Let me get this out of the way. Even though I am a 90s kid, I have never followed the Pokémon phenomenon. When the mobile phone AR game Pokémon Go was released by Niantic in 2016, I was invariably among those people who picked up their noses and judged the hordes that came out onto the streets with their eyes fixated on their phones. “Get a life !”, I said. But this was the adult, given-up-on-life me speaking. The child, however, was curious. Even though I never collected Pokémon cards, I was aware of the concept of it, so to say. There were a bunch of kids who were out on a journey to catch Pokémons and train them for Pokémon battles. They are also pursued by a pair of evil twins who keep scheming to steal their Pokémons by throwing many in obstacles their way. So, they basically have to trump their plans, protect their Pokémons and also win battles to level-up as Pokémon Trainers. Pretty nifty ! Well, did you know that Pokémon started out as a video-game created by Satoshi Tajiri for the original Nintendo Game Boy ? Yep, that’s how it happens in Japan. By the way, Pokémon is short for Pocket Monsters. Bet you didn’t know that as well. It makes so much sense now that I feel stupid for not cracking this one in the last 20 years.
Pokémon has been such a large-scale pop-culture phenomenon that talks of a live action movie has been around for ages. But I can totally understand why it has taken so long. The Pokémon world is so diverse, especially the creatures themselves that bringing them all on to the big screen would have required some serious technological prowess. With the current generation of CGI, it was only a matter of time that this movie happened. Pokémon Detective Pikachu is directed by Rob Letterman who is also known for Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) and Shark Tale (2004). The movie is based in a world where Pokémon and humans live together in harmony, helping each other out as partners. You see a Charmander (creature with a flame on its tail) helping street vendors make pan-fried noodles, Squirtles (creatures who can belch out water) working as fire-fighters, and a Machamp (a muscular creature with multiple hands) working as a Traffic controller. They had all found their calling unlike me. Tim Goodman, a twenty-something Insurance salesman, learns that his Policeman father Harry has died in a mysterious car-crash. As he visits his apartment to gather up his things and say goodbye, a Pikachu turns up. Even though Tim is a loner and has never really warmed up to Pokémons, he is able to understand what it says, somehow. The Pikachu claims that Tim’s father may still be alive and that they needed to find him. After dismissing the Pikachu’s outrageous claims (as anyone would when a stuffed, cuddle-bunny talks all serious to you), he gives in and decides to give it a try. As they embark on a journey to find out the truth, a sinister conspiracy reveals itself that may change the future of Pokémons and humans forever.
Also read: Every Pokémon un Detective Pikachu
Pokémon Detective Pikachu is not your quintessential Pokémon movie with Pokémon trainers and Pokémon battles. Here no one goes around catching Pokémons and training them. We are past all that as it is shown in Ryme City (the fictitious city where everything happens) that it is convention for humans to choose Pokémons and Pokémons to choose humans in return. We see every single human walking with a Pokémon, as if they were their soul animals. Weirdly, you don’t see any real animals anywhere. It’s as if all the animals you and I know have been replaced by this entirely new set of creatures. The city itself teems with creatures everywhere unlike our typical cities where animals have to hide unless they are pets. The biggest challenge for this movie, probably, would have been to recreate the creatures itself from anime to live-action. When you are converting something that has started out as a cartoon with all the attributes of a cartoon, creating a live-action version may sometimes not translate well on screen. But the CGI masters have done an incredible job in capturing the essence of the creatures without making them too uncomfortably real.
The chemistry between Tim, played by Justice Smith, and Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, is hilarious. Reynolds bring his usual Deadpool-esque whackiness into the mix with Pikachu’s bug-eyed face which in itself reminds me of non-foul-mouthed version of Seth Macfarlane from Ted (2012). Justice Smith is very believable as a typical adult who has given up on his childhood dream of becoming a Pokémon trainer. In a funny scene on a train to Ryme City, a morose Tim is greeted by a Lickitung (creature with a giant slobbering tongue hanging out of its mouth) who slathers up his face, and possibly lifts his spirits a bit. There are so many moments like these sprinkled throughout the movie that if you are watching Pokémon for the first time, your heart would melt and make you a convert. Fair warning ! Kathryn Newton is a fun partner to Tim as a junior reporter Lucy who first uncovers the Pokémon conspiracy. Bill Nighy as Howard Clifford the Entrepreneur-philanthropist, who has built Ryme City, gives a measured performance. Ken Watanabe gets just a few scenes as the Head of the Police Department and we wish he had seen more of him.
The clever idea aside, this is not a perfect film. There is one particular inconsistency that I feel is a plothole and a pretty major one at that. A certain villain uses a Mewtwo (a powerful Pokémon creature) to transfer his consciousness into it. He then tries to do the same to all the people in the city and their Pokémons. In the former scenario, we still see his physical body present all the while his mind is inside the Mewtwo. In the latter scenario, we see the physical bodies of the people gone and completely trapped inside their Pokémons. That didn’t quite go down convincingly.
As an overall idea, this was an intriguing way of introducing a new world. Not the most conventional of ideas where you just pick up the original source material and go from there, but use the source material to add another layer of personality to the characters while keeping the essence intact. I would pay to watch more of this universe for sure. Also, why aren’t we as empathetic to animals in our own world, again ? A mystery Detective Pikachu may solve maybe.