Years ago it needed to be said: videogame movies suck. One need look no further than the 1993 adaptation of Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.” by Disney itself (through its now-inactive Hollywood Pictures label) to know how true that is. That does not simply apply to Japanese franchises; Universal’s take on id Software’s seminal FPS classic “Doom” left much to be desired too. But despite jaded critic protests to the contrary, Hollywood has been getting somewhat better at making adaptations from Japanese media. One can perhaps use as proof the newly-released blockbuster by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures: “Pokémon Detective Pikachu.”
Now, adapting a videogame franchise like Nintendo’s “Pokémon” into live-action film runs into the fact that it already got a popular adaptation (as a long-running anime series). And that does not include the fact that trying to render fantastic monsters that are trademark of the franchise in realistic CGI can be painstaking given their original simplistic artwork. For the first problem, that was solved by focusing adaptation on a side-story game rather than the main titles. Said spinoff actually has some grounded realism in its setting aside from the Pokémon present, and so its plot was given to Hollywood magic.
To summarize, the “Detective Pikachu” game on Nintendo 3DS involves an unusual duo: a country-boy who comes to the big city to find his missing detective father, and an unusual Pikachu Pokémon with some skills in detective work who can talk to that boy (but no other human). Together they team up to investigate the dad’s disappearance, and solve the case he had left unfinished.
In the big-budget Warner-Legendary live-action adaptation, while some character names were unchanged, certain details have been altered to garner an older movie-viewing crowd. The young teenager Tim Goodman is now a twenty-something entry-level insurance employee portrayed by Justice Smith (“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”). Hearing that his police detective father was killed in an accident, Tim travels to Ryme City only to bring home what assets were left at the latter’s place. Instead he meets an unusual new friend and a stranger mystery to figure out.
Said friend is, again, a talking Pikachu that considers itself a detective, partnered to Tim’s missing dad. The kicker is that he is voiced by Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool himself! Even better, he sounds really good at characterizing a yellow mouse-like Pokémon that can discharge electricity. And said Pokémon looks awesome courtesy of MPC’s CGI work.
Insurance guy and disillusioned former Pokémon trainer meets talking Pikachu; hilarity ensues. And then Tim and the detective Pikachu find clues from the case that ended with the former’s father apparently killed. Despite the weirdness of their arrangement the two pick up the trail. Tim can talk to humans and Pikachu to Pokémon. By sharing what they know they plan to proceed forward. Helping them is news network intern and wannabe reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton). The mystery leads to Lucy’s network boss Roger Clifford (Chris Geere) and his philanthropic industrialist father Howard (Bill Nighy). An escaped artificially engineered Pokémon called Mewtwo (a familiar name to old-school “Pokémon” players) is also apparently involved in this.
With Ryan Reynolds’ character acting chops in the lead, the cast make the story serviceable for the most part. The other star however is the production design. They successfully managed to sell how a world where Pokémon live together with humans might look like in real life, just as the creatures themselves are interpreted in all manners of skin, scales and fur (like Pikachu). “Pokémon” gamers will also appreciate the numerous franchise-related shout-outs scattered throughout Tim and Pikachu’s vast surroundings.
Years ago the truth really was “videogame movies suck.” When something like “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” comes along however, one cannot help but wonder if that curse has been broken at last. A breathtaking setting, an interesting plot, and memorable characters go a long way to prove that the producers and cast knew the source franchise well to do an endearing love letter to it. One last thing, the original “Detective Pikachu” 3DS game had an unfinished plotline. This movie, or at least its interpretation of the game story, does not. Whether it is good or bad is up to the viewer. But as a package, “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” rules game-movies.
Image courtesy of Nintendo Life