Released: 9th May
Seen: 9th May
When I was growing up, the biggest games in the world were Pokémon Red and Blue. Every single person I knew had one of them; some people had both of them. I was always a Pokémon Red kind of guy who would happily pick Bulbasaur first because he would make it easier to get through the first two gyms (I know Charmander is cooler, but he’s also weak against the first two gyms and I played that game to win. Come at me). I also have vivid memories of when Pokémon Yellow came out and completing that game within a single sitting, only pausing to remove the batteries from my oversized clear Gameboy and clearing the gyms and elite four. It’s fair to say that a large chunk of my childhood included a monster that could be located in a pocket and then I did a very stupid thing… I grew up. I had less and less time to pull out a Gameboy and play whatever new Pokémon game was available; I didn’t keep up with the anime. I just kind of stopped caring about trying to Catch ‘Em All because I hit this time in life when it felt appropriate to put away childish things. I did recently pick up Pokémon Go because it’d be on the phone and a time waster but I kind of figured my love of Pokémon was dead. Then the trailer for Detective Pikachu dropped and a tiny little voice deep inside me screamed “I’m not quite dead… I’m getting better”
Detective Pikachu follows the titular Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), a small electric mouse who woke up after a car crash with amnesia, massive caffeine addiction and a detectives hat with the name Harry Goodman written in it. He goes to the address he finds in the hat and in that apartment he stumbles across Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), the son of Harry who has been distant ever since Tim’s mother died from a terrible case of “Hollywood doesn’t know how to write roles for women over 40” disease. Tim also has one other interesting thing about him; he can actually understand what Pikachu is saying. He doesn’t just hear the small electric rodent say his name again and again in different inflections, he hears Pikachu speaking in plain English (or plain whatever language the movie is dubbed in) and together they decide that they have to try and find just what happened to Harry, why Pikachu has no memory and just what is the weird purple stuff they find in a vial?
From the moment the film begins, it awakens the child within and makes it sit up and take notice of a pointed visual reference to the opening of Pokémon: The First Movie where the Pokémon Mewtwo awakens in a lab, breaking out and beginning the plot. It not only is a throwback to a piece of series iconography, one of many that are littered throughout the film, but it is the confirmation we needed to know that this film actually understands how to adapt the Pokémon properly. This isn’t horrific like that Sonic trailer (oh god, I have to watch that film later this year… goddamn it), the filmmakers clearly worked hard to ensure it kept the feel of the original designs while they were adapting it to a real world. Every new Pokémon that turns up is a perfect 3D rendering of these adorable creatures and even some of the less adorable ones.
The wonderful designs help to create this world, a bold striking place with unnatural lighting that draws you in more with every second. It’s part of this films throwback feel, a heightened version of the late-90s/early-00s. You can see this throwback idea throughout, from characters who dress like they were lifted out of a teen magazine in that decade to using the fake gangster flick from Home Alone to the plot itself. The plot is, basically, “Kid finds evil corporation doing evil things, tries to stop them” which was almost every major kid’s movie for at least 8 years in the 1990s (citation never going to be given). This throwback style could really be a detriment to the film but for me? Made the nostalgia work so much better.
Nostalgia is basically what this film runs on; your childhood adoration for Pokémon is used intentionally so it can play on your emotions. A lot of people who played this game remember how creepy Mr Mime always was so the film plays on that, allowing the cultural context of the character to help generate the reaction or jokes. Fans know that Magikarp is useless but Gyrardos (his evolved form, non-Pokémon fans are going to have so much fun understanding all these names) is one of the best Pokémon in the original games so when they use that knowledge for a joke, it works. The jokes are well thought out enough that if you know the source material, they work wonderfully and if you don’t, they’ll still get a laugh. Nostalgia helps explain why they made the choices they made with the story and the structure, but you don’t need to have grown up with Pokémon to want to hug Pikachu until he explodes in your arms.
Every action set piece is pure joy and fun, from an elaborate scene where the heroes are desperately trying to run from the ground that is literally rising up under their feet, to a giant battle scene set among a litany of Pokémon balloons, each set piece just works. There’s great tension and visual flair, jokes that feel natural and a satisfying build throughout that just works. It’s so nice to be able to say that the scenes in a video game adaptation actually work for once. I’ve got no clue how they’re going to top it for a sequel but I want to see them try.
Detective Pikachu is a joyride of nostalgia that’s just filled with charm from top to bottom. A stylistic romp through a magical world, it tells an engaging story in a way that makes it accessible to all audiences but extra rewarding for people with memories of Pokémon from their youth. The characterisations are engaging and a joy to watch, an espresso shot of happiness. Sure there are some parts that play a little predictably and there are times when the mystery aspect feels a little off, but everything else is so good that those are minor problems that don’t even bother me that much. When someone decided they were going to make this video game adaptation, they wanted it to be the very best like no one ever was. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and find my old Red version because that inner child wants to play again.