This piece contains spoilers for Detective Pikachu. If you have not yet watched the movie, turn back now.
Detective Pikachu is the latest video game movie to hit the big screens, and as a long-time Pokémon fan I was both excited and nervous for what it would be like. Video game movies, in the past, have mostly been colossal failures. The 1997 Mortal Kombat: Annihilation movie has a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 2%, while Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009) and more recently WARCRAFT (2016) haven’t fared much better. Even many of the animated Pokémon movies didn’t score well on Rotten Tomatoes, with Pokémon: The First Movie only received a 15%.
But Detective Pikachu has changed that. It has so far retained a score of 64% on Rotten Tomatoes, and while that’s not all that high it does hold ONE thing over other video game movies: it’s the first movie to be considered ‘fresh’.
Now this is not a review by any means. Instead, it’s a look over what made it great, what can be used to improve other future video game movies, and what maybe could have been done… a fair bit better.
Oh, and before you go any further, this article will contain some spoilers. So if you haven’t yet seen the movie, close the page and go to your nearest cinema.
Staying Close to Source Material
One of the best things Detective Pikachu did was stay close to the original designs of Pokémon within the franchise. Now that is not to say the designs were EXACTLY what anyone envisioned (looking at you, Jigglypuff). But by Arceus they were phenomenal. So many of the Pokémon match their in-game counterparts as closely as possible. Lickitung is this pink, fleshy critter with a long slobbery tongue. Greninja looks almost exactly like it does in the game, horrific non-frog eyes included.
And then there’s Ditto. In all Pokémon games it’s a well-known fact that Ditto is able to perfectly transform into anything it wants (and this is shown in the movie, when it transforms into several Pokémon AND people). Except, of course, for its eyes. And Detective Pikachu made sure to include this fact, something that I personally believe would have made or broken the movie had they omitted it. (It also made for… some incredibly creepy scenes.)
Another thing Detective Pikachu did incredibly was the designs of the Pokémon themselves. As I stated before they weren’t exactly what everyone envisioned. But, while they did touch on realism, they resembled the creatures we love and cherish so much. They barely changed the designs at all, simply made them as if they would look if they were truly real. And that is where Detective Pikachu excelled.
Investigating the Story
Now, I will be the first to admit that I have never played the Detective Pikachu game from which the movie was derived. But in saying that, the story was… well, confusing to say the least. I was able to follow it well enough to understand what was going on, but at the same time it was almost as if details were missing. The movie also seemed rushed at times. But overall, the movie’s story fit well with the world, it just needed a little bit more care put into it.
I will not spoil the movie here, not in any major way. But in the utopia Ryme City appears to be, there is a darker side that almost seemed TOO gritty and grim for the Pokémon world. (It’s not, actually, if you’ve ever read any Pokédex entries. Especially any Ghost Pokémon entries.) People who were expecting a light-hearted feel-good type of movie will not be disappointed, absolutely not. However, they might be taken aback by the troubling themes within and the fact a HUMAN manages to brainwash a Legendary Pokémon. With what is essentially a glorified headset. Giovanni in the first movie wasn’t even able to do that with a full suit of armour.
Detective Pikachu’s not a perfect movie. Far from it. But it is an improvement on other game movies, and that’s why it shines a light of hope on future VG adaptations. Staying close to designs of characters we know and love is one key way to gain support (looking at you, Sonic Movie, although I acknowledge you’re fixing that). And honestly, the story chosen—Detective Pikachu—was an excellent showcase of what future ‘live-action’ Pokémon films could look like. Sticking closer to the story than other movies have done in the past was one of the better parts of the movie (even if it was confusing at times). A few VG movies in the past (Doom, and that awful Super Mario movie) haven’t quite done this and look where that landed them.
Detective Pikachu has showcased for us what video game movies can do, and that they can do so much better. It’s not a perfect movie and it likely never will be, but long-time Pokémon fans will likely love this movie and its little Easter eggs. It’s emotionally charged—I admit, I cried in the cinema at the ending—and the nostalgia hits hard. If you’re on the fence about seeing it, take it from me: it’s a movie worth the watch.