“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is an adaptation of the Nintendo 3DS video game “Detective Pikachu,” and the first live-action film in the long-running “Pokémon” franchise. Even though adapting the series in live-action was never going to be an easy task, director Rob Letterman has risen to the challenge of not only delivering a strong adaptation; but easily the best live-action rendition of a beloved video game and anime series yet.
While the film does take some creative liberties with the video game it’s based on, the basic plot remains the same: a young man named Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) has come to Ryme City to search for his father Harry; who went missing, presumed dead prior to the story’s events. Teaming up with the titular Detective Pikachu (voice of Ryan Reynolds), the two seek to uncover the truth about what happened while also unraveling a greater mystery that could threaten the entire Pokémon world.
Past decades have been littered with flops adapted from both video games and anime/manga series. Video game movies have often been in the infamous shadow of 1993’s live-action “Super Mario Bros.” and the work of Uwe Boll, and anime/manga adaptations have had a rough ride ever since the reviled 2009 “Dragonball Evolution.” Even this year’s “Alita: Battle Angel” only made back about half its budget domestically; leaving an uncertain fate for its planned sequels. While the creators have expressed interest in making a shared cinematic universe in the vein of Marvel Studios (a sequel is already in development from the writers of “22 Jump Street”), the story thankfully has enough material to work on its own as a standalone movie.
Rather than trying to condense 23 years of video games and over 1,000 episodes of TV into a single movie, the filmmakers have instead chosen to focus on a side story game that works with the medium of film rather than against it. While this choice initially raised eyebrows, the path taken is actually logistically easier than trying to adapt the bulk of the anime and games into a single film. Instead, subtle nods to both are used to tell a story that’s equal parts “Blade Runner”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and a family friendly version of “Deadpool” in the span of an easily-digestible 104 minutes.
Though the movie is darker than many other Pokémon adaptations, containing more realistic action and risqué jokes; it is still a fun action comedy on its own merits. On a high budget $150 million, the film portrays 54 of the 809 (and counting!) Pokémon in realistic CGI and spectacular action scenes; with award-nominated cinematographer John Mathieson combining the best visual stylings of the anime and video games in every shot. Henry Jackman provides a musical score that handily captures the sounds of the series’ blend of orchestral themes, driving rock and electronic music.
Though it remains to be seen what impact the movie will have on more casual audiences; it’s clear that “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is an absolute blast, supercharged with 10,000,000 volts of fun and heart. It’s a great start to a potential shared cinematic universe, highly recommended for newcomers and true believers alike. After years of bombs adapted from video game and anime source material, the foundation has been set with “a bolt of brilliance!”
Verdict: 5 Out of 5 Stars
Review by Steven Pryor
At a Glance:
Directed by Rob Letterman (Based on the video game by Nintendo and Creatures, Inc.)
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Ken Watanabe, Kathryn Newton and Rita Ora with Ikue Ohtani and Bill Nighy