Saturday, May 16, 2015

Guilty Pleasures: Pokémon The First Movie- Mewtwo Strikes Back

Scroll Beyond Exhibits A & B For the Movie Review
Exhibit A: Introducing my Guilt

The technical definition of a "guilty pleasure" is something you enjoy, but have some regret about enjoying :shrug:

For me, it's a little bit different on a case to case basis... some I am embarrassed to be "caught" watching... some, I really don't care because I enjoy it anyway. The latter applies particularly to "Twilight" and may also to "50 shades of grey" (talking the movie here, not the book).

Pokémon as a phenomenon, no matter how much it shaped the person I am today (more on that later, once the "shock" of that statement wears off), I do feel some guilt when I'm caught watching it...
The same eye rolling [mainly from my dad... who tends to do this with anyone I'm overly enthusiastic about] that detracts from watching any episode of "Ally McBeal" with Robert Downey Jr. applies and is multiplied by a million.
I feel no guilt about RDJ whatsoever and the embarrassment upfront goes away within a couple minutes...

With Pokémon... another story entirely that I'll try to give the cliff notes version

Exhibit B: Pokémaniac since 1999I was already kind of a fan of the animated series since that summer, but things didn't start happening when I was at home recovering from my back surgery.
I started dreaming... prolifically... December 8 1999, I had a dream so vivid I had to piece together what I saw... I had no idea at the time that that was my beginning as a writer, that a series of fanfiction [40+ short stories] or that I'd fall in love with my subject.

As crazy as it sounds, Ash Ketchum inspired me to become a writer :shrug: in my dream, I pieced together that he was suffering from Arbok's poison sting and I saved his life.
My fanfiction had since extended to the members of Dream Street [I think I wrote a love story involving each of them except Greg Raposo-I started one and never finished], InuYasha, Robert Pattinson [based on his movie "Remember Me" and a dream I had about him]  Robert Downey Jr. [and two characters he played, Julian Wells and Larry Paul] and Evgeni Plushenko [once playing a character and once as myself- no romance involved in either]

To be honest, making that leap from friendship and coupling, all that kinda started when I started hearing the rumors that Misty was in love with him... and I kinda went out of my way to write how I was a better match for him.
People can go on about how Misty is a strong female character, how it's cool that she can take care of herself and her actions towards Ash and Brock could be considered comic relief... I just saw her as a bully and sometimes I still do.

Really, the only thing I feel guilty about is the way I isolated myself in 8th grade in this fictional world I adapted for my own use and let myself grow apart from a couple of my friends. [We're still friends on Facebook, but we really hadn't spoken in ages]

Do I still feel that affection for Ash? Absolutely. It's hard not to forget your first love- real or fictional... but that love only goes as far as my fanfiction [the last story I wrote was back in 2010 and I still hadn't finished] and the animated series/movies up until 2006.
That's when new sound-alike voice actors took over for Veronica Taylor, Rachel Lillis and Eric Stuart. Ash just isn't the same without Veronica Taylor bringing him to life :shrug: so I progressively lost interest in the series and the games and wish they would all go away. [I'm the same way with Power Rangers- ever since David Yost left the show and especially after hearing about the things he went through on set]

Another thing that came out of Pokémon... my being a fan of Japanese animé. After that series, I checked into Sailor Moon (another series I subsequently lost interest in with the new voice actors ruined it), Yu-Gi-Oh! and Card Captors.
I also got heavily into Miyazaki's films after "Spirited Away" won the Oscar...
My friends Christian and Brittany were heavily into animé and I regret never getting around to asking which series they liked/recommended.
Then in college, I started watching Adult Swim [InuYasha, FullMetal Alchemist and Bleach were my favorites], became part of our animé club and eventually got to go to the New York Comic-Con- where I fulfilled a dream I forgot I had- to meet Veronica Taylor.

She and Rachel Lillis were signing autographs starting at 5:30. My two regrets on that: a) I didn't bring a camera and b) I kinda gave Rachel Lillis the cold shoulder- the least I could have done was say I liked her portrayal of Jessie from Team Rocket.
I also didn't ask Veronica Taylor to do Ash's voice for me... which I didn't do because I expect voice actors get sick of that... but part of me wish I had.

Seriously, voice actors in general do not get enough credit, especially when they originate characters.

Mewtwo Strikes Back
Some Spoilers... not anyone is going to care
Okay, now I'm finally gonna talk about that freaking movie. One of three that I saw in theaters [also saw 2000 and 4ever].
And probably the first time I cried at the movies [I can't remember if I did watching "The Lion King"]... more on that later [no regrets!]

I started on this trek because of another of those dreams- but I have little to no recollection of it at this point [another habit of mine that started in 1999- I started writing down my dreams]. I revisited the soundtrack with all kinds of nostalgia coming back.
I watched the movie last night and found there was enough to write about... not to mention there needs to be some positive presence for this franchise alone. According to Wikipedia, the critics were ruthless.

Granted, this movie isn't The Breakfast Club, Psycho or Star Wars... which I deem as perfection in their particular genres because they are just that good [I'd use the old "Citizen Kane" example, but then I'd be cliché]... but it isn't bad.

Well, maybe the overall message is bad, but I'll get to that.

For starters, we get a Pokémon-centric short as we do with all the movies- this one is Pikachu's Vacation, where we see the ones belonging to Ash, Brock and Misty interact with each other and a couple new ones in a waterpark.
All the shenanigans that occur begin with Togepi. First it cries because it's hungry and then it cries when the new Pokémon wake it up from its nap by being too noisy. Meanwhile, I'm watching this, thinking "this wouldn't have happened if Misty fed Togepi before dropping it off"... I swear, I never made that connection before :P I don't go out of my way to throw shade in her general direction. It just happens.
Pikachu, Squirtle and Bulbasaur compete with Snubbull, Marill and Raichu in feats of strength and speed- all because these guys woke Togepi and were kinda being bullies. Then they eventually set aside their differences to save Charizard when its head gets stuck in a pipe.

That's the short in a nutshell. It's not really meant to be intelligent by any means. It's meant to be fun with a chance of cuteness overload [although they've got nothing on Grumpycat]. The critics called it fluff that only kids would really enjoy.
But I'm talking from a nostalgic place, so I see things differently.

Speaking of differently...

For those who don't know [and I imagine there are a lot], Mewtwo is Pokémon #150.
What I didn't piece together until I saw the movie: Mewtwo was a genetically modified clone of Mew... yeah, "two" is right there in the name and I didn't pick that up. Well, I also didn't know there was a Pokémon called Mew until this movie. [Only available at special Pokémon events].

You could say, I guess, that Mewtwo is a Pokémon-adapted version of Frankenstein. But instead of bringing dead tissue to life with an abby-normal brain [yes, "Young Frankenstein" is a great movie too], they took DNA from Mew's hair to clone it and genetically make it more powerful.
But Mewtwo, being a psychic type Pokémon, is very clever and perceptive. He realizes that he's only being viewed as a test subject and wrecks havoc. Then the boss of Team Rocket, Giovanni, takes him under his wing, giving the impression they would be partners in world domination. Team Rocket steals and exploits rare and valuable Pokémon so obviously this doesn't end well either.

Ultimately, Mewtwo has two negative impressions of humans and that's enough for him to assume all humans are evil and must be exterminated in favor of his own world.

The change I felt this time around was... well, you can't help but feel a little sorry for Mewtwo. Heck, I spent most of the movie on his side.
His plan ultimately is to invite what he deems to be the strongest Pokémon trainers in the world to his island where he will steal their Pokémon, make genetically stronger clones and do what Noah did- except he's creating the flood that would lead to the new world's creation.

Our main characters and three others [Corey, Neesha and Fergus- the names are never spoken but they are online and in the novel adaptation] are the only ones who make and survive the trip to Mewtwo's island.
He goes on a big speech about how he perceives the world and plans to change it, not believing anything the characters [human or Pokémon] have to say about it.
After the speech, he accepts Ash's challenge to fight them in Pokémon battles using his clones of the evolved starters, Venusaur, Charizard and Blastoise.

So after the battles, that's the point where I started going back to my original stance- that Mewtwo is being a jerk... he captures all the Pokémon in special balls- they're kind like Master balls that guarantee capture and can also absorb regular Pokéballs.
Pikachu puts up the biggest fight not only because it's expected as a main character, but also because Pikachu spent the entire series defying confinement. We learn this in episode 1 when it refuses to go back into the ball once Professor Oak lets it out.
[Episode 1 is probably still my favorite- particularly for the touching moment in the final 5 minutes that solidifies Ash and Pikachu's life-long friendship & partnership]

Throughout the movie, we also cut away to Team Rocket [Jessie, James and Meowth] frequently while they explore Mewtwo's mansion- all while they're being followed by Mew.
[As for whether Mew or Grumpy cat is cuter... I'm still deciding that :P now that I think about it, this is probably the first time I'd seen the movie in nearly 10 years... definitely the first time since "Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon"... not just a rude awakening- I literally woke up that morning and thought there was something wrong with my ears or the TV- with the terrible replacement voice actors, but also because they brought back the Japanese voiceover of Mew, which I HATED maybe even more... the cutness factor was completely gone]

Mew's theme brought back the most nostalgia... probably because the film score album only has a small part of it- where he's playing around with the windmill blades.

Ash goes to great lengths to save Pikachu, even after it's captured in the ball... and his actions destroy the cloning machine, but not before all the extracted DNA makes the copies. He stages a pretty dramatic confrontation with Mewtwo, walking out of the smoke in slow motion with epic music in the background- some parts look like they were done on a computer.

Excuse me for being impressed, geesh...

but all is almost for naught before Mewtwo nearly kills him by throwing him into a pillar very high up, and is only saved by Mew's intervention.
Mew tries to talk sense into Mewtwo, but doesn't succeed... the end result is that that the originals and clones fight each other physically to prove which is stronger.

This is the point in the movie where all the critics got bent out of shape for the rest of its entirety. I'd heard the criticism that the movie is boring or has terrible writing and so on... I don't find the movie boring. I find Mewtwo a very convincing villain and his motivation is good. He has legit reasons to be pissed off... although after a while, his closed-mindness does wear thin because he's not willing to listen to anybody looking to change his mind.

The final straw that broke the camel's back... everyone spending a good five minutes saying that fighting is wrong... when that technically is the point of the Pokémon franchise/universe. But I can argue that there are different degrees of fighting. The fighting in this movie is like fighting to the death- technically. Whereas in the series, it's about making one another go unconscious. Even when that point is reached here, the fighting still continues in waves.

You can give it up to clichés or whatever... I really don't care that anyone can have a negative view of Ash's sacrifice... proving that he is the chosen one, he puts himself in the middle of Mew and Mewtwo's fighting. He gets the result he wanted, but probably didn't count turning to stone [i.e. dying].
I know this is a kid's movies and series, but I think about this nowadays and feel dissatisfied with that. Nobody knows the real-life implications of being caught between two blasts of psychic energy :shrug: being turned to stone is better than being blasted into a million pieces, but the blank stare on his face robs me a little bit of an emotional response.

Not that I have any right to complain... I cried my eyes out in the theater during this scene and maybe for minutes after the movie ended... I just remember that I wasn't wailing in my sorrow (not that I'd done that with movies)... and in my fanfiction, I'd pulled stunts like that to give myself an emotional response.
The worst part: I knew about this in advance, not the implications of it, but that the near-death happens.

Nostalgia Critic, by no means a Pokémon fan, had a field day with this amazing scene. Where Pokémon tears (something early on in the movie said to be real in legend only- they had their own story of Noah) bring him back to life.
They did this in the 2nd Care Bears movie and the Power Rangers movie- where belief alone brought the dead back to life. How is this any more of a crime?

Mewtwo finally realizes the err of his ways and takes his clones with him to another place "where my heart can learn what [Ash's] knows so well"... then of course he wipes out everyone's memories and they wind back at the harbor where they started.

So yeah, they learned fighting was bad, but forgot learning that lesson... boo-freaking-hoo to all the haters out there.
Although I do have my gripes about the memory wipe thing... everyone could have promised Mewtwo they wouldn't tell anyone about his shenanigans :shrug: just saying


Amazing soundtrack with lots of great songs... mostly by artists that no longer have relevance or had none to begin with. The only complaint I have (with this and the soundtrack for "2000") is that the majority weren't in the movie at all... and really have no legit reason for being there.
"We're a Miracle" and "If Only Tears can Bring you Back" by Christina Aguilera and the Midnight Sons, respectively, are the only ones that really have any connection to the movie. Aside from the theme song, the theme of Pikachu's Vacation and "Catch me if you can" which was featured during Squirtle's swim race with Maril, and two other songs in the credits, none of them have connection to the movie. "Lullaby," which features some sound bytes from Jigglypuff at least has some connection to the Pokémon franchise... even though Jigglypuff was only seen for a second in Pikachu's Vacation- well, a few if you count the segway.
Not that I care personally... I just kinda made that observation.

"Don't Say You Love Me" by M2M is one of my favorites. I had to watch the music video on the DVD afterwards. And also check into their video for "Mirror Mirror," which I have some vague recollection of. It's so hard to believe they were only a couple years older than me when they did those songs. And I should make a mind to check into their other music at some point.

Mewtwo ReturnsThere was also a direct to video sequel. Mewtwo wiped everyone's memories at the end of the movie... but kinda forgot about Giovanni from Team Rocket.

Again, the movie really isn't bad. My one negative was that they recycled all the music from the movie (and there's one piece that shouldn't really be used for anything but its original scene).
And it's maybe a little repetitive. Mewtwo is still trying to figure out his reason for being and insists he and the clones can only live in isolation since they don't belong in the world.

Ash, Brock and Misty get involved in this because they happened to be in the region at the time this was happening... plus Team Rocket captured Pikachu and the crazy weather took their balloon to Mewtwo's island.
Giovanni wants to ruin things by not only capturing Mewtwo and bending him to his will, but also creating an army of powerful Pokémon for his "world domination" scheme.

Mewtwo agrees to surrender to save the other Pokémon, but at great personal cost. Luckily our characters are there to save his life and the island happens to have a spring of healing water... a clichéd plot device that carries over to the "4ever" movie [along with the environmental message].
Misty and Brock distract Giovanni and his Team Rocket forces while Ash takes an injured Mewtwo to the spring. He's questioning his selfless actions. Ash says that this was in exchange for helping Pikachu, but also added why there needs to be a reason to help someone in trouble... crush or no crush, I loved the moment.

We got the VHS at an our video store ages ago, but it wasn't in great condition when we got it. A lot of it had static and glitches so things didn't clear up until 20 minutes in. So really, today was the first time I'd seen it in its entirety in ages.... and I really enjoyed it.

Team Rocket had a few great comic relief moments, but I love when James says after meeting Mewtwo and the clones "I feel like I'm watching a sequel to a movie I missed"... kind of an inside joke.
Not unlike the "2000" movie where he injects it into the motto "And make it double, we're on the big screen" :P breaking the 4th wall is cheesy, but I love it.

I also checked another thing- Mewtwo's voice actor was Phillip Bartlett (aka the series' narrator) in the movie. In the sequel, he's performed by Dan Green... so in addition to the dialogue, I was feeling some degree of affection based on his body of work.
Particularly "Yu-Gi-Oh" where he did Yugi and Yami, the pharaoh from the Millennium Puzzle.

I actually was under the impression Dan Green did all the legandaries throughout the movies... but he didn't do Mewtwo originally and he didn't even do Lugia in "2000"... not that that takes away from my adoration of Lugia. Easily my favorite legendary.

At the end, Mewtwo goes to do his memory wipe thing, but everyone (human and Pokémon) convince him not to... so he decides to do so to Team Rocket. Giovanni grumbles that he has a feeling he was just horribly defeated.
And according to the final still... Mewtwo is now Batman... seriously, we see him standing watch up high over a city. Kinda lame, but whatever, I enjoyed myself.

The Final Word

This has to be addressed... Mewtwo is the most powerful Pokémon of all, but those who played the video games know that they introduced the Dark type in the 2nd generation...
There's a rule in the gaming logic that traded Pokémon only obey you as long as you have the badges to control them... this was likely introduced so people wouldn't trade Mewtwo to new games to dominate too easily. And I think the Dark type was used for similar reasons- so Mewtwo would have a type it wouldn't be able to defeat.

Man, what would have happened with the original movie if the Dark type had been introduced then? Would any of these shenanigans have happened at all?

And also, Mewtwo is the ultimate boss in the N64 game, Pokémon Puzzle League.
Only accessible in Very Hard and Super Hard mode.
The trick is you have to beat him on the first try or you have to go back to the previous round to duel Gary for the umpteenth time.
Considering I hadn't played in years, I did pretty well... I only lost 19 times prior to those last two rounds and beat Mewtwo on my second try.

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