Ever since Super Mario Bros. hit the silver screen in 1993 video game movies have felt as though they were doomed to mediocrity or often worse. Aside from a few standout releases, the video game adaptation has never brought much critical acclaim or box office revenue. That feels like it’s about to change with the release of Pokèmon: Detective Pikachu, which debuted in the US last night to much better reviews and far better audience reactions. After seeing it myself it’s clear that this isn’t just a solid Pokèmon movie, it’s the video game adaptation that we’ve all been waiting for.
I say this as someone who enjoyed the original Tomb Raider and Silent Hill movies, both of which hit their target audience while not really doing much else. That’s the key difference for Pokèmon: Detective Pikachu which not only nails the atmosphere of the franchise but also crafts a great story of its own. Even if you can’t tell Bulbasaur from Snorlax you’ll find something to enjoy in Pokèmon: Detective Pikachu, although you’ll have a quizzical look on your face for some parts.
Non-fans will find a nice movie to underpin the Pokèmon flavored festivities, but for fans this movie is a dream come true.
The movie dives deep into the lore of Pokèmon. And it doesn’t make too many concessions for those who won’t be able to follow along. Sure, there’s some extra exposition thrown in to explain Pokèmon battles and how the basics function. Beyond that the movie just breezes by and you either keep up or you don’t. Even if you don’t though, most of those clunky details aren’t significant parts of the story, which involves a son (Tim Goodman played by Justice Smith) searching for his estranged father who has gone missing and is presumed dead after working on a police case involving Pokèmon.
Of course, if you’ve seen the trailer then you know that Tim has help in the form of a surly, coffee-addicted Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds. This premise might not seem like much but it works exceptionally well on its own and the ridiculous cuteness of Pikachu just brings it to a whole other level. And while Ryan Reynolds might not have been fans’ first pick for the titular hero, his improvisation skills and overall demeanor is the true star of the show. There’s clearly a ton of improv going on and it results in a fresh and lively feel to the movie overall. The fact that the words are coming out of the mouth of Pikachu, one of gaming and pop culture’s biggest stars, only makes things that much more enjoyable.
Pokèmon: Detective Pikachu Trailer
All of this is to say that non-fans will find a nice movie to underpin the Pokèmon flavored festivities, but for fans this movie is a dream come true. The world of Pokèmon comes alive in ways that fans have always wanted and in many that they never expected. Ryme City is the key here, acting as a way to explore these creatures in a more urban setting. The story goes that Ryme City’s founder (Bill Nighy) felt that people and Pokèmon could coexist without battling, capturing, and all the rest. The result of this is that there are simply tons of Pokèmon scattered around the city, with Machamp directing traffic around a sleeping Snorlax, and Aipom running wild across rooftops.
This small change allows the world to feel vivid throughout. Every frame is filled with things to see and details to point out, though it does this without getting too in your face or distracting from the story. Fans will be giddy as they scan the background for these light touches, leading to plenty of rewatchability. But none of that is necessary for Detective Pikachu to be a good movie for fans. It all comes down to the humor, the story, and the great chemistry that develops between the stars, both real and virtual.
If you have watched the trailers for Pokèmon: Detective Pikachu with trepidation, wondering if it would be another Super Mario Bros. level disaster, then you should feel relieved. The film isn’t just far from a disaster, it’s a genuinely enjoyable movie before any Pokèmon get involved. Once they are introduced and become a focal point, fans will simply be ecstatic at the results. We’ve all been waiting for a movie like this to show what video game adaptations can be, and it’s finally here. Be sure to check it out as soon as you can.