‘Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back’ (1999) review: Many Pokémon were harmed in the making of this film

Twitch marathon returns critic to his childhood

It’s funny returning to something from your past. See, the game-centric streaming service Twitch is presenting a massive marathon centered on “Pokémon,” a series I truly adored through most of my childhood (and teenage years and adult years …). For many years, I got lost in the ever-growing world of Ash Ketchum and series mascot Pikachu.

As with most childhood hobbies, I eventually moved away from “Pokémon,” except for the games on the Nintendo family of hand-held gaming devices. However, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dive back into still-running series (with more than 20 TV seasons and and just as many full-length movies. And what better way to do so than by reviewing those movies? First up: “Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back.”

Let’s start off with a fun fact for “Pokémon: The First Movie” (which I saw in theaters, mind you): To date, the film has grossed more than $163 million since its release in 1998. Let that sink in.

As for “The First Movie,” you’d be forgiven for not understanding what exactly the moral of the story is. In fact, the entire film is a study in contradiction, one in which young kids are expected to decipher the nuance between fighting and battling (one is OK, the other not) and little exists to challenge preconceived notions (good is good, bad is bad and nothing is in between). But then again, it’s a animated movie for tweens.

The plot starts off interestingly enough: A scientist manages to create a clone of the legendary Mew (one of the film’s two shorts goes into greater detail about the cloning process and Mew), originally named Mewtwo. This new Pokémon possesses the most depth of any of the film’s characters, including its protagonist. The Psychic-type creation feels conflicted over his birth, not sure if there’s a place in this world for someone like him.

(The other short, “Pikachu’s Vacation,” takes a peek into the world of Pokémon when no trainers are around. It’s cute but adds nothing of substance to the film.)

His inner turmoil kicks off the rest of the film: Ash Ketchum and his Pokémon and friends are invited to the most sinister island in all of anime creation to challenge the “world’s most powerful Pokémon trainer.” As Ash, Misty, Brock, Pikachu and the rest of the squad slowly realize, nothing is as it seems here, and plenty of clone-on-original battles and heart-felt speeches follow.

And this is where the contradiction shines brightest: What’s the difference between battling, where Pokémon trainers pit their captured creatures against one another, and fighting, where Pokémon trainers pit their captured creatures against one another? The central theme for the film’s second half seems to center around how “fighting is bad” — unless you’re fighting for the right side. Maybe it’s a case of fighting vs. sport or morality, but the film lacks the nuance to differentiate (and it doesn’t really try).

But hey! Who needs nuance when you have slick animations, right? Whatever else you want to say about the “The First Movie,” its style is far better than the cartoon of the same name at the time, and the battles are enjoyable eye candy.

In the end, “Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back” (wow, that’s a mouthful) serves its purpose: to extend the “Pokémon” franchise to the big screen. It basically plays as a 75-minute episode of the anime, with the same mantras that friendship, determination and hard work can save the day. Watching it so long after its initial release was a enjoyable blast of nostalgia, but I did have one complaint: I didn’t get a limited editor Pikachu playing card this time around.

Three “I choose you!” stars out of five.

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