So, Detective Pikachu, I’ve seen Dennis Hopper pretending to be a dinosaur. I’ve seen Jean-Claude van Damme try to be an all-American GI without changing his accent. I’ve seen Angelina Jolie pout as Lara Croft. Worst of all, I’ve seen Sean Bean play a character who dies in a game NOT die in the movie. I’ve seen it all, can you restore my faith for a good video-game adaptation?
What I’m saying is, a long time ago I gave up believing that any video game story could be a good movie. Every announcement of a game adaptation left me cold and disinterested. But something about Detective Pikachu always felt different. And now, as the likes of Alien Isolation prove you can make a great game out of a movie. Detective Pikachu has finally proven you can make a great movie out of a game.
I will admit I was sceptical at first. The movie was first announced before its source material, Detective Pikachu for the 3DS, was even announced for release in the West. Ryan Reynolds seemed an odd choice of actor to play Pikachu. Especially when the game’s voice actor was gruffer. And generally it seemed like a weird thing to adapt. But the end result was much greater than I expected.
There are caveats, yet, and I’ll cover those before we get into the juicy good stuff. First off, the story is predictable with a twist that I could see from a mile away. It’s also a bit disjointed in places. This movie may be a little impenetrable if you’re not already invested in the twenty-year franchise. It explains little about Pokémon and their world.
SHOWING LOVE TO THE SOURCE
In essence, that last part is also what makes the movie work so well. It avoids the pitfall that so many other game-based movies have stumbled into to varying degrees. They’re not ashamed of their source material. Other game adaptions have tweaked and modified them so much that all the charm is gone. We can see this in the upcoming Sonic movie – he needs to be a gross alien rat while his nemesis is Jim Carrey circa 1994. But Detective Pikachu completely gets what people love about Pokémon and embraces it .
The world of Detective Pikachu feels like a real-life Pokémon world should. They occupy spaces alongside humans in the way we see in the games and anime before it, realised in sparkly High Definition.
Shops and restaurants all make nods to lore, whilst a Poke Ball early on behaves exactly as it would in the games. There are also a ton of references to the series history. From the blatant use of the original anime theme tune on two separate occasions, to a reference to Kanto. The original region from Pokémon Red and Blue on the Game Boy. And that’s before you take note of the sheer number of Pokémon making cameos throughout.
STORY WITH HEART
But it’s not all fan-service. At its heart is a family story, where Tim (Justice Smith) is ready to say goodbye to his father, missing, presumed dead. The movie takes the right step of focusing on Tim’s journey in the opening minutes. Giving a whistle stop tour of his backstory way before we see Pikachu. He’s a sympathetic character, and Smith plays him with charm. You’re more than happy to spend the next 90 minutes with this guy.
Pikachu himself could have gone horrible, due to the realistic stylings and Deadpool’s voice pouring out of him. But Ryan Reynolds doesn’t make it feel like Deadpool in yellow fur. He does an excellent job in making a talking Pikachu believable. It’s backed by some adorable CGI, which doesn’t stray into the uncanny valley in its quest for realism. The animation itself is faithful to the games. Look at Pikachu in something like Pokémon Stadium or Smash Bros and compare it to the movie, and it’s spot on. Even little details like ear twitches made the character feel like he popped out of the games.
MOMENT TO MOMENT
From moment to moment the movie is great entertainment. There is great chemistry in the bond between Tim and Pikachu. The addition of Lucy (Kathryn Newton) and her Psyduck enhances this further. There are some exciting action sequences, including an underground Pokémon battle ring and a climactic battle involving parade balloons. That didn’t make me think of Poké Floats from Super Smash Bros Melee, no sir. Plus Bill Nighy is in it, and an appearance from him is welcome in any movie.
Detective Pikachu isn’t the greatest movie ever made. It’s a silly popcorn film, designed to entertain children and 30-somethings who never grew up (hello). But it’s not trying to be anything more than that, and so it’s done what it set out to do. It’s achieved what seemed impossible for a video game movie. It’s faithful to its source material, and fun for all the right reasons.