The Donbox is a regular series where killing machine Don Rowe watches a movie based on, inspired by, or just damn ripped from a video game. This week Don revisits the first Pokémon movie and finds a film about about friendship, adventure, the thrill of battle … and the agony of existing in a meaningless universe?
Born into this world without a say in the matter, we all face the screaming void whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. From the moment the first Greeks pulled their fishing boats up onto the sand and started to philosophise, mankind has searched for some solid ground to stand on, a place or person or idea that can be pointed at as true and meaningful. A couple thousand years later Sartre said fuck this and wondered if maybe there just isn’t meaning. Maybe we need to make our own.
You know who reached the same conclusion? Mewtwo.
Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back is the only movie I’ve ever seen with two colons in the title. It’s also possibly one of the first movies I ever bought, snagging myself a sick limited edition shiny Mewtwo trading card with the vcr back in ’98. I didn’t know how to play, but that’s ok, because nobody did.
The movie begins with Mewtwo floating suspended in a tank of whatever that fluid is they always use in films to produce clones. Outside, scientists in white coats and anime haircuts peer in, discussing the way they’ve taken DNA of Mew and cloned it/her/him.
“Am I only a copy?” Mewtwo whispers, telepathically. “Mew’s shadow?”
Unlike conventional clones, who seem to take a bit of abuse before they inevitably go rogue, Mewtwo freaks out immediately. Infinitely stronger than the nerds outside, he vaporises the laboratory, floating around without his weird chicken thighs touching the ground. From a distance, a sinister villain watches approvingly.
This being Pokémon, the bad guy is of course Giovanni – he of the big cat and ruby bling. He brokers a deal with Mewtwo, letting him beat up on some of his pokémon and gifting him a sweet suit of armour. It’s a good fit. But Mewtwo’s existential crisis comes to the forefront again.
“Why am I here?” he demands of Giovanni.
“You were created by humans to obey. You will never be our equal.”
Psych. Mewtwo burns down Giovanni’s castle.
“Who am I? What is the true reason for me being? I will find my own purpose,” proclaims Mewtwo as he shoots into the sky.
Unfortunately, Mewtwo’s goal seems to be somewhat dickish – general genocide of humanity and a decent hiding for the pokémon who worked with them. He also makes a bunch more clones because misery loves company.
Meanwhile, Ash Ketchum and his friends receive a holotape from a Dragonite with a courier satchel. Princess Leia style, a hologram of a robed figure invites the trio to a pokémon tournament on an island. Ash’s neglectful mother out of the picture, he agrees at once.
The crew head to a port, find that a storm is preventing boat travel, and decide to go it alone using their water pokémon. It’s here that the most shocking twist in the movie occurs: despite being thrashed by titanic waves, pulled beneath the surface again and again, literally thrown through the air by the force of the surf, Ash’s hat stays on.
Because it’s not a hat. It’s his hair.
The crew eventually make it to the island and discover that a) princess Leia was nurse Joy, and b) Mewtwo is a bastard who wants to steal their pokémon. Ensue pokémon battle.
The curious thing about pokémon battles is how closely they resemble dog fights. In Sam Sheridan’s A Fighters Heart, Sheridan describes a concept experienced dog fighting enthusiasts call ‘making scratch’. As the two fighting dogs wear down from exhaustion and blood loss, there comes a point where one is too tired to go on, where it can’t ‘make scratch’. Pokémon are just like that, responding to the encouragement of their trainers and battling until their body won’t continue. It’s a little fucked up, really.
Anyway, Mewtwo stomps the whole lot of them without breaking a sweat, captures everyone’s pokémon like your average Pokémon Go player in Mission Bay and proceeds to clone them all. It’s all looking a bit dire before, lo and behold, Mew shows up from nowhere and joins the fight. The clones arrive on the battlefield and all hell breaks loose. There are Golduck’s throwing hands, Hitmonlee kicking the shit out of each other, even Squirtle is in the midst of a bar fight. Pikachu plays the ropeadope and tires out it’s clone.
Ash gets caught in the crossfire and turned to stone but is brought back to life by the magic of pokémon tears, the sun clears away and Mewtwo has something of an epiphany.
“I see now that your birth doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with the gift of life that makes you who you are.”
Good stuff, but the real lesson is that even if Sartre is right, even if you have to create your own meaning, it can’t be a general apocolyptic genocide or you’re a bit of a dick.
Verdict: Come for the nostalgia, stay for the philosophy.
This post, like all of our gaming content, is brought to you by the Pokélords at Bigpipe.