I love Pokémon. These pint sized pocket monster easily are my favorite video game series, with the Legend Of Zelda series a close second. I’ve played most of the Pokémon games, I’m a very active Pokémon Go player, and yes, I am going to Pokémon Go Fest this June. But, I am first and foremost a film scholar and video games I have not translated well to the big screen.
The first big video game adaptation to film flop was 1993’s Super Mario Bros. This film was released in the height of the Nintendo crazed and starred A-List actors Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi and Dennis Hopper as Bowser or King Koopa as he used to be called. But it is a terrible film with little or no character development or even resemblance to the video game.
This “curse” has plagued virtually every single video game adaption to film up to even recently with the 2016 version of Assassin’s Creed also with an A-List cast of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and veteran actor Jeremy Irons. I was a bit skeptical after watching the first trailer of Pokémon Detective Pikachu. The Pokémon actually looked like the characters I know and love (don’t get me started on Sonic in the new Sonic the Hedgehog movie). The story seemed interesting. And of course, who cannot laugh and smile when hearing Ryan Reynolds voice the lovable Pikachu. I am incredibly happy to say that Pokémon Detective Pikachu breaks the video game adaption “curse” and is the best video game related film ever made.
The film begins with our hero, Tim Goodman, played by the talented Justice Smith, being convinced and coached by a friend to catch the wild Pokémon, Cubone. Goodman is reluctant to try as he has given up on his dreams of becoming a Pokémon trainer to instead sell insurance but tosses a Poke ball at Cubone as an attempt to catch him, but his efforts go terribly wrong and Cubone attacks him instead. After seeking safety, Goodman receives a phone call that his estranged father has been in a bad accident and he must travel to Ryme city to see him.
Ryme city is a Pokémon utopia where Pokémon and humans live harmoniously and trainers do not use them for battling or fighting. Here in Ryme, Goodman meets his father’s boss, Lieutenant Hide Yoshida, played by the underappreciated talent, Ken Watanabe. Goodman finds that he father was a detective on a mysterious Pokémon case, but was killed in executed car accident.
Goodman returns to his father’s apartment for solace but his moment of grief is interrupted when a yellow visitor finds his way into the apartment. Pikachu, the iconic Pokémon mascot, wearing a detective hat, tears apart the apartment looking for clues as Goodman stares in awe while holding a stapler as a weapon. Calmly yet angered, Pikachu asks Goodman to put down the stapler with the threat of striking him with electricity, which Goodman hears out loud. Humans can only hear Pokémon say their names and not actual human languages, so Goodman is quite surprised. With this unique relationship, Goodman is the only one who can hear Pikachu speak, they set out to find Goodman’s father, who Pikachu believes is still alive, and alas trouble ensues.
For the first act of the film I was in complete awe. I never thought it was cinematically possible to create a truly believable Pokémon world on the big screen. The Pokémon act, move, and interact with humans just as I had envisioned while playing the pixelated games in the 90’s. I was sold on this universe.
Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds is absolutely hilarious and kept me entertained through the beginning as the mysterious plot begins to unfold. However, I felt that Pikachu’s constant quips got a bit tiring by the second and especially the third act. Pikachu began to feel more like Reynolds than the character itself. Some of the wisecracks felt improvised and didn’t really add to the dialogue or story that was going on. It felt like they just allowed Reynolds to constantly joke in the recording studio and then chose to include as many of his jokes as possible. This bombardment of side one-liners leaves the film feeling like a children’s version of Deadpool.
The plot is amazing for a video game adapted film, decent for a children’s film, and mediocre for a summer blockbuster. Though I was in awe to see my favorite Pokémon, Bulbasaur, living his best life in the forest, I couldn’t help but analyze the story structure as it unfolded. The film in many ways plays out like a video game where you need to explore hidden areas to get new clues or items in order to enter other areas to basically do the same.
With a few twists and turns the films remains to be entertaining. I found the big twist at the end to be incredibly predictable, however, the entire audience shouted “whoa” in the theater so I guess my constant movie watching has left me jaded. Pikachu’s caffeine addiction in the film reminded me of my movie watching addition. Gotta watch them all!
I think what’s key to this film’s success and why I feel it is the best video game adapted film ever made is simply the characters look like they did in the video game. Think about all the crappy video game adapted films from Super Mario Bros. to Mortal Kombat to Resident Evil to Assassin’s Creed and now to the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog film and how they all have one common trait besides simply a lousy story. All the characters just don’t resemble the ones in the game. As a gamer we spend so much time staring at these characters in front of us that it is hard to ever not see the image we have of the character. If you get that wrong on film it seems uncanny and the fans cannot buy into the untruthful look of that character. I truly hope with the revisions of Sonic in the upcoming movie they are able to catch just a bit of the magic in Pokémon Detective Pikachu.