Oh boy, here we go. Already, I feel wrong typing out this article, another guy on the internet shouting about what’s wrong about a kids movie. So, I’m saying it up top; I liked Detective Pikachu. You can check out the n3 review of the movie here, these are merely my personal thoughts to build from that point.
To summarise, for me it was a good representation of the source material, actually got a few genuine laughs out of me and is probably the best video game adaptation we’ve ever seen. It was good, family-friendly fun, but I really think it could’ve been great.
Thus, I’ve taken the liberty to lay out a few suggestions as to how to get the most out of this movie. As I said, the world building really won me over here – I’ve got 3 aspects of that I want to keep for my new version – but the story really needed a revamp (quite strangely for a video game film, you know you’re allowed to just steal something that worked before, right?), so I’ve got an equal number of suggestions for that too. Yes, that does mean there are some spoilers ahead, this is you being warned.
What I’m keeping:
As protagonists go, Tim Goodman has a pretty strange road to walk. Pokémon is one of the most recognizable brands on the planet, with almost everyone who’s ever picked up a controller having played one of the franchise’s entries, or at least being familiar with its key concepts. Even my Mum knows what a Charmander is, and she’s still buying me games for the Wii. But for the uninitiated, this kind of world and story, with its many fantastical elements and extended lore, simply doesn’t work without the fish out of water style lead.
So, it was actually a stroke of genius to make Tim a young man who has fallen out of love with Pokémon, as it allows him to both be out of the loop in the world yet competent enough to thrive in it in a way the audience can totally attach to. Justice Smith also shines, even though the majority of the time he is acting against what I can only assume was a tennis ball with rosy red cheeks; two massive thumbs up from me.
In a similar way, Ryan Reynolds utterly won me over within the movie’s runtime. Going in, I was still a little apprehensive about both Pikachu’s design and casting (yes I was still hoping that this was all a big lie and Danny DeVito’s voice was going to come out of that adorable yellow mouse, but whatever I guess), only really being able to hear Deadpool from the trailer clips I had seen. However, a combination of energetic voice performance, stellar animation and some great banter between our main pairing brought the aforementioned laughs out of me with impressive consistency. Detective Pikachu works incredibly well as a classic buddy cop movie, which I would be interested to know how much of which was improvised. Regardless, I wanted to spend more time with Tim and Pikachu, so this is another win.
Finally, as a way to show off what makes this world so unique, Ryme City was a fine creation.
This film is at its best during those wide shots which show how the Pokémon are integrated into the world, with Squirtle firefighters, Growlithe’s being taken on walks and Machamp traffic directors. The people have come to see these creatures, so absolutely keep them out of their balls for as long as possible. From a story standpoint, this works too, giving us much more to play with from scene to scene.
What I’m changing:
Use Team Rocket
The most glaring omission of Detective Pikachu for me, was not using one of the wacky and memorable teams of the Pokémon mythos as the antagonistic force. Sure, naming the maguffin of the film after the most iconic of these groups was a nice nod, but seriously, why not dive in fully here? A detective story can still have a twist without it being about the identity of the bad guy, and I believe a story of our diminutive hero standing up to the big evil corporation (literally and metaphorically), is much more thematically appropriate than your generic doomsday device.
A goofier villain also means we can hang a lantern on how utterly bonkers living in this world must be. Whilst the original was funny, imagine if we swap the Mr. Mime interrogation scene with Team Rocket’s Meowth? A fellow talking Pokémon to annoy our heroes, maybe the result of some genetic experiment, who spills the beans on a project to create Mewtwo (instead of using him as some dumb battery), instead of just some random guy at a Pokémon battle? Tell me you don’t want to see that.
Make Lucy a Rival
Lucy Stevens is a frustrating case, whilst I have no problem with the kind of character she is – the cliche overly positive reporter keen on changing the world – I do take issue with her wasted potential. The mystery of why Lucy is investigating Harry Goodman is solved a little too quickly for my liking. Tim and the amnesia-stricken Pikachu are a little too willing to trust this mysterious, self-professedly unqualified girl who initially thought his father and partner were up to no good.
Instead, I suggest we make Lucy and her Psyduck a rival investigatory duo. Not only is this much more in line with the games, but it allows Lucy to have a greater influence on the climax of the movie, as opposed to being a chauffeur/identity thief. Ultimately, of course, the pairs would join forces upon realizing their shared goal, piecing together the overall mystery of the nefarious Team Rocket using the information they gathered separately. Teamwork, am I right?
No, I don’t mean like in the leaked version. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t me saying “more explosions please”, it’s me asking for a little more ingenuity with the tools this world affords you. The final confrontation of this movie has a boy flailing at a Ditto, before pulling a headband off an old man. Come on, you know we can do better.
Over the course of the film, Pikachu struggles to make use of his various powers, understandable once you know the big twist of the movie, but I was expecting the thunderbolt moment. You know what I’m talking about, where the clouds grey over and Pikachu lands a devastating, all-powerful bolt straight from the sky on the bud guy. I get that that isn’t the point of the movie, I was actually quite impressed by how organically they integrated battling into the movie, but come on, that is the one thing 90% of the audience was expecting going in. Okay so maybe I did want a few more explosions.
Even outside of Pikachu though, we only see a handful of abilities in use. Jigglypuff’s sing and Charizard’s flamethrower appear quite satisfyingly, but then Pikachu rides a Pidgeot and we don’t see so much as a scratch. It’s like the movie forgot at time that it was, in fact, a Pokémon movie. Let’s see some hyper beams, iron tails and confusions, in ways we never thought we could. A shame, really.
There we have it then, over a thousand words on a film I really thought I didn’t have many opinions on. Again, I want to reiterate that what we have is completely serviceable and thoroughly enjoyable, I just couldn’t stop thinking about what could have been. Anyway, I’m off to listen to the Poké-rap on repeat for the rest of the day.