'Pokémon: Detective Pikachu' Pretty Much Nailed the Video Game Movie Genre
Adapting a video game to a live action film is tricky business. Any sense of gravitas will always be undermined or offset by the idea that the story is based on a video game. At best, it can be a fun romp for fans who finally get to see their favorite characters on the big screen. At worst, viewers get abominations that look like horrific parodies of the things they love. Filmmakers need to strike a balance between the fantastical and the believable.
'Pikachu' Makes Video Game Movies Work
Back in 1993, it was decided that Goombas, the sentient, evil mushrooms from Super Mario, should look like giant humanoid lizards instead. The result was arguably one of the worst films ever made. Such radical deviations from the source material don’t always pan out well. The upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog live action adaptation, with a CGI Sonic updated to look more realistic and less cartoonish, received such terrible backlash from horrified fans that the filmmakers were forced to redesign the titular speedster with just six months left before its release date.
Imagine then, the pressure on Warner Bros and The Pokémon Company to bring the world of the highest grossing media franchise of all time to life on the big screen. Smartly, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu opts to take the popular pocket monsters and render them completely unchanged save for giving them fur or smooth textures. Everything, from ridiculously beady eyes to oversized heads and cute proportions, is exactly as it is in the games. But in an utterly bizarre twist, the film also casts Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu.
For anyone who’s ever been fond of the iconic electric type Pokémon, whose unmistakable, “pika pika pikachu!” has set the standard for cute battlecries, it was a jarring shift. Exactly how was it going to work? The cutest video game character talks like Deadpool. This was either going to make or break the movie.
Spoiler: It works. It absolutely, totally works. By the end of the film, everything makes sense and the world of Pokémon becomes, not just a backdrop for this buddy cop comedy, but a place you actually want to visit.
It's Filled to the Brim with Fuzzy Pokémon
The film drops audiences straight into a world where Pokémon exist, essentially replacing animal life with cute, cuddly, sometimes scary monsters that find their way into different aspects of people’s lives. Fans of the franchise will gawk at and be thrilled by every little nod to the game, from main character Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) catching a Pokémon at the start of the film, to other Easter eggs, like a cameo from Deadpool’s Dopinder (Karan Soni) as Tim’s friend Jack.
Nearly all of the story happens in Ryme City, a place where Pokémon co-exist with humans and the admittedly quite barbaric practice of Pokémon battles are outlawed. Pokémon literally litter the streets, from a perpetually slumbering Snorlax in the middle of a busy intersection to playful monkey-like Aipoms frolicking freely on the sides of buildings to a cuddly Jigglypuff putting patrons to sleep in a karaoke bar.
With currently over 800 different types of Pokémon, it would’ve been unwieldy if not unrealistic to have each one make a cameo, but the film is so filled to the brim with these mons that it’s more than enough to make fans giddy. Casual viewers who know nothing about Pokémon will still enjoy what is essentially a comedic neo-noir with cute, fuzzy monsters on the side. This is where the genius of casting the inimitable Reynolds shines through. He’s funny even as a talking stuffed toy.
The Buddy-Cop Story is Pretty Solid, Too
The sheer joy of seeing the world of Pokémon come to life is pretty much worth the price of admission, but the story is pretty solid, too. While players of Detective Pikachu will recognize some of the story beats, the film is twisty enough to pleasantly surprise even the most hardcore gamers and fans. Smith is a charismatic foil to Deadpool-voiced Pikachu, and it’s easy to cheer for the duo as they attempt to get to the bottom of the disappearance of their dad and partner, respectively. Not everything is as it seems, and the little reveals along the way make it a worthy detective adventure. Kathryn Newton, who uncannily looks like a young Amber Heard, plays intrepid reporter Lucy Stevens, who helps Tim uncover the mystery.
The film respects the source material without being constrained by it, moving the story along without going so much into the details about how or why Pokémon exist. They simply just are, and once you’ve suspended disbelief enough to accept that beady-eyed psychic ducks and pink bulldogs in dresses roam the world, the ridiculousness of it all doesn’t slow the story down, but actually makes it a whole lot better.
It’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for an entirely new generation, with cartoonish creatures walking right alongside humans as though it were the most ordinary thing. But it’s ordinarily extraordinary, and the coolest bits is that every human in Ryme City has a special bond with one Pokémon. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to come out of the theater wishing you had one of your own. Fans of the game might also want to give it a second viewing. There’s just too much to take in and even the most avid, eagle-eyed fans will miss something on their first go.
Detective Pikachu is the best kind of video game movie. It captures the spirit of the franchise and translates it on the big screen without compromising vision. There’s unmistakably so much love and respect in the crafting of the film that if you’re a fan of Pokémon, you’re sure to love it, and if you aren’t yet, by the time the credits roll, you most certainly will be.