POKÉMON Detective Pikachu
Family – Adventure, action, mystery, sci-fi
Warner Bros. Pictures / Legendary Pictures / The Pokémon Company
Tim’s estranged father works as a detective, but when a case Harry was working on goes wrong, Tim is forced to come to Ryme City. Here, Tim finds a Pikachu — a Pikachu he can understand! Pikachu is Harry’s partner, and although he has amnesia, he believes that Harry is still alive. Tim’s not interested in having a partner Pokémon, but he may have no choice if he wants to find his dad — and solve the mysteries hiding deep in Ryme City.
POKÉMON Detective Pikachu runs on the strength of its titular character.
The movie, as you probably know, is based on the 3DS game Detective Pikachu. While I won’t spend the whole review comparing and contrasting the two, the film takes significant cues from the game’s storyline. Names like Tim, Harry, and Ryme City are all carried over, the Hi-Hat Cafe features a Ludicolo waitress, Pikachu loves coffee, and even the appearance of a particular fan-favorite Pokémon will not be huge shocks to those who’ve played the game. But there are some big differences. For example, the main female character in the game is a TV reporter named Emilia who has no Pokémon, the movie features a reporter intern named Lucy who has a Psyduck. Most of the game cases, which do end up being connected to Harry’s disappearance, are skipped, and the movie explains the history of Ryme City while Ryme City is given no such background in the game.
One of the best differences though, is the budget. While the game couldn’t even be bothered to feature 3D, Legendary Pictures (and The Pokémon Company) really made Ryme City live up to its reputation as a place where humans and Pokémon live together. Anyone who has played Pokémon main games and/or watched the anime know that Pokémon are already a large presence in every town, but the movie’s buzzing metropolis is a place where Poké Balls are discouraged and Pokémon battles are illegal. All kinds of Pokémon from different generations walk, run, waddle, or fly across the streets of Ryme City. You probably won’t be able to name ’em all in one viewing since Pokémon are everywhere, although it seems like certain Pokémon are popular in the town since they appear more often. This is basically the Pokémon city every Pokémon player has dreamed of being able to visit in real life. I was unfortunately unable to see it in 3D where I’m sure it would have been even more awesome.
The film crew worked closely with the Japanese staff behind Pokémon to give the little creatures a realistic yet familiar appearance. Charizard looks like what we’d imagine a fire-breathing reptilian dragon would look like in the real world, Greninja act like stereotypical shuriken-throwing shinobi, and a Lickitung’s tongue is disturbingly long. I didn’t care for all of the movie’s takes on Pokémon though; Jigglypuff in particular look as if it’s a pink, fuzzy Elvis impersonator. But all the Pokémon are pretty close to their game and anime incarnations, unlike some other live action adaptations that would force the mouse-like Pikachu into being more like the rodents found in the real world. Even though the actor who did Pikachu’s voice (most famous for his roles as the titular character in Deadpool and one of the two male leads in Two Guys and a Girl) also did the motion capture for Pikachu, it’s still a Pikachu we see on screen, not Ryan Reynolds’ oddly morphed yellow-furred face.
Before we meet the titular Pikachu, we follow Tim Goodman, a young insurance agent whose friend is worried about him being a loner with no Pokémon partner. Tim insists he’s fine, and his prickliness about the subject carries over when he finds out that his father has passed away. When Tim goes to clean out his dad’s apartment, he ends up running into an intern who believes Harry had stumbled into something big. But this weird encounter is nothing compared to when he finds a Pikachu that appears to talk! As Pikachu later explains to Tim, something happened that caused him to lose all memories of what they were investigating. But now that someone has arrived that understands what he’s saying — and even better that it’s Harry’s son — Pikachu hopes to find Harry and reclaim his missing memories. Tim, on the other hand, has pretty much avoided Pokémon since giving up his dream of being a Pokémon Trainer. Being able to understand a Pokémon is already crazy, but dealing with this Pikachu makes things even crazier. And this “Detective Pikachu” is quite a character: he is quick with the comebacks, likes attention and sleuthing, and loves his coffee.
Reynolds’ snappy banter as Pikachu is a very different take from the more traditional gruff detective found in the game. This somewhat changes how the audience views Pikachu versus the game’s version, as this one is more of a brother or a buddy rather than a mentor. In a medium where there’s no audience interaction, the live action’s interpretation of the titular character was almost certainly the correct choice. Younger viewers won’t appreciate the irony of the foul-mouthed, reluctant Deadpool playing an enthusiastic electric mouse, but all ages will enjoy Pikachu’s freewheeling, meme-ready lines. Although some were already revealed in the trailers, I was surprised at how the movie pushed the envelope on being family-friendly in regards to its jokes. Frozen is also rated PG, but there’s a big step up from scary snowman and swords versus Pikachu saying something like, “The more you get naked, the more they’re attracted to you!” Yet when the movie needs him to be serious and emotional, Pikachu will tug at the audience’s heartstrings.
Justice Smith as Tim Goodman is an even bigger change from the generic nice-guy who is looking for his works-in-another-town-away-from-his-family dad. A lot of viewers will likely be like, “It’s a talking Pikachu! Why WOULDN’T you immediately agree to carry him on your shoulder?!” The movie is paced rather slowly in the pre-Pikachu minutes as it tries to explain why Tim is a bit of a boring loner. While it spent some time here and later explaining Tim’s relationship with his dad and making it relatable to viewers, I think the movie was less successful in showing why Tim gave up the idea of being a Pokémon Trainer. As such, he comes across just as a moody teenager, not a young adult who has forced himself into working world who also has issues with his father. Other characters include the aforementioned Lucy, the city’s founder and his son, and a police chief. Ken Watanabe as the latter felt like he was wasted in the role since he only appeared a couple of times.
I went in with the expectation that this would not be a self-contained film for two reasons: a) the game was left open-ended with the biggest mystery left unsolved, and b) a sequel has already been announced. The fact that there’s already an announcement of a follow-up film isn’t cause for concern, but who’s behind the script is. This movie was penned in part by a screenwriter of Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel while Legendary Pictures has hired a writer from the upcoming (and not hotly anticipated) Sonic the Hedgehog. Not saying Sonic the Hedgehog is going to be bad nor that Guardians of the Galaxy and/or Captain Marvel were perfect, but it already feels like it’s going to be a step down from Detective Pikachu considering at the time I’m writing this, the guy doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. But I was surprised that the movie is a full adventure. Rather significantly so, and I don’t know how they’re going to make a sequel that keeps the magic of the two leads (particularly Pikachu) alive without making it a retread.
Obviously, this film is dedicated to Pokémon fans. There are in-jokes and Easter eggs everywhere, and I’m sure they’ll be many videos in the months to come pointing every single one out. One short scene is pure 90s fanservice (but it’s also an homage to the original game), and I loved it. So of course there is going to be a barrier for non-Poké fans. If you’ve been catching ’em all for years, the opening scene is going to mean a lot more than someone who was just dragged to the theater. They’re not going to be able to appreciate the fact that Braviary and Pidgeot flying in the sky versus random birds.
However, even for those who can tell a Squirtle from a Bulbasaur, the movie isn’t a fully smooth, enjoyable ride. First off, the movie fails as a detective flick. The trailers have already revealed the one and only witness-interviewing scene. Even other tricks that detectives would surely need to have like stealth sneaking or disguises are not used. For example:
- It’s Lucy who has done a lot of research and is even the one who officially breaks in to the suspected scene of the crime.
- Tim and Pikachu learn about an underground, illegal event and seem to just suddenly appear there.
- Tim finds something a major clue about the case even before meeting Pikachu — and the movie doesn’t hide its effects.
So as a mystery, Detective Pikachu fails. This is an area that the sequel could do much better: interview witnesses, look at crime scenes, try to establish who is giving a fake alibi, etc. The movie doesn’t have that chain of events to help with the seguing into the next development in the case of the missing Harry. Again, though, a sequel featuring detective work might be hard based on the ending.
For this movie, it’s better to categorize it as an adventure flick with sci-fi elements, something akin to the Jurassic Park/World movies. There’s even a long, somewhat unnecessary scene that’s more like a disaster movie. Parts of the movie play it safe by following the usual Hollywood formulas (most notably, a love interest who is well-versed in the subject matter of the movie), but at least a couple of twists or actions will make you feel like the screenwriters and executives studied Pokémon and tried to earn an A in the course instead of just scraping by with a C or D in a Poké-knowledge class. The villain’s schemes and Tim’s idea to save Pikachu from a Charizard fit perfectly with what we already know about this Pokémon universe. That’s where the movie succeeds: it could have just plastered the Pokémon theme onto a generic movie, but it was more than just a cheap cash grab in this live action boom.
If you take the title apart:
POKÉMON – quite a few of them, and they look good
Detective – not so much detective-ing
Pikachu – awesome
It will be interesting if someday soon there will be a more “Pokémon-y” story involving a Trainer who wants to be the greatest Master of them all, as there isn’t much battling here. However, until then, Pikachu is more than just a stand-in thanks to his wisecracking ways and roguish charm. Many people are calling POKÉMON Detective Pikachu the best video game movie adaptation yet, and although the competition is weak overall and this one has its flaws, it shows that a movie respecting the game source material can be done.
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