Hollywood has, over the years, accrued a well-deserved infamy for failing to adapt Japanese manga and video games into cinema in a way that can be considered acceptable to fans of the media. Be it Dragon Ball, or Hitman, not one adaptation of that nature was ever received well. This year seems to have changed that, with Alita: Battle Angel being the first manga adaptation that was actually good, and now we have Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, the first video game movie that actually works.
To those who have played Detective Pikachu, the plot will be familiar, at least on the surface: would-have-been Pokémon Trainer Tim Goodman receives word that his father, Harry, is missing and visits Ryme City, where he ends up getting embroiled in a conspiracy involving both Pokémon and humans, and the key to solving both is a talking Pikachu that used to be Harry’s partner.
Visually, Detective Pikachu is stunning. It is obvious from the trailers, but a lot of care has been put into ensuring the world of Ryme City actually feels like something that could exist if Pokémon existed and managed to co-exist with humans. The city is awash with a liberal use of colour and exaggerated design, and the the Pokémon themselves are faithfully reproduced from the source material.
Long-time, eagle-eyed fans of the series will recognise more Pokémon than are necessary to the plot, but it is welcoming to even the newcomers to the franchise with a reasonable amount of exposure. It’s always present, but it’s never overwhelming or distracting.
The real draw of the film, however, is the relation between Pikachu and Tim Goodman. The two go from being reluctant (at least from Tim’s side anyway) allies who want to find out what happened to Harry, to becoming inseparable brothers-in-arms by the time the third act rolls around. Ryan Reynolds delivers his best performance possible with Pikachu, bringing that little yellow lightning rascal to life in a way no one else could possibly have (fans of the original anime will also be pleased to see a certain childhood memory return through the film).
Justice Smith, too, has an endearing performance and development during his arc, going from being the socially awkward guy to a hero who is ready to step up to insurmountable odds to save the day.
Of course, it would be a shame to not mention the supporting characters, particularly Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), a feisty intern with a ‘nose for a story’ and a drive to prove herself to her employer by cracking the Harry story. Her partner, Psyduck, who has long been considered silly but endearing, also translates incredibly well. I never really particularly liked Psyduck when the anime used to air during my childhood, but I have no shame in admitting that when I walked out of the theatre, I found a new love for the character.
Rob Letterman was clearly the right choice for the film, having directed entertaining films like Shark Tale, Monsters vs. Aliens and Goosebumps. Combined with Ryan Reynolds’s flair for comedy and a desire to do right by the source material, he has created yet another world that welcomes everyone into its embrace, from children who will be exposed to Pokémon for the first time, to adults who have probably grown on a steady diet of the franchise.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a landmark piece of filmmaking for Hollywood – a giant that has repeatedly faltered at the idea of adapting video games to the big screen effectively and with charm. The film is a wholesome, self-contained experience that is not to be missed and you will leave with more than a few happy memories when the credits roll.