It’s been 17 years since the original release of Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back. Since then, there’s been 19 other Pokémon movies. For veteran Pokémon players, I’m guessing that none of the newer movies match up to the original one, though.
The First Pokémon Movie, for those that don’t know, is actually Mewtwo’s origin story. If you’ve played Pokémon Red and Blue, you’re probably already familiar with it: Mewtwo is the result of a scientific cloning experiment that used the DNA of an ancient Pokémon, Mew. As such, Mewtwo holds the distinction of being one of the few man-made Pokémon, ever. The games don’t really dig into that remarkable fact. Instead, the games are happy to turn Mewtwo into just another rare Pokémon you can capture, if you’re patient enough.
In the movie, you get to hear Mewtwo’s voice. You get to hear his anguish, his anger, his rage. He doesn’t understand why humans created him, or why humans treat him as if he were just a test subject—and not a sentient being. Unsurprisingly, Mewtwo doesn’t really want to dedicate his life to fighting mindless Pokémon battles for the amusement of humans, either. Instead, Mewtwo has dreams of flying. He still has memories of being a Mew, of taking to the skies and soaring.
Looking back now, I’m shocked that the movie went there at all. Think about it: the central fantasy at the heart of Pokémon is that there’s nothing wrong with humans forming a society around what is essentially cockfighting. Mewtwo’s existence, and his moral dilemma, actively grapples with the issue of humans owning Pokémon. You can’t watch the movie without questioning everything about Pokémon’s structure and premise.
Now, I’m not trying to suggest that the first Pokémon movie is an intentionally deep meditation on Pokémon. It’s a silly kids movie. Why in the world would Ash Ketchum get an invitation to meet the most powerful trainer alive? If owning Pokémon is so awful, why is the first thing Mewtwo does clone Pokémon to do his bidding? Shouldn’t Mewtwo know first-hand how existentially terrifying being a clone is? And why does Ash think he can one v one motherfucking Mewtwo? Are you serious, bro?
Let’s get one thing straight here. The first Pokémon movie is not good. It’s cheesy. The central message is about as subtle as a pack of Wailords. And the music—god, the music. This is an actual song that plays during the first Pokémon movie:
It’s garbage. The whole thing is just trash.
And yet! None of this matters. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but there’s a part near the end of the movie...you probably know what I’m talking about, right?
The Pokémon become exhausted trying to fight one another:
But Mew and Mewtwo don’t care. They’re still fighting at this point, still trying to take each other down. Meanwhile, all the Pokémon around them tear each other to pieces.
Ash, heartbroken at what he’s seeing, tries to put a stop to the madness. By which I mean that Ash, the eternal genius, decides to run into the attacks of two of the most powerful Pokémon ever:
Ash then turns into stone. Pikachu, bless its tiny little rodent heart, tries to bring Ash back to life:
Touched by Ash’s courage, every single Pokémon in the room starts crying. And that’s when Pokémongets all DBZ on us: through the collected power of everyone’s tears, Ash somehow comes back to life. It’s like a Spirit Bomb, except it’s made out of tears instead of energy:
I know, it’s silly deus ex machina. I don’t care. Seventeen years later, after I have become a grown-ass adult, Pokémon can still make me cry. It doesn’t help that the Pikachu, with all its cuteness and sassiness, reminds me of my real-life cat. Though I’m sure my cat wouldn’t shed a single tear if I died right in front of her. She’d probably just try to eat me instead, the heartless monster. It’s no wonder the fantasy of Pokémon is so potent!
I was ready to hate rewatching the first Pokémon movie. I was ready to detail every single flaw I could find, to rip it apart. Instead, the movie reminded me of everything sweet and absurd that I love about Pokémon, and why, after twenty years of games and movies, I keep coming back for more.