By Michael Tseng
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” strives to break the stigmas of the video-game film adaptation, one that has been marked with negative reviews and a tendency to stray away from the original series plot and world development. The film partnership between Toho and Warner Brothers followed this same trend, yet for a good reason.
While its plot is sub-par, and a derivative of previous works, it effectively encapsulates the audience into the world of Pokémon, utilizing high-end graphic design to capture each Pokémon’s realistic appearance, creating the world that young audiences have dreamt about for ages. For those born in the 1990s-2000s, especially those that grew up playing the games and watching the daytime cartoon, it’s a fantasy come true.
The film stars Justice Smith as Tim Goodman, the protagonist that winds up on an adventure to find his missing father (played by Ryan Reynolds), Harry Goodman. Throughout his journey, he teams up with the amnesiac detective Pikachu, Harry’s partner Pokémon, and Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an ambitious journalist following Harry’s disappearance. The investigation takes Tim and Pikachu to the fabled Mewtwo, where they confront him about Harry’s disappearance, until they discover that Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) is the mastermind behind the Pokémon genetic experimentation, all for short-lived dream to enhance human evolution.
Rather than focus on the plot, the film extended its resources to world-building and branding, making use of the long-time popular series. After all, a reservoir of Pokémon fans already exists, so why focus on making the plot intricate, when they can give audiences the visual aspect they desire? Interestingly enough, this strategy has worked marvelously, earning $130 million worldwide.
The characters are surface-level and flat tropes, as the protagonist is copied out of every other dystopian or teenage-cast movie: A disillusioned adolescent with daddy issues looking to prove himself. Lucy is cast as the traditional love interest with a flair and ambition for more, which leads her to Harry’s apartment. Even Clifford, the main villain, has a simple goal, prolong his life by using morally decrepit methods, and advancing that same ideology among citizens of Ryme city.
Beyond the placidity of the characters, the movie’s plot is ordinary and follows typical adventure genre structures. It’s a common coming-of-age story that borderlines the cliché, and lacks weight, a typical good vs. evil story. It’s as if the narrative wants you to focus on everything but the plot. Instead, focus on Pikachu’s cute cheeks.
The initial reveal of Pikachu’s dual identity as Harry Goodman sparks emotional attention yet fails to address the plot holes in the film. With Mewtwo’s powers, there is no need to combine the two, leading a teenage boy on a wild goose chase. The unexpected fusion, which is revealed after the foiling of Clifford’s plan, can be awkward on the audience, and confuse the line between good and evil.
Nevertheless, the movie remains a representation of millennial youth, and brings great satisfaction finally seeing the Pokémon world. Ryan Reynolds brings natural humor and charisma that brightens up Pikachu’s character, and make us all want to have a Pokémon partner.