After its release in theaters in Japan in July 2019, “Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution” has arrived on Netflix for streaming. As a remake of the first “Pokémon” movie that saw its U.S. release in 1999 and the first all-CGI movie in the franchise, the film is a solid update to the original “Mewtwo Strikes Back” and another good addition to the long-running franchise.
Though the film keeps the same basic plot and similar tone to the original “Mewtwo Strikes Back,” there are enough key differences in story structure that long-time viewers and newcomers can both enjoy this version on its own merit. In essence, it’s less of a “shot for shot” remake as many had speculated and more in the vein of how “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” paralleled the events of “A New Hope.”
While some artifacts from the original 1999 dub remain (most notably the campy remix of the “Pokémon Theme” in the opening battle), the new dub for the movie as a whole is much more faithful to the original script by the late Takeshi Shudo; the highly-influential original head writer for the anime before his retirement and passing in 2010. The voice cast also includes archive recordings of Unsho Ishizuka, who passed away in 2018.
Even though the CGI animation can sometimes come off like a feature-length video game cutscene, with the human characters initially resembling action figures. As the film goes on, any potential “uncanny valley” effects fade away. While CGI reversions of beloved anime have often been derided as inferior to their 2D incarnations (with the 2016 “Berserk” series being an infamous example), this film does a better job than many past attempts. The action is vibrant, colorful and energetic; with one impressive feat in the final battle showing the fight in one continuous shot that lasts nearly three full minutes. Even if it’s not the same level of realism as the live-action “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu,” this film is still a good first all-CG outing for the series (a post-credits stinger hints at a potential remake of 2001’s followup “Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns.”).
Despite not taking as many new creative directions with the material as 2017’s “Pokémon The Movie: I Choose You” or having the same level of emotional torque as 2018’s “Pokémon: The Power of Us,” “Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution” is still a good take on the original “Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back.” Whatever lies ahead next for the series (the series’ latest film is slated for release on July 10 in Japan), it doesn’t take a psychic type to recommend streaming this latest version of the first of many “Pokémon” films.
Review by Steven Pryor