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Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

In the late 1990s, I remember when video games was arguably all the rage at the time, especially Pokémon. That franchise took the world by storm with its creative creature designs and the method of catching and training them, known as Pokémon, to establish yourself, the player, as a world-class Pokémon trainer.

Its success spawned an equally successful TV show, which, even as I am writing this, is still on the air, with over 1000 episodes having been made. Most fans argue, however, that the show was in its prime during its first few seasons, especially the Kanto saga. And when I was a kid, yes, I was thankful enough to have grown up with the show, as well as the games, and surprise, surprise, I became a huge fan.

Well, at long last, a live-action movie made under the Pokémon name was made this year in the form of Detective Pikachu. How does that hold up? Well, let’s look at the story first.

A young boy named Tim Goodman ventured out into Ryme City to pick up belongings from his father, detective Harry Goodman, who was reportedly killed in a car accident. In doing so, however, he ran into a talking Pikachu who used to belong to Harry when he was still alive, and Tim was shocked to learn from him that the death of his father may have been a potential cover-up. So Tim, Pikachu, and a determined news intern named Lucy, all dove in to unravel this mysterious conspiracy and seek legitimacy of Harry’s death before their lives, and even the future of Ryme City, become at stake.

This movie was based off of the video game, Detective Pikachu, which also embodied a mystery theme with a talking Pikachu. Now, I am not one to prove how faithful it is to the game since I’ve never played it before.

But I will start with this: the story, while intriguing on paper, is really nothing new. There have been plenty of mystery movies made in the past that faked a character’s death as another rose into power before being discovered and brought into justice. Even the relationship between Tim and Pikachu, while admirable at times, took too many cues from your everyday buddy cop movie. I’ll admit, what I did find interesting was to see how this kind of mystery would have played out with Pokémon roaming about. But outside of that, this movie didn’t do enough to leave a more creative impression.

There was an interesting subplot about a chemical formula named R to make otherwise docile Pokémon become savage beasts. But when you get down to it, that’s nothing new, either. Last time I saw it, it was demonstrated to great effect with animals in Zootopia.

The main character, Tim, was just bland. He did not feel interesting enough to stand on his own two feet even when Pikachu was not around. All I remembered about him was that he dealt with parental issues, especially with the loss of his father, and that he grew out of his childhood obsession with Pokémon. That’s it. He may not have been a Pokémon trainer, but he was no Ash Ketchum.

The other human characters were not very memorable, either. Outside of helping Tim and Pikachu out with their mission or being an obstacle they had to overcome, they all suffered from not being written with enough interesting characteristics to help them make the most out of their roles in the movie...except, of course, for Lucy Stevens.

She was probably the only human character who I enjoyed throughout the entire movie. Her determination to establish herself as a news reporter, starting with the cover-up of Harry’s death as her starting cover story, made me slightly sympathize with and root for her every step of the way. On top of that, I enjoyed her for another reason that I'll elaborate on soon.

And then, you have Detective Pikachu himself.

Now, to be frank, when I first heard that Ryan Reynolds was going to do the voice of Pikachu, I felt a bit unnerved by it, for two reasons. One is, Pikachu never talked in the franchise outside of the game Detective Pikachu. All he said were his name and phrases like “Pika-Pika!” in a very cutesy voice, and the idea of having him talk in such a low baritone voice was, to say the least, unheard of. And two, at the time, Reynolds was hot off the heels from portraying, you guessed it, Deadpool. I thought to myself, “One of the most violent and profane superheroes of all time playing one of the cutest and most iconic video game characters of all time? What can he possibly provide to someone like Pikachu?”

Fortunately, my worries about all that were completely zapped into oblivion.

Since the very first moment I saw him, Reynolds not only carried the movie all the way through as Pikachu, but he managed to give him the same energy, charm, and sense of humor that he gave Deadpool, albeit in a more family-friendly environment. His wisecracks ranged from quirky to well-written to genuinely hilarious, and they never once felt out-of-character. In fact, another thing I liked about Pikachu was that he was a different beast from Ash Ketchum's Pikachu, both in design, as you can tell from him wearing his partner's hat, as well as in personality. He was sensible, but also sarcastic, excitable, and usually had a strong craving for coffee (black as night). The end result took me completely by surprise, and he was nothing short of the movie’s saving grace.

The more I thought about it, the acting from the human characters, while not necessarily the best, was something to be admired, too. What the characters lacked in terms of compelling personalities, they made up for with their performances. Justice Smith gave it his all in giving Tim a sense of headstrongness and conscientiousness, Omar Chapparo as Sebastian resulted in a character that was deceitful, cocky, and arguably funny, and Ken Watanabe gave his character, Detective Hideo Yoshida, the stern confidence he would’ve deserved. The only performance that I thought a little off was Chris Geere as Roger Clifford. I could tell Geere wanted to make Clifford look like a pompous executive, but it ended up looking a bit too cartoony at times. Ironic, huh?

Speaking of cartoony, the visual effects were more terrific than I expected them to be. For years, the Pokémon fans and I wondered just how the heck creatures like Pokémon would have looked in a live-action setting. Well, here it is, and more often than not, the Pokémon looked like they were really there. While some of them looked a bit awkward in the setting, those were sidelined when judging the prescense of the Pokémon in the movie as a whole. Even the fights looked severe and brutal, despite some of the injuries looking nonexistent.

This leads to the other part of the movie that took me by surprise. The first half of the movie, while not bad, felt pretty empty. The set ups for the characters, the plot, and the locations felt a bit inconsequential, and it barely felt like it went anywhere. However, the second half of the movie was a lot stronger. The battle scenes were cool, the chase scenes were a bit nerve-racking, and the plot, despite its lack of originality, really picked up the pace and managed to take the viewers along for a wild ride. The two best parts of the second half (and of the movie), in my opinion, were the Torterra garden scene and the climax. The Torterra garden scene started off as an Inception-inspired action scene where the ground seemed to close in on the main characters, only for them to discover that it was just a small herd of titanic Torterras waking up. This was where I felt that the movie’s visual team outdid itself, it was so spectacular. And the climax, which I won’t give away to those of you who haven’t seen it, was surprisingly exciting. The battles and confrontations that ensued within it were very compelling to see as the good guys and bad guys lunged at each other‘s throats while the welfare of Ryme City hung in the balance.

Something else I should mention about the climax is that the villain’s scheme (and I’ll leave it at that; you just have to see it for yourself) was deviously surreal. It may have started off as standard, and yes, the scientific execution still left me scratching my head a bit, but once the scheme came into play, I think you would be left as slack-jawed over it, in a good way, as I was.

Ryme City, despite looking like a general metropolis, had some very interesting qualities about it that I hope will be given further exploration in future Pokémon movies. In the movie, it was said that Ryme City, unlike any other city in the Pokémon world, was established to encourage copartnership between humans and Pokémon. Because of that, local Pokémon battles were frowned upon, to the point where the Pokémon battles that did occur, like the one shown between Detective Pikachu and Charizard, were viewed in a similar manner to how we view dogfights in real life. Not only that, but the movie did a good job of not saying exactly where Ryme City was located. Think about it: throughout the history of the Pokémon franchise, multiple regions were introduced as new games were released. Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, Unova, you name it. But with the movie keeping the whereabouts of Ryme City a mystery (go figure!), the viewers can make their own conclusions as to where in the Pokémon world Ryme City could’ve been.

Getting back to the characters, I honestly really liked the chemistry between Tim and Lucy. Even though they were different characteristically speaking, the time they shared with each other led to some awkward/adorable moments that gave a vague hope that they could've ended up together. Even Pikachu was on the same boat in encouraging Tim to hit on her when not worrying about cracking the case.

Another thing I liked about the chemistry was also part of another big detail I liked about the movie. Tim and Lucy’s playful or argumentative banters with each other led to some expressive callbacks to Ash and Misty’s playful or argumentative banters from the early portion of the anime series. Even their choices of Pokémon, with Tim having Pikachu, and Lucy having Psyduck, added fuel to the flames, but not so much that these comparisons presented Tim and Lucy as carbon copies of the original characters. They were still allowed to be themselves while still providing some subtle nostalgic cues to appease longtime fans with.

Even better, the callbacks didn’t stop there.

  • It did bring back some favorites, like Charizard, Bulbasaur, Greninja, Mr. Mime, and even the singing Jigglypuff doing karaoke.

  • The suspicious formula R? This was actually a nice wink to the main villains of the show, Team Rocket.

  • At one point in the movie, when Pikachu was down on his luck, he sang the original theme song for the Pokemon anime series. It aroused some nostalgic feelings as well as a few laughs at the same time.

  • The whole movie also revolved around Mewtwo, who was born inside a lab, like in Pokémon: The First Movie, and had a role in Harry Goodman’s alleged death.

Do I wish the story could’ve been made a little more creative and well-established? Yes. Do I wish the characters were given some more personality traits necessary to help them stand out? Definitely. But when you compare this movie with all the movies ever made under the Pokémon name, as well as, arguably enough, with all the other video game movies ever made, this is an absolute cut above the rest. And as someone who grew up as a Pokémon fan, I’m tickled to see this movie stand out the way it did, warts and all.

At the end of the day, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was no Wreck-it Ralph, but all the same, here's hoping that the performances, visual effects, and action scenes will become tips of the iceberg for what lies ahead for Pokémon at the movies in the future.

Additional Thoughts

- When Tim walked into his father's apartment to pick up his belongings, the TV was on with a crime movie playing, and that crime movie happened to be "Angels with Filthy Souls"...from Home Alone! Of all the crime movies Warner Bros. could've chosen from, real or otherwise, it still baffles me that they went with this one. Was The Maltese Falcon too good a movie to go with?

- *SPOILER ALERT* Speaking of future Pokemon movies, the news broke out before this movie even came out that a sequel is in development, as of this writing. I'm all for it, but after seeing Pikachu and Harry both return to normal, what could the sequel possibly focus on? Who knows until then.

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