It feels safe to say that no one really knew what to expect from Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, the first live action movie based on the mega-successful media franchise that's into its second decade. Of all those beloved video games, they went with the one where Pikachu cosplays as Sherlock Holmes. It certainly wasn't my first choice of source material for a movie to adapt, and it seemed entirely out of left field. Like many others, I was feeling pretty indifferent to Detective Pikachu... until last week when the first trailer's arrival made me do a total 180 on the film. Bring on the cosplay!
Before the trailer drop, I was just not into this movie, despite having been a huge Pokemon fan as a kid and played many of the games into adulthood. There were a few reasons for this, but thanks to that solid, surprising and funny trailer, I've changed my mind on the movie. I now see the potential that Detective Pikachu brings to the table and why it was ultimately the right choice for the first live-action Pokemon movie, as opposed to going in a more traditional direction.
For those who may not be keeping up with all the latest in the continually expanding Pokemon franchise, Detective Pikachu is a spinoff game that is unlike any other in the franchise to an extreme degree. The game doesn't include franchise staples like traveling across a new region, battling gym leaders and catching Pokemon. It's a mystery puzzle game that follows Tim Goodman, a young boy who teams up with a talking, super-smart Pikachu to find his missing father.
This isn't the only time that the Pokemon mythos has branched off in significant ways (there's a whole series of games about getting turned into a Pokemon), but Detective Pikachu is the weirdest. I think that the primary emotion often associated with Detective Pikachu is confusion; confusion at why the video game exists in the first place and confusion at why it was chosen to be the basis for a film over the decades worth of material.
There were far more obvious jumping on points. The Pokemon TV series spans generations of fans who grew up watching Ash Ketchum and Pikachu try to catch 'em all. Any of the games from the main series could have also been an inspiration. But Nintendo and Legendary Pictures picked the black sheep of the family, so that first trailer had to do a lot to sway people over.
And it did. The reaction to the trailer has been mostly positive, and in my case, it converted me. First and foremost, nothing helps to sell people on an idea then to see it in action. Detective Pikachu on paper doesn't make much sense, but in execution, you can see exactly what director Rob Letterman and crew are going for. Fans are going to see live-action Pokemon in a family-friendly film with a contained story.
The Detective Pikachu trailer gets additional points for being funny. The bulk of that falls on Ryan Reynolds, who voices the sleuthing Pikachu. Reynolds' voice still sounds weird coming out of Pikachu (but honestly, that'd be true for any actor), and while that snarky Pikachu may take getting used to, it helps that he's funny. Pikachu's elation that Tim (Justice Smith) can understand him is great, as is the interrogation of Mr. Mime and Pikachu's attempt at playing bad cop. Maybe those will end up being the best jokes in the movie, but at least it's not lowbrow kids humor.
Another great thing about the trailer is that it lays out the plot nice and smooth. A human has to team up with a Pikachu to find his missing father. Boom, done! That's where the choice of Detective Pikachu as the basis for the movie makes sense. No Pokemon game is heavy on plot, but they are difficult to adapt. The player character is always a blank slate with no personality, and the goal is really just to battle and capture strong Pokemon. There are bad guys (like Team Rocket) thrown in for good measure, but there's a lot of work to be done to turn this into a fully-realized film.
Detective Pikachu, on the other hand, is much more suitable from a story perspective. The characters have a clear goal, it's contained in one setting, there are not too many characters and it still provides an opportunity to see plenty of Pokemon. Plus, it's centered around a mystery, which is usually more engaging for the viewer. The smaller size of Detective Pikachu also makes it a good experiment to see if a Pokemon movie can be successful. If it does win at the box office, then the sky is likely the limit, and any game could potentially be adapted down the road.
Perhaps the single biggest draw of this movie, however, is that people finally get an idea of what Pokemon would look like in the real world. Detective Pikachu does not try to break the formula in any way when it came to the creature designs. Every Pokemon looks almost the same as they do in the game, but with photo-realistic features that make them look equal parts cute, cool and creepy.
You can say that's just an attempt at not damaging the brand, but I think the Pokemon look really good. Pikachu is predictably adorable and all the Pokemon looked like the jumped straight out of the games, for the most part. Their creepiness doesn't outweigh their cuteness, and I'm excited to see more Pokemon and what a Pokemon battle looks like in live action.
Thanks to this preview, I'm now down to see Detective Pikachu. It's true that a trailer is not indicative of the quality of the movie. Plenty of bad movies have good trailers because the trailer is meant to get butts in seats. Well, this is an excellent trailer then, because come May 10, 2019, my butt will be planted in a theater seat.