When the trailer dropped for Detective Pikachu, the Pokémon franchise’s first live action film, I nearly shed a tear. Never had I seen something that seemed to capture the fun, imagination and scale that this series deserved quite so well. Could Detective Pikachu finally be the first great video game film adaptation? If the first trailer dropping the same day as Toy Story 4’s and totally eclipsing it is anything to go by – then absolutely.
Right from the start, Detective Pikachu knows exactly what people are flooding into movie theatres to see – Pokémon. There’s plenty of wide shots that range from Pidgeys and Pidgeottos soaring the open skies, teams of Squirtles helping the fire department, and we even see a Machamp directing traffic after a Snorlax tuckers himself out in the middle of the street. We finally get to see how the real world and the Pokémon world collide on the big screen. The Pokémon themselves also benefit from their live-action updates as they have been given more realistic detail. Don’t get me wrong, most of them are still incredibly cute, but seeing Charizard with a properly scaly exterior is a great way to showcase the newest carnation of Pokémon. Detective Pikachu doesn’t forget its roots and also offers plenty of nostalgic tie-ins and callbacks to the franchise. Jigglypuff is still singing anyone around her to sleep, there are references to the Kanto region, home of Ash Ketchum – even the original theme song is given some fun renditions throughout the film.
Detective Pikachu embodies exactly what a Pokémon movie is, a story about friendship, growth and adventure. The film hits its detective stride as Tim (Justice Smith) and Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) begin tracking down Tim’s missing father and unearthing a sinister plan that could break the harmony between people and Pokémon. Along the way they run into a determined young reporter (Kathryn Newton), shady experiments in an underground lab, and have to fight for their lives. The story for the most part is a noir-ish detective caper that’s predictably safe. However it’s worth saying that those expecting a fast-paced story full of action might come off a little disappointed.
While everyone in the film is at least solid, Reynolds is on another level as his voice creates an entirely new iteration of Pikachu. He brings some dark humour that blends perfectly with the film’s noir style and even if he’s a little more Deadpool than Pikachu at times – the film wouldn’t be the same without him. The humour, as a whole, is definitely geared more towards 12A audiences, but I think it works as this kind of humour isn’t really seen within the Pokémon series and does seem to be appealing to a wider audience. People curse, the cinematography has this shadowy neon look to it, and the rules of the Pokémon world have a more grounded feel to them.
What really surprised me was how much I grew to care about the relationship between Tim and Pikachu. There’s something special about it that echoes how Ash and Pikachu became so close in the original animated series. We hear that Tim has always had issues with Pokemon growing up, but through working with Pikachu he develops an affection for him as they bond over the course of the film. The quieter and more heartfelt moments are genuine and make their character development authentic. All ending with a final twist that, while a little predictable, is hard not to get a little giddy with excitement.
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