Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

When I was about seven years old, my parents took my brother and I to see the first Pokémon movie, Pokémon: The First Movie (1998). This was a time before midnight showings and ‘midnight showings’ (screenings the day before the official release at a time that’s easier for people will jobs the next day), but tickets sold. out. for the Thursday showing. They had to add a showing at some theaters for Wednesday and we traveled to a theater that felt super far away at the time.

The point to that little anecdote is this: Pokémon has been a world-wide phenomena since its release in 1996. While it popularity waned for a time, it has come back with a vengeance thanks to Pokémon Go! and a new generation of kids obsessed with collecting Pokemon cards. So, the announcement of a live action movie, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, was almost inevitable, though I wasn’t anywhere near as excited until I learned that Ryan Reynolds would be voicing Pikachu. And, as the film’s release got closer and more trailers began to air, I couldn’t help but get swept up further in the excitement.

Last night, my fiancé and I finally saw Detective Pikachu. While I’m still processing, my fiancé was really pleased with it. I’m going to defer to some of his opinions, since he’s continued to play the Pokémon games as they’ve been released (except for Pokémon Go!, since he doesn’t have a smartphone). He summed* the movie up as something that was made for millennials and that children were an incidental audience– one they would already have. With children and parents guaranteed, making it entertaining for a completely different target demographic would have a positive effect on profits.

The film makes numerous references to some of the content that defined an America millennial childhood, making Pokémon: The First Movie canon, including a scene on top of Pokémon parade floats just like the stage in the Super Smash Bros. Melee* game, and, of course, the enormous number of Red and Blue starter Pokémon: Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charmander (seriously, SO MANY Charmanders!).

As is obvious in the trailer, the film follows 21-year-old Tim as he looks for his missing-but-presumed-dead father with the help of his father’s Pokémon partner, a Pikachu. He and Pikachu are able to work together because for some unknown and mysterious reason, they can understand what each other is saying (the movie establishes that Pokémon don’t understand human speech, just the feelings behind it). While the cast includes big names such as Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) as the titular Pikachu, Ken Watanabe (Inception) as a colleague of Tim’s father, and Bill Nighy (Underworld), as founder of Ryme City, where the movie takes place, the real star is Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) who plays Tim. Smith may be a relative unknown, but his acting is on point in this film, bringing emotional depth to the otherwise ‘straight man’ character.

Throughout the film, Tim and Pikachu unravel a plot that goes far beyond Tim’s missing father and Pikachu’s partner, and could have worldwide ramifications. The film moves quickly, continuously bringing new details and information with little room to breathe. The beginning feels rushed, and while the movie never really slows down– aside from the poignant moment here and there– the frenetic pace seems to match the gaming experience. Even after almost twenty hours to process, I’m still not quite sure what I think of this movie, which I think has to do with this rapid pacing.

The design elements are where this film truly shines. The music finds inspiration in the music found in the Pokémon games and matches this semi-futuristic, Japanime alternate reality. What most impressed me most, however, were the visuals. The digital rendering combined with expert lighting design brings Pokémon to life in a way that is so realistic that it even captures their texture. The urban setting combines the Japanese anime with more American sensibilities (and perceptions of Japan) to create something that is jarring, but feels accurate to the world of Pokémon.

Overall, the film was enjoyable, with fantastic visuals and a fun plot. Although I found the pacing jarring, I don’t know that it would’ve worked any slower. The film has a solid plot arc and creates a satisfying mystery with a pay off that doesn’t feel forced, nor does it drag out the reveals or lead to impatience. It’s not a perfect film, but my fiancé called it “the best Pokémon movie ever!” and while I’m still not sure what I feel about the movie itself, that is a statement I can agree with.

*Corrections have been made since the original post:
– I originally said that my fiancé “summed the movie up as something that was made for children, but with millennials in mind.” That has been corrected.
– I also claimed that the Pokémon parade floats were from the original Super Smash Bros., and that too has been corrected.

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