The Detective Pikachu movie features one of the most powerful and popular Pokemon in existence: the genetically engineered, psychic cat monster Mewtwo. This is hardly the legendary Pokemon’s first big screen appearance, as Mewtwo took center stage in the original Pokemon movie, Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back, as well as others. But you wouldn’t exactly expect Detective Pikachu, a live-action movie based on a 2016 game, to tie in directly with that 1999 film.
Of course, you’d be wrong. Warning–there are Detective Pikachu spoilers past this point!
Mewtwo may be at the center of Detective Pikachu’s mystery, but the movie eventually reveals that he’s not actually the villain. That might seem surprising, given how the psychic Pokemon has been portrayed in the past–until you realize that this is the same Mewtwo that appeared in the original Pokemon anime and movie two decades ago. He’s no big fan of humans, but given all his experiences with us over the years–including his encounters with Ash, Pikachu, and friends in the animated movies, in addition to the events of this film–Mewtwo is starting to come around to us.
The little tidbit in Detective Pikachu that reveals this crucial tie-in with the original Pokemon movie is easy to miss. When Tim (Justice Smith) is sleuthing around the Clifford Enterprises lab with Lucy (Kathryn Newton) and Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), he comes across a fancy holo-recording that documents Mewtwo’s study and the events leading up to the Pokemon’s escape. In the recording, Dr. Laurent (Rita Ora) states that Clifford Enterprises captured Mewtwo after the Pokemon escaped from the Kanto region 20 years earlier.
Obviously, that’s significant. The Kanto region is where the first generation of Pokemon games (Red/Blue/Yellow) and anime took place, including the scene from the original show in which Mewtwo blew up Team Rocket’s headquarters and flew away. That led directly into the first movie’s plot, where Mewtwo lured strong Pokemon trainers to an island in an elaborate plot to prove its dominance (a story that was significantly changed in the transition from Japan to Western audiences). Clearly, the Mewtwo in Detective Pikachu is meant to be the very same Mewtwo who escaped Team Rocket’s clutches and later encountered Ash and his friends.
Detective Pikachu director Rob Letterman told GameSpot that he was eager to tie this movie in with the larger series, despite its many obvious differences. “I really wanted to connect it to the overall Pokemon universe,” the director explained. “It’s not meant to be a one-off thing, it’s meant to be a part of and expand the overall Pokemon universe.”
Letterman was especially interested in connections to the first Pokemon movie, Mewtwo Strikes Back, and not just because of the obvious connective tissue of Mewtwo’s prominence in both films.
“There’s a lot of references to that because that was the first Pokemon movie I watched with my kids, so that one was important to me, and Mewtwo plays a big role in this film,” the director said, pointing out even more similarities beyond the Kanto reference: “There’s a lot of nods to that, even in the opening–just the air bubbles in the containment chamber the Mewtwo is in are crafted after the anime air bubbles from the opening of the first movie. There’s a lot of subtle hints in there that connect us to the rest of the universe.”
In Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow, players could capture Mewtwo from a cave that was only accessible after they beat the Elite Four. In the anime and animated movies, Mewtwo rarely reappeared in any major way after the first movie, besides a 2001 TV special called “Mewtwo Returns” and a role in the 2013 film Genesect and the Legend Awakened, where the psychic cat is much friendlier to humans.
Is Detective Pikachu a direct sequel to Mewtwo Strikes Back? Not exactly, but it’s certainly safe to say that it’s set in the same universe. Mewtwo still isn’t crazy about people, but it’s clear that his days of “kill all humans and take over the world” are over.
Detective Pikachu is in theaters now. Next, read our full Detective Pikachu review. Then check out how Ryan Reynolds originally wanted to play Pikachu–it could have turned out very different–and all the Pokemon Easter eggs, references, and inside jokes we spotted. We also have a video breakdown, a report from Detective Pikachu’s movie set, and the Pokemon Go tie-in event that’s happening this week.