of his ways, and he and his clones leave, as he wipes everyone's minds, and returns them to the harbour. As the storm dies down, Ash looks up into the sky, and sees Mew float away. The film is rounded out by Team Rocket, left sitting on the island with no clue of how they got there, but happy nonetheless.
"Mewtwo Strikes Back" is a rather clumsily constructed story that lurches, rather than flows, and doesn't go into the depth that it should to make it a better story. By introducing us to the villain directly, and giving us his origin right away, it removes any mystery he had surrounding him, and all that's left is a rather one-dimensional villain, until the end, and on into "Mewtwo Returns," where he's got more angst-filled depths. The animation is nice, above the quality of that of the TV series, but still not matching that of the other two theatrical movies, and it's hampered by its use of saccharine-filled kiddy pop tunes. Naturally it's a must for hardcore Poké-fans, and casual viewers will be able to enjoy it for what it is, but nothing more.
Rating: 3 out of 5