Pokémon is an international phenomenon and even if you haven’t played the video games, traded cards, watched animated films, or even the famous anime series, you are sure to have heard, at least, about this magical world in which humans and Pokémon co-exist. Yet, it was admittedly a bit of a surprise when the makers decided to not go with an origins story, and opted instead for a retelling of the 2016 video game, Detective Pikachu.
You see that the makers are aware of the hype for this film considering how the first scene shows us Mewtwo, arguably the most powerful Pokémon in the universe. A line from one of the characters tells us that the man-made Pokémon was captured after it escaped Kanto 20 years ago.
This is a direct reference to the first Pokémon film, Pokémon: The First Movie. The city mentioned is where the story of the anime series’ protagonist, Ash Ketchum, takes place. This is what Pokémon: Detective Pikachu does the best — integrating what we love about the franchise while telling a decent story.
The film, set in Ryme city — similar to that of the eponymously titled game — follows the life of an ex-Pokémon trainer, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) as he encounters a talking, caffeine-addicted, amnesiac Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). While the former tries to figure out what happened to his long-lost father, the electric Pokémon seems to have forgotten who he himself is. Thankfully, unlike the Pikachu from the series, the one here is exceptionally intelligent with the mind of a detective.
This also reminds one of the classic 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, another story based in a world where humans and cartoon characters co-exist. Instead of the comical baddies — Team Rocket — we are introduced to a more sinister antagonist.
There’s also Lucy Stevens (an underutilised Kathryn Newton), a reporter who is accompanied by a Psyduck that reminds us of Misty from the series. We have Howard Clifford (the go-to man for fantasy scripts — Bill Nighy), a man who believes that a world can exist where Pokémon don’t have to be captured but can live alongside. He is the mastermind behind Ryme City, a man who sounds like the David Attenborough of this world. Then there’s the almost useless Hideo Yoshida (named as an ode to Hironobu Yoshida, the famous graphic designer behind the franchise). This story does only a mediocre job of providing its many characters with purpose.
But seeing the main two characters in action sort of makes up for it. Their journey begins with animosity, and comprises well-written character arcs. It also reminds us of the relationship Ash used to have with his Pikachu when their lives converged. Simple sequences like the one where Pikachu decides to travel on Tim’s shoulder instead of walking because his “lungs are the size of grapes” and “walking 1,000 steps as him is equal to one step for a human”, fit the persona of Ryan Reynolds. In a sense, you could argue this is more of a toned down (read censored) version of Deadpool.
Speaking of the merc with a mouth, I was looking for a Deadpool reference in the film, and that came in pretty early, courtesy a cameo from Karan Soni who played Dopinder in both Deadpool films. And while on references, the city is plagued with Pokémon of all shapes and sizes, and there are even references to Mew and other legendary Pokémon. Finding easter eggs in this film is as tough as it was in last year’s Ready Player One.
They have even used the classic ‘I wanna be the very best’ theme song — more than once. Right from Charizard to Machamp, Snorlax to Loudred and Blastoise to Torterra, we get to see Pokémon from various generations. Instead of trying out new looks for them — like the massive mishap the makers of Sonic the Hedgehog did and are now rectifying — the team of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu have resorted to recreating these characters as they are.
This fuels nostalgia, and makes it easier to spot the Pokémon — many of whom have a blink-and-miss appearance. Even something as small as Pikachu’s fur is well-detailed. The director, Rob Letterman, has made his share of animation and live-action films (Shark Tale, Monsters vs. Aliens and Goosebumps to name a few). Equal importance is given to the city as well, and well-known establishments such as Hi-Hat Café and Tahnti train station are seen in the film too.
What doesn’t really work is the superficial take on the story. Be it the fights, evolutions or basic Pokémon moves, you expect from such a film, there just isn’t as much inventiveness. The evil side is also one-dimensional, and the final reveal isn’t the effective twist they probably thought it was.
But the film does do a satisfactory job of delivering the first live-action/animated film in the Pokémon franchise. From the looks of it, the makers are planning to make more Pokémon films and one could perhaps even involve Ash. That could be a brilliant move, and as Pikachu would likely put it, “I can feel it in my jellies.”
Director: Rob Letterman
Rating: 3/5 stars