Welcome to ‘Should I Check Out…” a new weekly column here at ScienceFiction.com dedicated to giving you the scoop on recent TV series, movies, games, novels, comic books, and more – entertainment that you may not have heard of or may not have had the chance to explore yet. We’ll explain a bit about what the property is, what you might get out of it, and what you might not know about it so you can be armed with more knowledge as you ask yourself the question: should I check out this stuff… or not?
Take a look at what we’re writing about this week, and if you’ve already checked it out, let us know in the Comments section below what you think about it!
Pokémon is a well-known franchise the world over. Beginning its life as a pair of video games on the original Nintendo Game Boy, the hit sensation has expanded its reach into the realm of several other media types, including a popular trading card game, animated television shows, and films, toys, comic books, and more.
Pokémon is the second best-selling video game franchise of all time. Originally created by Satoshi Tajiri in 1995 as Pocket Monster in Japan, the franchise is largely focused on imaginary creatures called Pokémon (shortened from the original Japanese title). The creatures are caught and trained to battle each other by humans, called Pokémon Trainers, who vie for victory and the right to be called Pokémon Masters.
After 20-plus years of existence, 2019 brought a unique first for the franchise: ‘Detective Pikachu’ became the first-ever live-action film based on the media series. Yes, there has been a slew of animated films, but they have all followed the same general track, following the exploits of Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum (who himself was actually loosely based on the main character “Red” from the first Pokémon video games) and friends – and his Pokémon, Pikachu. Ash quickly became the face of the franchise and is one of the most instantly-recognizable cartoon characters of all time.
‘Detective Pikachu,’ however, takes things in a markedly different direction. Gone is the traditional animation style, replaced with live-action and a heavy dose of CGI as the various forms of Pokémon were inserted into the film. Downplayed also is the traditional “main conceit” of Pokémon: that of creature-versus-creature “trainer battles” and the work of the human characters to help their Pokémon evolve. Instead, the new film presents more as a “murder-mystery” type of story, hence the presence of the “Detective” in the title.
Much of the story for the film takes place in Ryme City, a forward-thinking type of city that was created to allow humans and Pokémon to live side by side in harmony, without all of that barbaric battling-type activity. Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) comes to the metropolis after being notified of the apparent death of his estranged father, who was a detective on the Ryme City Police Force. While gathering his father’s belongings, Tim stumbles across his father’s Pokémon, a Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) that, when it speaks, Tim can somehow understand (something no other human can do with any other Pokémon in existence).
Pikachu manages to convince Tim that his father may not be dead and that a cover-up mystery is afoot. The two decide to team up and, along with help from junior reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her Pokémon Psyduck. The circumstances surrounding Tim’s father’s death seem mighty suspect, and while the police seem comfortable accepting the “facts” and moving on, the more that Tim and Pikachu continue to dig, the more they discover that there is much more than meets the eye in Ryme City.
For long-time Pokémon fans, this movie should deliver the goods in spades. There are so many references to the greater Pokémon universe, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy on your first and likely subsequent viewings of the film. The amount of Pokémon featured in the film is impressive, although nowhere quite to the scale of the sheer amount of different creatures that currently exist in the franchise. This, however, is a fairly forgivable offense – let’s face it, after almost two full decades of creating quirky and amazing creatures to enjoy, how could the creative team on this film possibly hope to squeeze that many in? Credit where credit is due, there are several great Pokémon with prominent features in the film, including a team of battle-ready Greninjas, a hilarious interrogation with a Mr. Mime, a Jigglypuff singing karaoke, a group of ravenous Aipoms, an in-disguise Ditto doing the typical Ditto things, and of course Lucy’s stressed-out Psyduck.
The plot of the film, unfortunately, is a fairly by-the-numbers type of “mystery” scenario. The story doesn’t really bring anything particularly new and exciting to the table, and this leaves most of the action feeling rather mundane. Couple this with the fact that lots of what happens in the middle section of the film is really largely disconnected to the revelations given in the final third act, and you may be left leaving the theater feeling like you’ve watched an extended episode of a TV show with lots of rather unnecessary filler. Cool-looking filler, to be sure… but filler nonetheless.
The climax, without spoiling anything for you, gets a little “twist-y” for twisty’s sake, and for me personally, the final realization of the “talking” Pikachu feels under-baked and a bit pandering. Overall, though, the sheer spectacle that is ‘Detective Pikachu’ should make both long-time franchise fans and movie-goers seeking unique fare pretty darn entertained overall. I’m admittedly curious if this film will get a follow-up and where things might go from here, based on the conclusion of this film. If there is one to be had, I’ll certainly go and see it, because I… wait for it… gotta catch ’em all!