Hollywood Gets A Clue - Pokemon: Detective Pikachu Review
It’s no secret that video games have not made the transition to feature films well. From the infamous Super Mario Bros. The Movie to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Hollywood has struggled with how to adapt this form of media for decades. Even projects backed by the game studios that made them like Assassin’s Creed or Ratchet and Clank have failed to connect with audiences. Over the course of the past thirty years only two films have stood as both faithful representations of their source material and great films in their own right: 1995’s Mortal Kombat and 2018’s Rampage. After seeing it for myself, I’m thrilled to say that Pokemon: Detective Pikachu confidently joins these two films as one of the best films based on a video game ever made.
Detective Pikachu (an adaptation of the Nintendo 3DS Pokemon game of the same name) follows the story of Tim Goodman (played by Justice Smith) who comes to Ryme City after his father Harry is pronounced dead. Tim, having lived away from his father since his mother passed on, simply wants to collect his father’s things and move on. However, he discovers his father’s partner, a Pikachu (played by Ryan Reynolds) who speaks English and has lost his memory. Tim is the only person who can understand what Pikachu is saying, and the two of them soon get wrapped up in a mystery far bigger than just his missing father.
By far, the greatest part of Detective Pikachu is its visuals and by extent, its setting. The Pokemon are put into this world so seamlessly that I often found myself forgetting that these were CGI creatures and not actual animals filmed in front of a camera (See Left). The cartoonish designs of each Pokemon have been maintained enough to be recognizable to any Pokemon fan, but different enough so that each looks like they could physically exist. Every single person that is acting alongside a Pokemon in this movie absolutely makes you believe that something is there, and that’s incredible. The visuals elevate this film above so many other video game movies because it actually makes you feel like you are in the world of Pokemon, something that not even the original games could fully accomplish. As immersed as someone can get in a video game, at the end of the day it is still a video game, and the Pokemon games have a unique, anime-styled visual design. While appealing, you never really feel as if you’re part of this world completely because there’s a visual barrier there. Detective Pikachu on the other hand, completely destroys this barrier by having Pokemon beside real people, and acting entirely natural. This film is truly a visual spectacle.
Another fantastic part of this film is Pikachu himself. Usually relegated to an ever-cheerful, one word spouting mascot, Ryan Reynolds’ Pikachu is a snide, coffee-drinking, street-smart mouse that never fails to entertain in any scene he’s in. He’s a complex, deep character which is far more than I can say for any of Pikachu’s previous appearances, in games or anime. This personality is also given in part to some of the other Pokemon that appear in the film, most notably to Mr. Mime, a creepy informant in the world of Detective Pikachu, while just one of hundreds of Pokemon in the games or anime. And while not new, as we have seen this in the anime, seeing Ditto use his abilities in real life is equal parts mystifying and terrifying.
That being said, this film is not without its own flaws. Justice Smith’s performance as Tim Goodman is rather inconsistent, his performance is animated and well done when he’s beside Pikachu, but he struggles with more emotional scenes like when he finds out that his father could be dead. That being said, Smith is still young, and can easily grow and improve from here. Additionally, the plot is somewhat predictable, the screenplay seeming to have cribbed a portion of the plot from Pokemon: The First Movie, and the culprit of the mystery being obvious from the point they enter the film. But again, these criticisms could also say less about the film and more that I’ve seen enough movies to predict these twists, and that I’m a dedicated enough fan to recognize callbacks.
If you couldn’t tell, I find myself conflicted by Detective Pikachu. The film is funny, but was never funny enough to make me laugh out loud. It was predictable, but I still enjoyed myself enough to watch intently until the end. Ultimately, I find myself conflicted because everyone keeps touting this film as “the best video game movie ever made”, when I don’t know if that’s accurate. It’s less a great movie and more a film that doesn’t do anything wrong. Detective Pikachu plays it safe, but that’s largely due to it catering to both kids and adults. I personally consider Rampage to be the best video game film ever made, but that’s just my own preference. I can definitely understand why someone, especially kids, would hold Detective Pikachu above it. Ultimately the most revolutionary thing Detective Pikachu does is establish a baseline of quality for video game movies. If it’s not at least as good as Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, then in my opinion, it isn’t worth watching. I certainly hope an upcoming film about a certain blue hedgehog can at least manage that. I give Pokemon: Detective Pikachu an 4 out of 5.