Pokémon is over two decades old, but it remains one of the most unique franchises ever created. It include video games, trading cards, television shows, manga, and more. In fact, Pokémon easily tops the list of the most profitable media franchises of all-time. As the first live-action film in the Pokémon franchise, Detective Pikachu faced a lot of hurdles before making it to the big screen. Are fans and casual viewers ready to accept this incarnation of the characters?
While some video game movies should have never been made, Detective Pikachu proves to be worthy of the big screen treatment. From the outset, it seemed like a weird idea to make the first theatrically released Pokémon movie in nearly twenty years an adaptation of the 2016 video game of the same name. But it really is the perfect choice to introduce general audiences to the vast world of Pokémon. This isn’t the Pokémon film that fans wanted, but it’s the one they deserved. Detective Pikachu might even be the first movie to actually break the video game curse.
Letterman’s Labor Of Love
There are a myriad of reasons why Detective Pikachu shouldn’t have worked. The fact that it does comes down to director Rob Letterman’s storytelling expertise. Although Letterman started out by making uninspired animated films like Shark Tale, his work has been steadily improving. This movie is by far his best film to date. Between the comedy, mystery, and drama, the tonal balance of the film makes it far more entertaining than it has any right to be. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feature a particularly strong shooting style. Regardless, Letterman proves that there’s a good story to be told within this world.
Perhaps Letterman’s biggest contribution is the excellent casting. Detective Pikachu’s cast is surprisingly well rounded with solid performances from newcomers and veterans alike. For the most part, the film’s cast knocks it out of the park. Ryan Reynolds’ presence was also essential to this film. When Reynolds was first revealed as the voice of the titular character, it was hard to see how he would be a good fit for the role. In hindsight, it’s hard to divorce Reynolds from his Pikachu performance – which is saying a lot for the actor who also epitomizes Deadpool. Justice Smith’s first leading role also proves that he’s an actor to keep an eye on.
Too Many Cooks
The writing in Detective Pikachu isn’t bad, but it doesn’t live up to the cast or the direction. The film features a very middle of the road screenplay that has an adequate paint-by-the-numbers detective story. It really comes off as a jumble of ideas that were muddled by the sheer number of writers attached to the project. For the record, it was written by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Derek Connolly, and Letterman; with a story by Hernandez, Samit, and Nicole Pearlman.
Detective Pikachu starts off with a really interesting and personal mystery at its center. However, it delves into familiar and uninteresting territory by the time that the conclusion rolls around. There’s some decent character work here, but the motivations of the antagonist don’t really make sense. Moreover, the film never spends enough time with said villain for anyone to care about them, let alone understand them. The movie comes from a heartfelt place, because it’s primarily concerned with exploring themes of loss and regret. But it has a hollow emotional core that doesn’t resonate like it should.
Prime Time Ryme
Despite the somewhat mundane writing, the world building in Detective Pikachu is terrific. Ryme city often feels like a real, tactile location, simply because there’s so much going on in a given frame. That’s a testament to the attention and care paid in building this live-action representation of the Pokémon universe. There’s no doubt that the film will reward repeat viewings down the line.
The fact that Detective Pikachu was shot on 35mm film makes it noteworthy in itself. The tactile nature of the format helps to give the world more of a lived-in feel. That’s truly impressive because it takes an enormous amount of digital work to bring the various Pokémon to life. Overall, the film has decidedly vivid cinematography that offers a colorful, almost neon aesthetic to the world. Additionally, the filmmakers make some interesting lighting and production design choices. This helped the visuals stand out from the other summer blockbusters.
Faithful For The Fans
Most of Detective Pikachu smartly utilizes darkness to enhance the visual effects work. However, some of the characters do feel far more cartoonish than others, especially in the daylight scenes. This is because the faithful designs of certain Pokémon characters are inherently cartoons. Regardless, there are so many digital characters in play that the movie clearly could have benefited from more time in post-production.
Notwithstanding the little quibbles mentioned above, Detective Pikachu is a solid experience. Although it suffers from a few rushed plot points, it’s a pretty clever adaptation that should appeal to the whole family. Perhaps the most impressive and exciting aspect of the film is that it takes the source material seriously. It’s also a movie that manages to successfully capture both the oddity and wonder of the Pokémon universe.
Ultimately, Detective Pikachu is a huge love letter to the franchise. It was made specifically for the hardcore Pokémon fans while still opening a window to anyone who might be unfamiliar with it. It’s so masterfully executed that it might expand Pokémon‘s reach further than ever before. We’re living in a Pokémon world, and we’ve still gotta catch ’em all.