Friday, September 14, 2018

36. Pokemon: The First Movie - Mewtwo Strikes Back

EDITOR'S NOTE: No one asked for this blog to come back. I followed up the nine-month hiatus that separated the previous two posts with a two-year hiatus, and no one cared. I am aware of all this.

The movie: Pokemon: The First Movie - Mewtwo Strikes Back (Kunihiko Yuyama, 1998)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: YouTube.

The recommender: Evan “Chich” Chiacchiaro

Chich's rationale: I saw this in theaters as a 10-year old and true fact: to this day, it is the only movie I've ever seen that made me full-on cry. You might say "how can you cry at a cartoon movie about POKEMON?!" to which I would respond, "the themes of self-sacrifice and friendship are universal and transcend humanity." Anyway, I knew John would hate it, especially since he never even played Pokemon. It was an obvious choice.

My familiarity with this movie: Like Chich said, I know extremely little about Pokemon. I know the phrase “gotta catch ‘em all,” I know about the app that everyone was all about for like five minutes last year, I’ve heard of Pikachu. But I don’t know what a Pokemon actually is, nor do I have the slightest idea why it’s so important that all of ‘em are caught. All I know is that one time I mistakenly referred to Hufflepuff, the house from Harry Potter, as Jigglypuff. (I don’t know a lot about Harry Potter, either.)

The movie’s title baffles me, as well. If it’s their first movie, why are they cribbing the subtitle from one of the most famous sequels ever? Is this an Episode V situation? Are there prequels? Do they have to do with the taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems? I cannot tell you how little I am interested in the answers to these questions. The fact that it’s taken me literally two years to watch this movie is not an accident.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “When a group of scientists are offered funding into genetic research if they agree to try and clone the greatest ever Pokemon, Mew, the end result is success and Mewtwo is born. However Mewtwo is bitter about his purpose in life and kills his masters. In order to become the greatest he throws open a challenge to the world to battle him and his Pokemon.”

What I thought of the movie: I decided to watch the movie by myself, without consulting any Pokemon experts or looking up anything on Wikipedia during the movie. So this was a tough one for me to follow, considering that, among other things, I did not, and do not, know what a Pokemon is. It felt like they were making the rules up as they went along. But if I didn’t know anything about baseball and you took me to a game, I’d probably feel the same way. So with all that said, it was very hard for me to judge this movie. But as best as I can tell, it was extremely bad. I might be wrong, though!

Mewtwo, it turns out, is the first cloned Pokemon, created by evil scientists in a lab from an earlier Pokemon named Mew (hence “Mewtwo”). They want to do a bunch of tests on him, but he breaks free, like Frankenstein or King Kong or the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. (Sidebar: I have no earthly idea what pronouns to use for Mewtwo. I don’t want to misgender anyone here, but I don’t even know if Pokemons have genders! I’m going with “him” because he is voiced by a very overdramatic male voice actor, so I think I’m safe.)

Mewtwo speaks (very overdramatically) about the nature of his existence for quite a while, which actually might have been helpful to me, as I did not understand the nature of his existence, but somehow it didn't really get me there. As best I can tell, he’s a clone, which is bad (this movie is v anti-cloning, and I can’t help but wonder if its existence was in some way inspired by Dolly the cloned sheep, who made headlines just two years before the movie was made), but he’s also a Pokemon, and the Pokemons, whatever they are, are more or less enslaved by humans, so that’s also bad. And so Mewtwo is angry about both of those things, and that anger fuels his nefarious plans. This all seems fair, TBH. I love a morally complex villain. Mewtwo is basically Killmonger with a tail.

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to three very annoying human youths, led by Ash. Some chud named Raymond comes by and challenges Ash to a battle, but Ash is way better than Raymond at being a Pokemon person so his Pokemons duff up Raymond’s Pokemons with ease. This battle is set to a jaunty tune (not unlike “You’re the Best Around” from The Karate Kid), the lyrics of which give me slightly more information as to what Pokemons are and do. It seems that you catch them, and then you train them, and then they fight other ones while saying their own names. Ash and his friends want to become Pokemon masters, which is uncomfortable, what with Mewtwo's yammering on about slavery? But I think we’re supposed to like these youths because they’re nice to the Pokemons. I am very uneasy about the human-Pokemon master-slave dynamic here, but I don’t want to comment on it further, mainly because I don’t fully understand it. But it’s weird!

There are other humans, too: a couple of bumbling villain types, accompanied by a Pokemon named Meowth who speaks with a Brooklyn accent. But these characters only led to more questions, chief among them, this: Meowth can actually say things other than his own name. Mewtwo and Meowth are the only Pokemons who do this in the film. Why are they blessed with the power of speech, while all the other Pokemons are a bunch of Hodors? If you think I know the answer to this question, you must have forgotten that I still do not know what a Pokemon is.

Anyway. They all make their way to Mewtwo’s island fortress under some pretense, and then Mewtwo reveals his plan: he’s gonna clone all the Pokemons to create an army loyal to him, and destroy all the humans and the pro-human original Pokemons. There are lots more fights during this part of the movie, and in them, Mewtwo dispatches all the other Pokemons without breaking a sweat. None of the Pokemons seem to die, though. Even when they were fighting earlier, without scary Mewtwo there, none of them died. It seems like the rule is that the human whose Pokemon wins the battle gets to keep (enslave?) the other one, like in the card game War. This must be how you catch ‘em all! I think this is accurate. Do not tell me if it isn’t.

Mewtwo captures all the Pokemons in those little ball things, clones them, and sets them against each other, and they go at it. (Mew, the old Pokemon from whom Mewtwo was cloned, also shows up, and he and Mewtwo start to fight as well.) And it’s at this point that something very weird happens. As all the Pokemons are fighting with their clones, a song that is essentially a knock-off version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” starts to play. (I later learned that it’s by Blessid Union of Souls, the band who did “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me),” a fact that I am not even remotely prepared to process at this moment.)

The song decries the senselessness of the violence we’re seeing on screen, a fact that would make a lot more sense if they hadn’t played the aforementioned jaunty tune over a DIFFERENT scene of the Pokemons fighting earlier in the movie! I’m confused! Is it bad for them to fight? Isn’t it the whole point of Pokemon for people to challenge each other and fight and win and catch ‘em all? Is it just different now because they’re essentially fighting themselves and the humans aren’t involved? Maybe the Pokemons would have more fun if they just fought each other in the wild without their masters involved!

As if hearing the music, Ash tries to stop the fighting, and finds himself turned to stone after stepping in between Mew and Mewtwo as they battle. (This is what Chich was talking about with his self-sacrifice and friendship bit earlier.) All the Pokemons and Chich cry, and luckily enough for Ash, their tears have magic powers (not unlike those of Albi, the Racist Dragon). Ash gets un-stoned, Mewtwo is moved by the fact that Ash is nice to his Pokemons, and so decides to completely abandon his plan for world domination. Why not. End of movie.

I know that I’m not the target audience here. I’m sure young fans, like Young Chich, found it funny and cute and emotionally resonantand remotely comprehensible. But even though I found it none of those things, and even though the seventy-four minutes I spent watching it felt more like seventy-four years, I will say this: much like Chich, I was moved to tears by this film.

Am I happy I took Chich’s recommendation? Am I ever? (Note: I did not say “Am I ever!”)

What’s next?

UPDATE: Noted maritime lawyer and GFOTB Emma Jones recommends the movie she has been respectfully asking me to watch for nigh on months now, Newsies. It's all happening.