Films based on video games have had a bit of a bad reputation, to say the least. Whether it's the wonderfully dated Mortal Kombat, or the infamously muddled and confused Super Mario Bros., the line 'it's good for a video game movie' is one we've heard all too often. Now that Pokémon Detective Pikachu has been unleashed unto the world, can we finally see a proper break from the trend we've all become oh-so-familiar with? If this is a question to which you would like to know the answer, you've come to the right kind of article, bubbo.
Despite being the titular character – and the one plastered all over the promotional gubbins – Detective Pikachu (played by Ryan Reynolds) plays second fiddle to the real lead, Tim Goodman, played by Justice Smith. Tim's had a call letting him know that his father has been involved in a rather hairy accident, and he's gone walkabout to the point that everyone is assuming he's pining for the fjords. Tim's in the same boat of believing as well, but all that changes when he stumbles upon a Pikachu in his father's apartment who just so happens to be the Pikachu we mentioned just a moment ago who's all over the promotional art. With the both of them convinced that Tim's dad is still out there somewhere, our two companions are off to disprove his death certificate.
As far as plots go, it's not exactly Schindler's List, but it's different enough from the tried and true world-ending-death-laser-from-the-sky-help-me-non-specific-superhero schpiel to keep our attention. Smith does an excellent job of portraying Tim, keeping his character broad enough to be relatable, but not so broad to become that type of character who'll get the job done or die trying. He feels like a real person, which in a world inhabited by Pokémon keeps the film just grounded enough to be on the right side of believable.
Reynold's delivery is spot-on throughout, even if on occasion the quips and side-chatter become a bit tiresome
As for Pikachu, well he certainly manages to keep the spotlight on him whenever it's desired. Reynold's delivery is spot-on throughout, even if on occasion the quips and side-chatter become a bit tiresome. Thankfully most of the time these little asides do hit their mark, but to say every one-liner is an absolute zinger would be a tad misleading. The rest of the cast is enjoyable as well, if slightly forgettable. The exception to this rule is Bill Nighy's performance as Howard Clifford, the mind behind Rime City's Poké-centric society. We don't want to talk too much about his performance so we don't put our foot in a big steaming pile of spoilers, but suffice to say he and his character are both entertaining and effective, if perhaps a little underutilised.
The first act is undoubtedly the strongest, focusing primarily on the evolving relationship between Pikachu and Tim, and the detective angle of the story gives this entire chunk of the film an almost buddy cop vibe, which is no bad thing at all. Acts two and three sadly aren't quite as strong, with act two feeling somewhat like an exposition-athon, but with enough interaction and enjoyment to keep it afloat – although truth be told, the pacing starts to slip around this point. Act three is stronger, but the stakes are raised to a disappointingly predictable degree, which detracts from the small, intimate fun found between the two main characters.
All right, we've held back the Poké-gasm long enough, let's talk about Rime City, its Pokémon, and the film's presentation. The whole thing is an absolute feast for the eyes, and fans of the source material will find no end to the joyous references, subtle nods, and other fan-focused bits and bobs. If that sounds like it might alienate non-fans or perhaps those who have slightly lapsed throughout the series, worry ye not, as the vast majority of these aren't required to understand what's happening on-screen, and often times are simply happening in the background or establishing shots.
Fans of the source material will find no end to the joyous references, subtle nods, and other fan-focused bits and bobs
At first, it felt like a waste of the monsters' potential, but enough displays of each monster's unique traits are shown off without it feeling like blatant fan-service. It was actually slightly emotional for me personally to see so much of a series that arguably raised me in some small part realised so well in this form.
The use of colour is effective, if perhaps a little bit subdued. Saturation is blown out in several shots, but only for environmental objects rather than the characters or the countless Joltiks that litter the powerlines. It's a nice way to introduce the sort of unrealistic colour you'd expect from a game, but without plastering it over the things you're supposed to believe are alive with organs and stuff inside them. Each act has its own palette, which further helps to distinguish them from one another, and reflect the story's arc, even if said arc isn't anything enormously special. Rime City itself is a sprawling, vertical metropolis, which definitely looks like the London in which we saw the film in, but has enough of its own DNA to make it feel properly unique. The few shots we see of the towering monoliths they probably call buildings aren't as numerous as perhaps we'd like, but having said that shot after shot of tall buildings isn't what the film's about.
Importantly, the respect for the source material is second to none. It's all too easy for big film companies to want to water down or sterilise the art a production's based on for some mad reason, but clearly someone in this process put their foot down and made sure it stayed as true to its roots as possible. Psyduck actually saying 'Psyduck' in an annoying voice might rub us up the wrong way after a while, but it's at least accurate.
Detective Pikachu may well be the first properly good video game film the industry has ever churned out
That's not to say the film doesn't have its drawbacks, some of which we've mentioned previously. Some of the characters feel underdeveloped, the pacing drags somewhat in the second act and rockets forward in the third, and whilst an overwhelming majority of the CGI is perfectly well executed, there were a few instances where it stood out as not actually being there. This was no more than minor things such as the lighting being off on the models, but it was noticeable enough to break our suspension of disbelief once or twice. Luckily the rest of the film was strong enough to pull us back in, so no harm done, eh?
We're going to say it, Detective Pikachu may well be the first properly good video game film the industry has ever churned out. It's not a perfect beast at all, and although there's certainly more for fans of the games, there's still enough of a good film left for those who aren't to be able to enjoy it. A few stumbles here and there for sure, but this little critter is still more than ready to take on the Elite Four.