The world-wide phenomenon known as Pokémon was created more than 23 years ago. Pokémon has graced many of our lives with video games, an anime series, movies, manga and endless hours of entertainment. Most people who grew up with the franchise have dreamt about what it would be like to be an actual pokémon trainer. However, one of the few mediums that Pokémon hadn’t made its way into was live-action. That changed with the recent release of the Detective Pikachu movie. The first ever live-action Pokémon movie was bound to happen at some point, and it finally did. Let’s take a close look at whether Detective Pikachu was super effective with fans, or if it flopped like a Magikarp. Prepare for spoilers and make it double.
One of the main things people were talking about leading up to Detective Pikachu’s release was how live action pokémon would look. Some were excited to see how their favorite pokémon would be brought to life, while others were concerned that they would be creepy. I’m personally a big fan of these designs. Pokémon who are meant to be cute like Jigglypuff or Bulbasaur are absolutely adorable, while the ones that are meant to look a little cooler like Charizard or Greninja look like they belong in a bad ass fantasy film. Mr. Mime is appropriately creepy, as that is the joke with him. The attention to detail on the Pokémon is rather impressive. You can see the individual hairs on Pikachu, each scale on Charizard, and every feather on Psyduck, making them feel even more realistic. Even when they got wet, it looked like real wet fur or feathers. Despite the pokémon being CGI, the filmmakers were very successful in having them convey a wide variety of emotions.
Seeing how the pokémon exist in the world is extremely interesting. Throughout the film, we see food being cooked over a Charmander’s flame, a sleeping Snorlax blocking traffic, and a group of Loudreds blasting club music alongside a DJ. I imagine this is essentially how the world would function if pokémon were real. The world-building as a whole is a whimsical experience. Introducing us to Ryme City and the rest of the pokémon world and how it works with pokémon evolving, pokémon battles, and the relations between humans and pokémon felt like Dorothy waking up in Oz for the first time.
Every generation of Pokémon is represented in this movie. There is a bit more of a focus on first generation pokémon, but there is definitely a large amount of pokémon seen throughout the film. This is definitely a good thing since everyone jumped on the Pokémon bandwagon at different times, and this allows them to see their favorite generation on the big screen.
This may be a Pokémon movie, but it is also a detective movie. It feels like a classic detective story throughout. It matches the noire tone and it’s quite fun to look for clues and try to solve the case alongside the characters.
Detective Pikachu tells a heartfelt story of friendship. Our protagonists, Tim and Pikachu, develop a very real relationship over the course of the movie. They may not get along at first, but we see how they bond over time. Their banter leads to some hilarious moments, and their bonding leads to some emotional scenes. Tim also has a fun on-screen relationship with Kathryn Newton’s character, Lucy, as they butt heads over the investigation and learn to cooperate.
Most of the humor throughout the film offers a lot of laughs. Ryan Reynolds’ usual sarcasm is hilarious. Reynolds and Justice Smith are a perfect funny-man/straight-man duo, creating some humorous moments when they clash. There are also some great instances of slapstick for fans of visual humor.
There isn’t as much battling going on as you’d expect to see in a Pokémon movie, but it does happen. When we do see those battles, it is incredible. Seeing the pokémon using their special moves in live-action is like a dream come true for anyone who grew up with the Pokémon franchise. We see several different types of attacks being used throughout the movie, and when they do happen, it feels like a blockbuster superhero movie with pokémon. There’s a particularly fun battle between a Charizard and a Gengar that not only showcases what both pokémon are capable of, but is also well directed. The camera work for the entire fight was exceptional.
If you were a parent of a Pokémon fan in the 90s and didn’t quite get what the hype was all about, or someone else who somehow never got on the Pokémon train, you might have a difficult time watching Detective Pikachu. It does make an attempt to explain some of the world-building, but it’s not very friendly to those who have had no experience with Pokémon before. They show us pokémon battling each other, using their abilities, and even evolving, along with also showing a pokéball being thrown and other elements from the source material, but they don’t really explain any of it. I can totally see a newcomer attempting to watch this movie and being very confused as to why one pokémon suddenly turned into another. Some of the jokes, like Jigglypuff putting someone to sleep with her singing, might be lost on them.
Yes, this movie successfully feels like a classic detective story throughout. However, the actual detective work from the characters wasn’t great. In this film, Pikachu is supposed to be a world class detective, but we see him do very little mystery-solving. Lucy does most of the investigating. When Pikachu and Tim go somewhere to investigate, they find clues by accident. Typically, the scene of the crime is the first place a detective would look, but Pikachu doesn’t go there until toward the end of the movie. He even finds important evidence there, so why wouldn’t he go there earlier?
Most of the humor in Detective Pikachu is fantastic. However, some of it, primarily some of Pikachu’s lines, don’t really fit the rest of the movie. Some of the easy to miss one-liners are a bit shocking to hear from Pikachu, like a joke about people sticking their fingers in him. Most of the humor is completely fine and matches the rest of the film, making the few instances of extremity stand out too much.
The majority of the movie is grounded in a reality in which they establish the rules of very early on. Toward the end, though, the movie submerges itself further into science fiction to the point of eliminating some suspension of disbelief. I can buy a pheromone being used to cause an animal (or a pokémon in this case) to act crazy. I can see a growth hormone being used to make a pokémon bigger in size (yes, the Torterra got especially enormous, but Pokémon is in the realm of sci fi/fantasy so I’m fine with a growth hormone making something larger than a real world growth hormone would). I’m fine with all the abilities various pokémon are able to do like shoot fireballs or control someone’s mind. However, when the movie’s villain revealed the technology to transport a person’s mind into the body of a pokémon, it felt sudden. There was no foreshadowing to it. It just felt like something that came out of nowhere that we had to accept. Even for the world of pokémon, it stretched the logic. What makes it even more unfortunate is that a lot of the plot relies on this random, unexplained information being believable.
There is a sad moment during the movie when Pikachu is walking alone on a dirt road singing a rather depressing version of the original Pokémon theme song. This is definitely a nice call back for fans of Pokémon‘s roots. It’s also quite humorous to hear such an upbeat tune sung so sorrowfully.
Another more interesting call back occurs during a conversation in one of the scenes in the lab. During this scene, it is mentioned that Mewtwo was created in and escaped from a lab in a different region 20 years ago. Of course, this is in reference to Pokémon: the First Movie when Mewtwo escaped from a lab in the Kanto region, which was released 20 years ago. It makes me wonder if they plan on using this to tie it into the same canon as the games or anime.
Detective Pikachu is not just a movie, but it was actually a video game released for the Nintendo 3DS first. The game of the same name also features a talking Pikachu in a detective hat solving a mystery in Ryme City. However, my understanding of it (I have yet to play the game) is that the similarities end there. I definitely plan on playing it eventually to compare it to the movie.
The final act of Detective Pikachu involves giant parade balloons of various pokémon. This reminded me of two things. One is the hot air balloons shaped like pokémon in the anime (especially Team Rocket’s Meowth balloon). The other is the Poké Floats stage in Super Smash Bros. Melee that allowed players to fight on top of giant pokémon balloons. Could these balloons in Detective Pikachu be in reference to one of these?
Throughout the film, we see vials of a mysterious mist with the letter R on them. We never actually find out what that letter R stands for, but I’m assuming and hoping it stands for Team Rocket. That’s something that exists in the realm of Pokémon, and they have the letter R on everything, including their uniforms. It makes me wonder if the film studio plans on using this to allude to the possibility of Team Rocket showing up in a future live-action Pokémon movie.
Detective Pikachu is not very friendly to Pokémon newcomers and can be confusing if you are not already familiar with how the world of Pokémon works, and the entire story is based on a plot point that stretches viewers’ suspension of disbelief a little too far, even for Pokémon logic. Plus, Pikachu’s detective work is worse than Scooby-Doo’s and only figures things out through sheer luck. That being said, the movie provides well-written characters, a heartfelt story about friendship, great humor, stunning visual effects, and a ton of fun in the form of seeing your favorite pokémon in live-action for the first time.
Overall, Detective Pikachu has some very weak points, but it is still incredibly fun to watch and rewatch. It’s definitely good enough to make me excited to see more live-action Pokémon movies in a shared universe with this one, whether they be direct sequels (somehow) to Detective Pikachu or a live-action version of the Ash Ketchum saga from the anime. I really want to see more stories and battles done in this style. Either way, if you’re a Pokémon fan, Detective Pikachu is sure to be an enjoyable experience for you.