A Marxist analysis of Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution

Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution (2019) directed by Kunihiko Yuyama and Motonori Sakakibara is a remake of the first Pokémon film ever released Pokémon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back (1998). The story begins with the creation of Mewtwo, an artificial Pokémon which is a modified clone of the Pokémon Mew.

This article will contain significant spoilers for the film so if you haven’t seen it and would want to avoid spoilers, perhaps this article isn’t for you. But then again, if you haven’t seen this masterpiece, what are you doing with your life.

The film makes no attempts to hide its philosophical aspect with Mewtwo’s first dialogue in the film being a reflection on their origin, specifically what created Mewtwo and what it means with the dialogue climaxing at the line: “for what purpose was I created!”

Mewtwo then destroys the science facility in which he was created. At this point, in the burning remains of the science facility, Giovanni the leader of team rocket arrives and offers Mewtwo a purpose and insisting that Mewtwo’s powers must be controlled to prevent further destruction. What effectively happens here is that Giovanni employs Mewtwo.

The movie here is an explicit example of employee exploitation with Mewtwo getting very little out of their arrangement with Giovanni apart from a nebulous sense of purpose. In contrast Giovanni gains control of incredible power allowing him to steal Pokémon for team rockets monetary benefit (though not explicitly stated in the movie, the general business strategy of team rocket is to steal Pokémon and then sell them for a profit).

Almost immediately we see Mewtwo questioning this arrangement and displaying symptoms of confusion asking questions like “where am I?”, “who am I?”, and perhaps most crucially “for what reason do I fight?” and “for what reason do I live?”. Giovanni’s response to this last question is to argue that Pokémon fight and live for human desires.

This argument is no different to the argument endlessly rolled out by the capitalist bootlicker who implicitly argues that workers work and live for their employer’s desires. Though they might not say so in quite such a succinct manner, the subtext is always clear. Not everyone can be an employer, and so when they say you simply need to save up to found a business and continue growing your wealth, they imply that there is an underclass the necessarily lives and dies for the upper-class.

Mewtwo is unconvinced and defies Giovanni, breaking free of the armour Giovanni had made to control Mewtwo. They destroy the team rocket headquarters and flies away, the pieces of armour peeling off during flight. As Mewtwo lands, they toss the helmet aside, symbolising the liberation from the shackles of oppression. The filmmakers clearly intended this to be a call back to that famous line “You have nothing to lose but your chains!”

However, Mewtwo fails in one regard in that they fail to display class consciousness, preferring to become a master like the humans before them. But we’ll get back to that later.

The story then continues with the protagonist Ash Ketchum from Pallet town. A brief battle with a fellow Pokémon trainer ensues where somehow Ash’s unevolved Squirtle can defeat a fully evolved Machamp, Squirtle must be holding an everstone and be highly over levelled. Ash, Misty and Brock all get an invitation to a “party” by “the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer alive”. This Pokémon trainer is Mewtwo themselves showing that Mewtwo fully intends on joining the capitalist ruling class.

After a small adventure in getting to the island where the party by Mewtwo is being hosted and meeting the other trainers and Mewtwo, Mewtwo unleashes a terrifying display of force by deflecting a Gyarados’ hyperbeam.

At this point it is clear that Mewtwo has little respect for Pokémon or people. First by recklessly harming Gyarados as well as initially getting into this fight by using telekinesis on Gyarados’ Pokémon trainer to control his body.

Not only this, but the audience finds out that Mewtwo has developed their own cloning facility. With little respect for the trauma caused by this cloning to themselves, Mewtwo creates more Pokémon.

At this point, we may ask why is Mewtwo cloning Pokémon if they are already the strongest Pokémon in existence as has been stated multiple times by the movie? The answer the filmmakers clearly lead us to is simple and lies in the origins of Marxist theory, the Hegelian master-slave dialectic.

In the master-slave dialectic we see how to achieve purpose, something Mewtwo has been craving from the beginning, the master enslaves the slave to force them into acknowledging the master. However, as any good Marxist can tell you it is the master that is being enslaved rather than the slave. This is because products that the slave creates gives the slave meaning by showing that the world is created by the slave. Whereas the master becomes ever more reliant on the slave and the products that they create.

Thus, the movie shows how Mewtwo fails in their quest for liberation, perhaps chiefly because the only ideology that they had been exposed to being the “might makes right” ideology proposed by Giovanni.

The story continues as a further fight breaks out, this time between all the trainers’ Pokémon against their clone doubles. This section of the film is obviously an analogy to the Marxist critique of nationalism. During these battle scenes characters often reiterate how both the clones and the original Pokémon alive and are not so different from each other. This pointless divide between clone and non-clone is simply there for Mewtwo’s sick power fantasy.

Then comes Ash, our proletarian hero and the only truly class-conscious character at this point in the story. With all the Pokémon exhausted from battling with their partners, Ash runs into the middle of Mew and Mewtwo’s battle, seemingly sacrificing himself and in the process, showing Mewtwo that humans are not masters and Pokémon not slaves, but rather that the only true revolutionary way forward is through the overthrow of the capitalist system (the film represents this through the shared sorrow of both clone and non-clone and the act of self-sacrifice performed by Ash).

The film ends on this upbeat note, of Mewtwo recognising that true purpose comes our own labour and not the enslavement and domination of others. That we are all living beings and the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. Mewtwo and the other cloned Pokémon leave to pursue their own journeys on their own terms. Ash and the other Pokémon trainers return to the mainland and let their Pokémon heal up in the nationalised and single-payer healthcare system of the Pokémon centre.

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