Close your eyes, if you will, and imagine what it must have been like in the late nineties.
Then open your eyes because statistically speaking most people were around at that time and the fact that there could be people reading this that don’t remember that era makes me feel old.
But regardless, that period was the hey-day for Pokemon. Those things were on everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. Clothes, books, macaroni and cheese. You couldn’t walk two feet without running into all of that stock art.
So naturally they made a movie out of it.
This was actually intended to serve as the ending to the anime, but a number of factors (including the delay in production caused by the infamous Porygon episode and the fact that the show was making them a boatload of money) quickly put a stop to that idea.
Well, the events to actually get Mew in the games are long gone, so this is gonna be the next best thing. Let’s get started.
We open on an Astro Boy tribute. That is, we open on the creation of Mewtwo (Philip Bartlett), the proclaimed “ultimate Pokemon” cloned from the legendary Pokemon Mew. However, since they didn’t have time to go through the beta-testing process, there’s a ton of design flaws. Seriously, I could go on all day about the ridiculous pecs alone.
Mewtwo immediately goes into his teen angst phase and destroys the lab and everyone in it, thus setting the tone for this blatant cash-in of a children’s movie. Giovanni (Ed Paul), who apparently hangs around waiting for this sort of thing to happen, shows up and offers to help Mewtwo train.
We’re then treated to a montage of clips from episodes that hadn’t yet aired at the time, consisting of Mewtwo single-handedly trouncing the teams of a number of trainers because whoever’s in charge of overseeing the Kanto gyms clearly isn’t doing their job. In the end, Mewtwo finds out he’s being used, does a spot-on Harrison Bergeron impression and shanghais out of there.
Here, the prologue ends and we finally get to see the main characters; Ash, Misty, and Brock. We don’t get an official introduction because the target audience has already seen all of the VHS tapes of the series fifteen times over. Ash does what he does best, fighting a Pokemon battle against a somewhat morally dubious opponent to the tune of the main theme, thereby spawning endless bad acapella covers on Youtube.
As the powers that be were clearly impressed by that somewhat lackluster battle, a Dragonite flies down and gives them a card containing a holographic invitation to a tournament held by the “World’s Greatest Pokemon Master”.
Ash and friends immediately head straight to the harbor where a large number of people are already gathered, right as a… light drizzle sets in. This is treated as something terrible.
Some woman that we’ve never seen before tells the crowd that they should give up and go home, as there is currently a hurricane approaching. Oh, and they’re not allowed to go to the Center as the local Joy has gone missing and apparently there’s only one trained nurse in the entire area. She also tells a local legend about sailors getting lost in the area, because naturally the best time to tell a story is in the middle of a storm.
However, telling ancient myths isn’t necessarily the best way to deter stupid behavior, so we immediately cut to some of the more suicidal trainers using their Pokemon to head out into the eye of the storm.
Given that Ash and Company have no water Pokemon with them other than the half dozen or so that they do have, they end up accepting a ride from Team Rocket disguised as Vikings, because Team Rocket is nothing if not current.
Of course, oars and a rowboat aren’t exactly the best weapon against the storm of the century, and they’re promptly swept away by the waves. Ash and his friends send out the water Pokemon that they suddenly remembered they had, and there’s a decently drawn out sequence of… swimming. I guess that it’s supposed to build tension but it doesn’t really work. Even if the heart does go on, they’re not gonna kill off Ash.
Anyway, they finally arrive at New Island, which was apparently designed by the Phantom of the Opera. Brock immediately notices that the woman that greets them is the missing Joy, which the audience saw coming but there’s only two or three distinct faces in their art style so it doesn’t really matter anyway. I was gonna give them a bad time about the obvious usage of CGI, but apparently that was added for the home video release, so I’ll just point out that they Lucas’d it up and move on.
Team Rocket also shows up at the island unnoticed, promising wacky hijinks for all.
We’re then treated to a pointless scene of Mew screwing around. There’s a lot of these, actually, but this one takes the cake in terms of sheer padding.
It’s here that we formally meet our obligatory one-off supporting characters, none of whom are actually named in the movie and none of whom do anything of consequence.
One of them thinks Nidoqueen’s a water type.
That’s funny, right?
Here the “Ultimate Pokemon Master” is revealed to be none other than Mewtwo, surprising absolutely nobody. Mewtwo’s actually a fairly interesting character in his original incarnation, as he’s not so much evil as acting out against the injustices he’s been dealt throughout the first half of the film. In America, however, they just made him a typical edgelord and called it a day.
Meanwhile, Team Rocket sneaks around the fortress and comes across the court-mandated secret laboratory, complete with large threatening machines, several screens, and a bunch of tubes filled with
amusing genetic copies Pokemon clones, complete with Mike Tyson-style tribal tattoos.
We see a video about the creation of Mewtwo (in other words, the abridged version of that whole ten minute prologue), and the EasyClone™ machine starts up. Meowth is cloned in a matter of seconds, and then the original clones get “birthed” from the tubes in an unnecessarily goopy manner the likes of which I’ve only seen on Deviantart.
The clones head over to the main room of the Island, where Mewtwo announces that they are his team, much like that asshole kid from middle school that used a Gameshark on his system. He challenges the trainers to a battle, clones vs. originals, and much like asshole Gameshark kid, manages to win due to the perfect IVs that were no doubt involved. Since winning the de Coubertin medal is clearly not one of his top priorities, Mewtwo then claims that his prize for winning is his opponents’ Pokemon, thus introducing the concept of snagging five years before Colosseum. Everyone is swiftly captured, and Ash manages to follow the Pokeballs to the lab.
We then cut to Team Rocket, where they’re enjoying a nice round of Who’s That Pokemon.
Given that it’s been some time since we’ve last seen them we can only assume that they’ve been standing there the whole time waiting for that to start.
Ash manages to save Pikachu (not really, given that he’s still cloned) and shut down the machine (again, not really). After the clones head out all of the originals are released, showing once and for all that Mewtwo didn’t really think this plan through. They’re led to the arena by Ash in what’s admittedly a pretty cool sequence that’s immediately offset by the trainer getting attacked by Mewtwo.
It’s here that Mew finally does something, namely saving our protagonist from certain death. The two Legendaries have a debate over whether the clones or the originals are superior (a pretty lame one at that- they don’t even allow them to give rebuttals), and then the fight starts. Each Pokemon fights their double, because type advantages mean nothing to these people. Of course, since they’re pretty evenly matched due to, you know, being clones, it’s all futile. We get to see about five minute of fighting and tears while the human characters stand on the sideline and lament.
Over all of this we get the song “Brother My Brother”.
How can I possibly describe “Brother My Brother”?
I’m into musical theatre, so I have to deal with overtly cheesy songs on a regular basis. I practically have a rating system at this point. But this is beyond that. It practically breaks my scale. This is the worst of late nineties ballads, crooning slightly off-key about peace and not fighting to a degree that U2 would be ashamed of, all set to slow-motion video of the Pokemon fighting their clones.
Because nothing says peace and understanding like dogfighting.
Meowth sums up the philosophy of whoever the hell is the opposite of Sartre, and the audience drinks in the moral, blissfully unaware that they’re only going to say it at least five more times.
While all of this is going on, Mew and Mewtwo begin to fight to the death, presumably through a really high-stakes game of marbles, given that they’re just surrounding themselves in balls and ramming into each other. Given that Ash is a complete idiot, he decides that the best course of action is to run directly between these two gods on earth while begging for them to stop.
Naturally, this results in him turning to stone.
No, this isn’t explained.
Since he’s unaware that the cure for this is some Luminous Water, Pikachu attempts to fix this the way he solves all of his problems: by shocking the resulting statue repeatedly until a deus ex machina happens.
Then, of course, comes the famous part.
The Sisyphean futility of Pikachu’s endeavor touches the hearts of originals and clones alike, and all of the Pokemon begin to cry. All of them. This is supposed to be heartwrenching, but this is coming just after “Brother My Brother” so the viewer is still making fun of the song. The tears flow throughout the battlefield and revive Ash.
Because Pokemon tears have healing abilities apparently.
Keep in mind that this actually makes more sense in the dub, although the foreshadowing involved is really easy to miss.
Mewtwo realizes the error of his ways, and decides that the best way to make things right is to take the clones and erase the memories of everyone involved, thus rendering several episodes worth of foreshadowing moot.
And then we end up at the start.
This time, however, the missing Joy shows up to announce that the Center is open for shelter, therefore allowing us to get off of Mr. Mewtwo’s Wild Ride for good.
Realizing just how bad this movie is was one of the strangest epiphanies of my life. I feel like I’m spitting on my own childhood just by saying it. But I legitimately feel sorry for the parents of the late 1990s, because Pokemon: The First Movie isn’t good in the slightest. Nothing gets accomplished. Nobody learns anything. And none of it matters anyway thanks to the resolution. If it was just standard kiddy fare it would be one thing, but this entire movie is just half-hearted philosophizing, something that the franchise wouldn’t get right for another four generations.
And the really annoying thing is that my research indicates that the Japanese version is held in ridiculously high esteem. Like, “best video game movie ever” levels of high esteem. Instead of tacking on a “fighting is bad” aesop to appease the Jack Thompson supporters in the audience, its primary philosophy focuses instead on the meaning of life and the ethics of cloning through its discussion of a prologue that was, of course, cut from the English dub. Sure, it was mostly just standing around and talking, but it was standing around and talking that made sense in the context of the movie.
But yeah, I’d say the first movie is the Snow White of the Pokemon franchise, by which I mean I cannot friggin’ stand Snow White. Seriously. It’s a bad movie. But technically, it was a very impressive film. And so was this one. Just not, you know, here.