When I first saw Pokémon: The First Movie in the movie theater when I was about ten years old, I’d never thought I would see the day when I would have to sit through it again. But here I am, a 19 year old college sophomore, watching this damn movie again. But c’est la vie.
The structure of Pokémon: The First Movie is basically just like any TV-to-film adaptation; it is nothing more than one extended episode. What sets it apart from the TV series is the dark and serious (for a kid-oriented cartoon, anyway) opening sequence. In it, we learn that a new Pokémon named Mewtwo has been genetically engineered from the DNA of Mew. While being studied by some scientists, Mewtwo ponders some deep thoughts (What am I? Am I real? What is life?- shit like that) before being persuaded to leave the scientists and become an equal with some random trainer. The trainer is basically a douchebag and tells Mewtwo that Pokémon can never be "equal" to humans. Mewtwo goes apeshit crazy and starts demolishing everything in his path and ventures on his own.
But don’t worry- it doesn’t stay this dark for too long. Before you know it, the film cuts to Ash, Misty and Brock eating lunch in the park. A different random trainer suddenly comes up to Ash and challenges him to a duel- which of course Ash wins. Now this is something about Ash and his Pokémon that has always bugged me: why is it that his shitty Squirtle and Bulbasaur can defeat such enormous and highly evolved Pokémon every single time? I know that technically Ash is a great trainer or something and that his love for them can overcome everything, blah blah blah, but it really makes no sense. How would Squirtle’s attack in which a little trickle of water comes out of his mouth cause more damage than some 500 pound Pokémon lunging on top of him?
Eventually, Ash and company get an invitation to meet and battle with one of the most powerful- and mysterious- trainers. He immediately accepts and they are off to catch a boat where this trainer lives. Following him is the best characters from the TV show: Jessie, James and Meowth from Team Rocket. They are such enormous divas (with perfect hair) who will stop at nothing to try to catch Ash’s Pikachu. When they get to the boat dock, the storm of the century breaks out and no boats can leave. A couple trainers (including Ash and company) decide to brave the storm and use their Pokémon to get across to the island.
Once on the island, they meet this mysterious trainer and guess who it turns out to be…Mewtwo, of course! What a plot twist I didn’t see coming. Immediately, these cocky trainers want to fight Mewtwo, but they are quickly defeated by his powerful psychic powers. Then they get this brilliant idea that since Mewtwo is a Pokémon, they can capture him. All of them throw their Pokéballs at him, but it doesn’t work. I don’t know what these dumbasses were thinking, because they had just seen Mewtwo annihilate that Gyrados. And even the stupidest person knows that you have to weaken a Pokémon before you can capture it (Duh!)
Next, Mewtwo brings out his own Pokémon to battle and his Blastoise, Charizard and Venusaur quickly defeat the other trainers’ weaker Blastoise, Charizard and Venusaur. In compensation for his victory, Mewtwo decides to claim these fallen Pokémon as his own. I thought this was completely fair (he did whip their asses) but then he decides that he needs to capture every trainers’ Pokémon with these inescapable black Pokéballs. Ash tries to save Pikachu, but in the end these Pokéballs are just too powerful.
But why does Mewtwo want all of these Pokémon? While all of this has been going on, Jessie, James and Meowth have wandered into Mewtwo’s lab and discovered that Mewtwo has a machine that can make exact replicas of any Pokémon placed in it. While these scenes are pretty funny (I love the send up of the TV show where as the Pokémon pass through the cloning machine we see their shadows on a screen and James cries out "Who’s that Pokémon?" while Jessie replies "It’s Pikachu!") they reveal a fatal flaw in the film’s story. Why would Mewtwo, who feels bitter and angry about being created from Mew, want to clone all of these other Pokémon and continue this bitterness among them? Not only is it selfish, it doesn’t fit in with the beginning at all.
Eventually, after he is done cloning them, Mewtwo returns the stolen Pokémon to their trainers and all is happy…for a couple of seconds. Mew, who had been popping up briefly beforehand, shows up and Mewtwo gets pissed and wants to prove that he is superior to the original. So they start battling and, before you know it, all of the other Pokémon (original versus clone) start fighting. This probably the best scene in the whole damn film for two reasons: First, there is this cute shot where both of the Psyducks bitch slap each other without much enthusiasm or energy. Second, there is this great line from one of the random trainers: "Pokémon aren’t meant to fight…like this." It’s perfect because it makes absolutely no sense. When are they meant to fight? For meaningless battles with random trainers who just pop up out of nowhere (like Ash’s battle in the beginning)? What makes that any different than the fight going on right now?
Just when things are looking as grim as they could possibly be, things get worse for Ash. He gets in the way of one of Mewtwo's attacks and goes down like Paris Hilton after a couple of drinks. Pikachu rushes after him, hoping he can save him, but it seems that it is too late. Mewtwo is touched by this gesture and immediately stops fighting, delivers a moving monologue that felt like something out of Crash about how people shouldn't discriminate and then finally bring Ash back to life. Then everything goes back to the way things were and everyone is farting rainbows and getting high on life.
While not as horrible as it could have been, something got lost in translation between the light, carefree and easy to handle TV show and this dark, heavy-handed and preachy. As much as I don't like the show, I'd take it any day over this film.
My Rating: **