Over the past decade, companies have continuously hammered into a resource that seems to continuously make money hand over fist: 90s nostalgia. The film and television industry has consistently used this resource, reviving cancelled television shows and remaking, rebooting or creating sequels to films from the era.
Nintendo has been well aware of this trend, bringing back games from Super Nintendo and N64 and now they have re-entered the silver screen with Pokemon’s Detective Pikachu, a fun story that brings a fresh new take into the nostalgia of the beloved video game and animated series.
Justice Smith stars as Tim Goodman, a 21-year-old former aspiring Pokemon trainer who turned into an insurance salesman following the death of his mother. He finds out that his estranged father has passed away due to unusual circumstances and while visiting his father’s apartment, he discovers his father’s Pokemon partner, Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds). However, unlike all other Pokemon, Pikachu and Tim can completely understand one another. Since Pikachu was present for Tim’s father’s death, they believe he is actually still alive and investigate.
The decision to make the film live-action as opposed to its animated predecessors presented the unique challenge of making these unique, cartoon monsters look lifelike and in many cases almost real, whether it be Charizard’s scales, Pikachu’s fur or Pidgeotto’s feathers. This was not an easy task and gave a unique spin away from the source material, where most of the Pokemon look sleek and hairless.
While Reynolds received all of the attention and press for the film (and deservedly so), Smith deserves recognition for his performance carrying a complex character whose past comes back to him following the death of his father, bringing him back to a life he abandoned by providing him with a Pokemon partner, something he did not have, which was atypical for this society. Throughout the film he rediscovers his purpose in life and passion, as well as finds love in reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), a sharp contrast from the dull, lonesome life he was living as an insurance salesman in a neighboring city.
Reynolds does what he does best as the quick-witted sarcastic relief in Pikachu. Despite being known for his looks and not so much his acting method, Reynolds has lately taken a lot of roles with limited screen time of his face, including the “Deadpool” franchise and “The Croods,” which has an upcoming sequel that he is in. While Reynolds has essentially settled into a niche role that isn’t a far separation from the real-life Reynolds, the roles themselves have been diverse enough that he hasn’t necessarily been typecast and still brings the laughs along the way.
Director Rob Letterman and screenwriters Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit had the difficult task of creating what was essentially a children’s movie that would also be watched by a number of adults with higher expectations and they were still able to creating something that kids would enjoy and the older fanbase wouldn’t retaliate against. They created a city unlike any other we have seen in the franchise. The Pokemon in Rhyme City, where Pokemon and humans live in harmony with one another, rather than the Stockholm Syndrome-like atmosphere of the rest of the world where humans capture Pokemon and train them into subservience or battle them.
Nintendo also didn’t forget their roots and paid a great homage to the animated film series by bringing Ikue Otani to provide the voice of Pikachu that everyone else but Tim hears. Otani provided the voice of Pikachu in the animated series. Additionally, while the film primarily focused on the first generation Pokemon, they were able to feature a large number of the pocket monsters from all generations despite an easily digestible 104 minute timeline. Not only do they show a lot of the creatures you grew up playing with, they were able to do a great job showcasing the unique personalities and abilities of some of them.
One part of the film I wished we saw more of, however, were Pokemon battling one another. We get a tease here and there, and after all, the primary thing video game players did with the Pokemon on Game Boy was battle them, but at the same time, this was never supposed to be an action film, but instead a buddy cop flick.
Video game movies are generally a weak genre due to a combination of unrealistic expectations, poor writing/acting/directing or a cheap budget with the studio looking to cash in, but this is one of those rare films that falls out of that category, and that’s good news because in the era of franchise films, this is a movie that carries the potential for multiple sequels.