I LOVE Pokémon! Growing up in the 90s this fad took off right as I was getting old enough to even be INTO a fad and for the last two decades fans have enjoyed numerous animated theatrical films to tide us over. However, for the first time Pokémon is officially going live action and maybe not in the way we all expected. Enter “Detective Pikachu”, a movie based on a spinoff game of the franchise about a Pikachu and his human friend who solve crimes together. Yes, this quirky little cash grab of a game is going to be the first Pokémon property to receive an official live-action treatment and we got our first look at the project earlier this week with a trailer. It took me a couple days to really sit down and sift through it, but I finally found the time and now I’m ready to see what this neat little sneak peak has to offer. Let’s break down the trailer for “Detective Pikachu”.
Now a forewarning. I’m going into this breakdown ignorant of the game it was based on. Yes, I still play the core series of games all the time, but I’ve never picked up “Detective Pikachu” so I’m not as familiar with the story of the game beyond the simple research I did in the wake of the trailer release. So please bear with me if there are some details that connect the game and movie trailer that I miss. Anyways I digress. The trailer opens with the main human character Tim Goodman, played by Justice Smith, walking into Ryme City, an apparent utopia of activity filled with humans and their Pokémon partners. Immediately I’m drawn in because the backdrop looks so awesome. It really looks like something that jumped straight out of the videogames and we even get a sneak peak at a few Pokémon flying and walking around which look very close to their animated and digital counterparts. One of the most important things this movie needs to accomplish is blending the real world and the Pokémon universe fans have traveled through for the last two decades and I have to say the trailer offers a lot of promise that the scenery will do the material justice.
Anyways we hear an announcer call Ryme City a “celebration of the harmony between humans and Pokémon”. Considering the fact that this is a mystery movie it can be assumed this harmony will be challenged along the way. We do get a quick glimpse at another important character, Lucy Stevens, played by Kathryn Newton. Lucy is a reporter accompanied by a Psyduck. We don’t really get a good grasp on her character or motivations in this trailer but it’s safe to say she will be important, and this shot of her is timed to make it look like she is following Tim. So whatever mystery Tim is trying to solve Lucy is obviously interested in the result. In the game her role is filled by a character named Emilia who is also a journalist and seeing as Emilia and Tim form a bond, even possibly a romance, in the game it’s safe to assume the same will happen between Tim and Lucy in the movie. Also, just some fun Easter eggs in this shot, notice the Jigglypuff and Gengar balloons, the man wearing a Squirtle themed hoodie in the background and the Spoink dashboard decoration in Lucy’s car.
Next we are introduced to Tim and we see that his father, Harry, was a detective. Tim is talking to his dad’s former partner Detective Yoshida, played by Ken Watanabe, who calls Tim’s dad a “legend” and seemingly begins to assume Tim could follow in his father’s shoes despite Tim saying he’s nothing like his father. Yoshida provides exposition that reveals Tim is a failed Pokémon trainer. Tim returns home to drive home that point even more with posters and a room full of Pokémon memorabilia including a poster of the Sinnoh Championships which may hint at where he lost bad enough to quit training or where he wanted to end up before his dreams of becoming a trainer were sidelined. More Easter eggs include a poster from Johto where an Articuno and Steelix were apparently slated to fight, a poster featuring “Pokémon Black and White” mascots Rashiram and Zekrom. And a poster advertising some sort of championship that features a Charizard. It’s a fitting series of shots to introduce us to Tim’s character, a failed trainer looking for his second shot at greatness, and the world he inhabits where Pokémon are more than sport, they’re pure entertainment and thus it’s safe to assume those who are successful trainers are the defacto superstars of their world.
In a quick moment Tim opens a card for his 21st birthday which contains a ticket. A closer look at the ticket shows that Tim lives in a place called Leaventown (which may or may not be a horribly forced pun) and the destination is Ryme City. The ticket also states that it can be used anytime and while we don’t get to see who the card is from we can assume it’s probably from his dad or someone trying to get him to Ryme City to solve whatever mystery is before him.
Tim then hears something, or someone, in the home and tries to approach the uninvited stranger (with a stapler in hand no less pretending to have a gun). Who he finds is Detective Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds. Pikachu acknowledges the Pokémon universe trope that humans can’t understand the creatures as they are usually heard simply saying their own names. However, Tim CAN understand this Pikachu much to both of their surprises. Honestly, I already LOVE Ryan Reynolds in this role. Pikachu has such a reputation for being adorable and cute but hearing Ryan Reynolds’ voice come out of him is just so odd yet also so damn perfect. We are shown that Tim really is the only person who can understand Pikachu who is only heard saying his name by others with his normal voice being portrayed by Ikue Ōtani, the perennial voice actress for the character in the anime. This odd situation establishes an immediate connection between the two characters. For those unfamiliar with the Pokémon lore this is a very unique character trait because very few Pokémon can speak English and thus few humans can understand their Pokémon by voice alone. This is obviously also a slick narrative choice to make the interactions between the characters easier to follow. In the game and, presumably, the movie Detective Pikachu is Tim’s father’s Pokémon so Tim’s ability to understand Pikachu may be due to a deeper connection although the trailer offers nothing to show that Tim’s father could understand Pikachu as well.
With about a minute left in the trailer Tim shows reluctance to team up with Pikachu who offers to form a partnership as detectives. He wants to help Tim find his father. This leads to a montage of glorious images from the movie including the above shot which stood out to me because it looks like Tim is carrying Pikachu who is either asleep or hurt. The trailer plays “Happy Together” by “The Turtles” while Pokémon like Bulbasaur, Morelull, Jigglypuff ironically paired with a neon espresso sign, Greninja and, to my extreme delight, Charizard appear in all their beautifully rendered glory with designs that fit their cartoon models while also being presented as part of the real world. I mean the visuals here don’t look exactly perfect but there’s a LOT to love from this trailer in terms of characters designs and special effects.
We also see Lucy and Tim (with Psysuck and Pikachu) traveling together which proves my theory that they will form a friendship in this film. It’s also a neat little detail that Lucy is driving the car on the right side of the vehicle which is where the steering wheel is in Japan and she is driving in the left side of the road, also the proper driving conduct in Japan. Why is this important? Because Pokémon originated in Japan and many Japanese style signs are also scattered throughout Ryme City as a nice homage to Pokémon’s cross culture roots.
The highlight of the trailer is the final few shots that show Pikachu and Tim interrogating one of the quirkiest Pokémon in the series, a Mr. Mime. It’s a hilarious exchange where Pikachu constantly threatens Mr. Mime and offers to be the bad cop only to see his intimidation efforts fail when Mr. Mime uses a barrier attack to block Pikachu from, coming at him. But what does Mr. Mime know? The trailer gives us little to go off of in terms of why this interrogation is taking place. Still, it’s fun, it’s goofy and it’s probably the best use of Mr. Mime ever in Pokémon since Sabrina’s gym in the original games. The main cast of actors are introduced, and we get a few more action shots, including Pikachu trying to escape the jaws of Charizard, before the title card closes things out.
All in all, this trailer has me cautiously excited. This isn’t exactly the Pokémon movie I as a fan have always wanted, but it’s one that I think allows the Pokémon universe to be adapted to live action without the hassle of trying to summarize the original anime’s adventures. It looks like it will feature a contained storyline that will give fans what they want without trying to force too much on the screen in a short time span, but that’s just my first impression. it could be incredibly rushed for all we know at this point. While I will say some of the special effects aren’t very polished at first sight, most of the character designs and set designs are awesome and I have to admit it woke up my inner ten-year-old to see these Pokémon in beautiful CGI with game and series accurate designs. Just from the preview alone I think “Detective Pikachu” has a lot of potential even if that potential is nothing more than pandering to the fanbase. Personally, I can’t wait to see what it has in store. “Detective Pikachu” is slated for release on May 10, 2019.