‘Detective Pikachu’ Brings Pokémon to Life

And just like any other 'Pokémon' film: bring the tissues.
Pika Pika

Boy, did I love Pokémon when it was first released. How much? Well, here’s a tally of some of the absolutely unembarrassing things I did. I traveled over two hours to play in an officially sanctioned Nintendo Pokémon tournament. Every Saturday morning for at least a year I went to the local Hastings in Waco, Texas, to play in officially sanctioned Pokémon card tournaments, where you would get nifty little badges effectively predicting my love affair with enamel pins. I ordered Pokémon toys that were only available in Japan on eBay because when my fandom started, Pokémon was still nothing more than a strange Japanese anime that caused mass seizures across the island country. The only surfing I’ve ever done is on the coasts of Cerulean City looking for the glitch that’ll let me duplicate items indefinitely (Hello, 1000 Master Balls!). And you better believe I wrote fanfic.

All of this is to say that I’ve been with this franchise from the beginning. I was the original target audience, and my generation doesn’t stop loving what we did as kids just because we’ve grown up. More than any other generation, we still like what we love without any shame. And that’s why I know that when Pokémon: Detective Pikachu hits theaters in 2019, you’ll probably see just as many adults as children on the opening weekend. And we now have our first glimpse into this live-action world of pocket monsters in the movie’s debut trailer!

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, directed by Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) and co-written by Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy), is not just another Pokémon film. For starters, this is the first live-action Pokémon film we’ve ever had. And that’s telling. Audiences never have been extremely warm on live-action adaptations of anime or video games. Just look at what we did to Dragon Ball Z and Super Mario Bros. when we finally got our hands on them. While I may find some schlocky fun in Death Note, if Adam Wingard’s absence from Twitter is any indication, fans were not as thrilled. And, of course, the less said about Ghost in the Shell the better. While others have fared well, like the Japanese made live-action Attack on Titan film and my personal love affair with Brian Yuzna’s The Guyver, fans rightfully have reservations. But by divorcing this film from the anime’s deeply established characters, like Ash Ketchum, it can act alone as a primer for not only those new to Pokémon but also for those that may only remember the original 150 catchable monsters.

While the ‘Merc with a Mouth’ Ryan Reynolds, is perfectly attuned to the gruff lovability of Detective Pikachu, the fans initially wanted someone much different. And, ahem, frankly a much more sardonic choice. Danny DeVito was the fans’ (myself included) number one choice to voice the pint-size alienist. There was even a petition with over 50,000 signatures to have the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia actor voice Pikachu in the screen adaptation. It could perhaps just be the discordance of hearing DeVito’s scratchy drawl coming out of a living embodiment of cute but as a man of short stature himself, I can see DeVito having been able to draw a lot of humanistic experience of feeling patronized too because of his height, something I feel we will see a lot of in Detective Pikachu. How can you take a great detective seriously when you just want to pinch its adorable little cheeks. But we all knew that DeVito was going to be a long shot, and a choice as clear as Ryan Reynolds really can’t be beat. While I suspect we’ll see shades of his Deadpool persona Wade Wilson, the panache that Reynolds brings to everything he does is undeniable, and Pikachu will be no different.

What I think is the most surprising for this first Pokémon film is that there seems to be no attempt at crafting an origin story, or trying to overly explain how and why Pokémon coexist with humans. They just are a part of society, much in the same way as our smartphones are. Everyone has one on them at all times and they exude their owners personality as much as customizable ringtones and phone cases do. These are monsters that from their formation were meant to be caught and traded, the old adage “gotta catch them all” having a much different meaning in a world where people camp out for each new iteration of the iPhone. Will this be the undercurrent allegorical theme of the film? Hard to tell when there are just so many Pokémon to already look at! Detective Pikachu is destined for Ready Player One-style mega lists attempting to identify every single minute reference that you may have blinked and missed.

We will have to wait and see how successful Detective Pikachu is, but I foresee this just being the beginning of a slew of live-action Pokémon films. The world they showed in this first trailer is already beautifully realized, having faint hints at not only Blade Runner but Harry Potter and even a bit of the dystopian landscape of Midgar from “Final Fantasy 7”. The ingrained Pokémon universe is vast enough to encompass an innumerable amount of content and stories for years to come, and by finally mastering the hurdle of believability between CG characters and human actors with Guardians of the Galaxy’s Rocket Raccoon, this could be patient zero for a whole new cinematic universe. What a time to be alive, right?

Jacob Trussell: Jacob Trussell is a writer based in New York City. His editorial work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Rue Morgue Magazine, Film School Rejects, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the author of 'The Binge Watcher's Guide to The Twilight Zone' (Riverdale Avenue Books). Available to host your next spooky public access show. Find him on Twitter here: @JE_TRUSSELL (He/Him)