Detective Pikachu • Review

It’s high time they made a live-action Pokémon movie, we said. It’s high time they brought the creatures we love onto the big screen in a spectacular way. Then Warner Bros. took up the project, and we all flinched.

Suddenly the doubts came flooding in. Is it really high time to ruin this franchise? What if they mess everything up? What if it’s just a nostalgia cash-grab—and compelled by my childhood memories of catching Pidgey on the Game Boy color, I stroll into the theater only to be betrayed by soulless mass merchandising?

These were my concerns walking in. Like many others, I thought to myself, “This movie is probably going to be bad, but I have to watch it because it’s Pokémon. There is no way I’m missing the first live-action Pokémon movie.” And so my wife and I bought tickets—and minutes later, found ourselves sitting before the ominous silver screen of our theatre. Waiting.

I have a unique perspective here, as I am both a novelist and a Pokéfanatic. I could name pretty much every Pokémon showing up on the screen—from all seven generations of Pokémon, replete with over 800 species—and my wife had to tell me to stop whispering their names. At the same time, I can wax on about the proper construction of stories and characters—and identify the utilization of those tools in a story.

So how did this movie fare? From the start, it hit all the right buttons. Not just in terms of nostalgia—but also plot writing. Here’s an example (no spoilers, it’s the first scene): the introduction of Tim, the main character. Tim’s friend shows him a crying Cubone in the fields and says the Pokémon is just like Tim…lonely. They show Cubone’s loneliness, then direct it to Tim. This manages to play off the audience’s knowledge of Pokémon, explain it for those who don’t know Cubone, perfectly describe the main character through comparison rather than an information dump…and be humorous and interesting at the same time. That’s a great way to establish a character. That’s how you tell a story.

Another example is Detective Pikachu. Pikachu and Tim are walking along when some people start cooing over how cute Pikachu is. Pikachu notes that everyone coos over him, pokes him and prods him—and the electric mouse gives the impression he’s tired of it. Just like that, the audience is forced to put themselves in Pikachu’s shoes, and the Pokémon becomes a relatable character rather than a CGI art piece.

These are two small examples. Such skillful writing persisted throughout the movie. The twists were well-executed, revealing information piece by piece to hold suspense (as you’d expect in a mystery). The themes were perfectly orchestrated. Motivations were given, actions made sense, and nothing came out of nowhere like lazy writing. (No deus ex machina, either.) Even the smallest details (of which there were many) were justified. It was textbook perfect plot construction.

On the side of Pokémon, every fan will be pleased. Somebody must’ve hired a psychologist during the plot writing process, because my nostalgia buttons were all getting smashed. I was jubilant to see my favorite Pokémon in brilliant CGI, and the way they operated was so true to their Pokédex entries that it was clear a true Pokémon fan had been in charge of the project. The mindnumbing level of attention to certain details did not go unappreciated.

Just as an example, Cubone’s Pokédex entry states that Cubone wears the skull of his dead mother. This seems a bit morbid, and fans have traditionally poked fun at it. In the movie, the main character mentions it to humorous effect (but I won’t spoil it). There are countless other examples—instances in which the Pokémon or trainer behaves exactly as you’d expect if you’re a Pokénerd like me—and they’re all followed to the letter. A lot of love went into this project.

Usually when you see movies based on a franchise, you expect a sort of fan fiction that lightly follows the original formula in order to appeal to its fan base while creating something new to suit the director’s actual vision. With this movie, I got the strong sense that the director’s vision was to stay true to the spirit and essence of Pokémon as much as possible. Somebody in charge of the writing was a true fan, and it came out all over the place.

Overall, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this movie was definitely made for us—the Pokémon lovers, the creators, the dreamers. It aimed to be a well-written, creative, heartwarming film with good twists and plot progression, and it had all the right resources to execute that ambition. It succeeded.

I’m very happy to have seen this film. It’s rare I walk out of a theater thinking, “Oh man, I want to see that again right now.” But that was me after seeing Detective Pikachu. I hope the sequel is just as good—because it’s definitely getting one.

-Ian


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