As someone who is still two phases behind in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pokémon Detective Pikachu has been the most fun I’ve had at the cinema in a long time.
An hour and 45 minutes of pure nostalgic fan-service, this film delivers exactly what diehard fans, young and old, have wanted since the trailers revealed over six months ago. What I mean by that is to people who have never encountered Pokémon before, I can’t see much in Detective Pikachu that is to be enjoyed that you can’t find in any other family adventure movie. The thing is, this film was made for the fans.
Carefully treading the line between adorable “merch-worthy” designs and uncanny nightmare fuel, creating a live-action Pokémon world has made this one of the most unique spin-offs out there.
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) travels to Ryme City after discovering his distant father, Harry Goodman, has disappeared following a terrible accident. Seemingly the only resident without a Pokémon, a series of events lead Tim to meet his father’s old partner: a wise-cracking, caffeine-addicted detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds).
As Harry’s disappearance becomes more and more unusual, Pikachu drags a reluctant Tim through the city’s seedy underbelly in an attempt to discover “what really happened”.
Showing off fan-favourites and a few surprises
It’s no secret that one of the main appeals of Detective Pikachu (besides hearing the voice of Deadpool come from an adorable yellow mouse) is seeing Pokémon in a way we have never seen them before. From the initial controversy of how fluffy Pikachu appears in the previews, the style of a world we have only experienced in 2D has always been a selling point of the film.
Put very simply, not every Pokémon is going to look good in 3D and I am surprised that some were chosen despite how they looked as a result. The aforementioned uncanny valley definitely made itself known in places where the pristine visual effects actually hindered the simplistic designs of the games and anime. Mr. Mime’s face was a nightmare to see in 4k resolution and Aipom’s fuzzy exterior couldn’t hide the terrifying human teeth that has since plagued the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer with a similar selling point.
Needless to say, out of the 800+ Pokémon that exist, not everyone got to stand in the limelight. I’m sure that choosing which ones would be prominent, background and disregarded was a huge decision and I feel that it paid off. The first generation of Pokémon are (unsurprisingly) focused on the most: with the trailer already revealing the likes of Charizard, Bulbasaur and Psyduck as prominent roles.
That being said, even if just shown in the backdrop, there were a lot of inclusions that took me by surprise. For any fellow Espeon fans, I’m sorry to spoil that I couldn’t see one in my first viewing but I’ll still be getting this film on Blu-ray so I can rewind and do a bit of detective work of my own.
Balancing gamification and story
The biggest hurdle for any video game film adaptation is striking the balance between showing elements of its source material and creating enough new content to warrant its feature length run-time. Detective Pikachu absolutely nails it. The nature of Pokémon battling is so visually entertaining and the film plays with it so often that I wish I could’ve seen this years ago. Our cinema had a bunch of parents bringing their kids along and they weren’t the least bit distracting. They must have been completely engaging with the film because I didn’t hear a word out of them.
In film, Gamification is a term used to describe a game-like moviegoing experience: observing Pokémon battles as they appear in the games is an example. Likewise, the objective-to-objective structure to the mystery plot is a depiction of the 2016 Nintendo DS game of the same name that the film is based upon. Detective Pikachu manages to tell a pretty captivating plot (by kid’s standards) without sacrificing the expectation of action-packed scenes.
Conclusion: “That’s a twist, that’s very twisty”
Considering I went into this movie for a fun nostalgia trip, I did not expect such an engaging and well structured story. Although the trailers presented Detective Pikachu as an easygoing premise of “A Crime Drama but with Pokémon”, it certainly held its own in terms of the complexity of its narrative. Even for a film that is clearly a vessel to get kids interested in a product (there were two Nintendo Switch ads before the film), I was pleasantly surprised when the story threw me a few curveballs.
Detective Pikachu felt less of a “can you spot all the hidden Pokémon” experience and more of an actual fully formed product – which has seemed to annoy some of the cynics looking to hate it. Even though each scene has some sort of an Easter Egg or reference for the inevitable YouTubers to pick apart, that never felt like the focus of the film. Whereas some kid’s films are too occupied going “hey, look at this thing you recognise”, Detective Pikachu was far too interested in actually engaging its audience and interweaving the world with its narrative.
Detective Pikachu feels like a love-letter to fans of the franchise and has definitely shown how to do a video-game adaptation the right way.