Detective Pikachu – Setting the Bar for Video Game Movies

Special guest review since I’m not an expert in Pokemon.

Ever since films like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have proven that movie adaptations can be an insanely lucrative business, studios have been scrambling to make a movie out of every IP they can get their hand on in order to get a slice of that sweet, sweet franchise cash. But of course, in typical Hollywood fashion, the majority of these studios either don’t understand what made good adaptations successful, or they flat out don’t care. This always ends up resulting in a cheaply made cash grab, which sacrificed what made the source material interesting in the first place in an attempt to appeal to the broadest audience.

Just consider how many times you’ve heard this movie before: cartoon mascot gets ripped from their home, and sent through a magic portal into the real world. There, they team up with their new human best friend to stop the main villain from using the cartoon character for some nefarious plan. Along the way, they get into wacky hijinks–preferably ones that limit animation while maximizing brand deals–set to a popular soundtrack that doesn’t really fit in with the source material. Now consider the fact that this structure applies to both the new 2019 Sonic the Hedgehog movie as well as the 2011 Smurfs movie, and you might understand why Detective Pikachu is such an accomplishment.

The biggest difference is that unlike the majority of these films, the people behind the creation of Detective Pikachu actually care about the source material. This could be clearly seen through how much effort and care went into bringing the world of Pokemon to life on screen. The movie is packed to the brim with all kinds of unique Pokemon stretching from every generation, who all look amazing, if not a bit terrifying, in their realistic style. I was most impressed with Rhyme City, which was visually stunning thanks to its many neon signs that often hid references to the series.

As a longtime Pokemon fan, I was absolutely enthralled; the film perfectly delivers the cinematic experience I’ve been waiting for, ever since I originally booted up Yellow version way back when. Seeing a realistic Blastoise fire off a hydro-pump against a terrifying Gengar on the big screen filled me with that special kind of excitement that only Pokemon can inspire. You know, the kind that makes you want to be the very best, travel across the land, and so on.    

Don’t get me wrong, Detective Pikachu is by no means a cinematic masterpiece. Beyond the well executed adaptation of the games, the movie is little more than a mediocre family film. The plot is simple and fairly predictable, although it moves quickly enough to keep it entertaining. All of the supporting characters feel cartoony, with cheesy dialogue to match–although, to be fair, concepts like “evil clone of a legendary Pokemon” don’t really lend themselves to natural sounding conversations.

Thankfully someone had the great idea to cast Ryan Reynolds as the lead, as his seemingly endless charisma carries scenes that would otherwise fall apart. The movie also tried it’s best to organically introduce the world and concepts to those unfamiliar with the source material, but had to resort to exposition dumps a few times. This mostly helps parents; realistically speaking, if you’re not a fan of Pokemon, there’s little reason to watch this film.

Ultimately, Detective Pikachu is not without flaws, but manages to sidestep the common issues that plague similar live-action adaptations, and stand out as the best video game movie to date. It focused first and foremost on faithfully adapting the franchise, which resulted in a vibrant world of Pokemon that’s sure to delight fans of the series. As Legendary inevitably moves forward with sequels, they have time to tighten up the issues of this film while expanding the level of detail that made this movie shine.