If you were to approach me back in the manic heyday of Pokemon and tell me that we were ever to receive a live-action adaptation of Pokemon, I'd treat such a claim with a healthy amount of skepticism. If you told me some time later that we were going to receive an adaptation of a relatively obscure game within the franchise that didn't get much traction upon release, I'd fear for the worst. If, after that, you told me the finished product was worth watching? I would have laughed, heartily and in profound disbelief.
When I sat down to watch Detective Pikachu, I was cautiously optimistic at best. The initial trailers had left me perplexed more than anything, and although later advertisements proved curious, the reservations were still plentiful. I could not be blamed for this hesitation, at least so I reckon – when was the last time one of these films was ever anything more than undisputably atrocious? A precedent had been set by the time of Bloodrayne, if not before.
On the surface, I am almost tempted to say that this movie shouldn't be as good as it is. Films based on properties that are video games have almost universally failed to achieve any kind of traction or staying power, and they are almost all of singularly poor quality, from Uwe Boll's assorted tax dodges to the abysmal blunder that was the Super Mario Brothers film in '93. The mere prospect of adapting a video game to the screen has proven to be a losing bet in nearly every instance. To take a gamble such as this, using perhaps the most immediately recognisable video game franchise in existence, all under the auspices of the man who directed Shark Tale, seemed to be a doomed endeavor in almost every sense of the word.
Suffice it to say, my surprise was pleasant and bountiful. Far from falling flat on its face before leaping over the first hurdle and succumbing to the myriad issues that have plagued films like it, Detective Pikachu actually finds itself thriving. At its core, it is a finely-crafted love letter to a franchise that its Western fans have been begging to see brought to the Western market in film form, and nowhere is this better shown than in the primary setting for the film itself. Ryme City, a metropolis that fosters cooperation between its assorted human and Pokemon inhabitants, is a richly-detailed environment replete with references to the games both overt and subtle, and there are plenty of different types of Pokemon to savour as they swoop, strut and stroll across the screen. Each generation, from Red and Blue to Sun and Moon, has representatives in the film, and the level of thought and care that has gone into the city's design clearly indicates that the creatives did their utmost to ensure that the atmosphere is as close to the core games as can be managed. Even outside of this bustling metropolis, elements of the series are explored, such as catching and battling,
This is bolstered by naturalistic performances that are only slightly rough, chiefly on Justice Smith's part, and humour that hits all the right notes. When Ryan Reynolds was confirmed as Pikachu's voice actor, the initial rush of confusion was keenly felt, but on seeing him in action it is my conviction that no better selection could have been made. His quickfire and irreverent mannerisms work splendidly, and he is more than capable of slowing himself down when the pacing ebbs for moments of seriousness and gravity. While the film did somewhat fall victim to what I term 'comedy trailer syndrome', the tendency for trailers that prominently feature comedic exchanges to reveal all their best jokes in advertising, they nevertheless elicited a chuckle from me, and the jokes that weren't revealed were even more impactful and surprisingly mature – and boldly dark and risque, even, on a couple of occasions. The other members of the cast, while unfortunately somewhat overshadowed by the relatively narrow focus on Pikachu and Tim, round out the film with solid showings, chiefly Nighy, who is eventually granted an opportunity to ham it up in true British fashion.
Props must be given, too, to the advertisement team, which did a surprisingly good job of keeping a number of key plot elements under wraps. While the central narrative itself is nothing too outstanding and the initial premise is a touch worn – a fatherless child dealing with responsibility and a mystery to solve, transitioning into a tried and true detective flick that borrows only some elements from the game – it serves its purpose, and as Pikachu opines, it is sufficiently "twisty" enough to maintain interest.
There are a few small imperfections that mar the overall experience, but despite that I can declare with unwavering confidence that, at long last, Detective Pikachu has finally dispelled the curse that has plagued these adaptations throughout the years. We finally have a video-game film that is a strong cinematic experience in its own right, and a product that truly respects its origins, going out of its way to pay homage and demonstrate that it is a labour of love. This film is a rare gem, an almost inconceivable creation, and I cannot recommend it enough.