Detective Pikachu didn't have the smartest story for a video game movie, but it's exactly what the first live-action Pokémon film needed to be. The thing is, gamers have been eager for a good video game movie for decades. Truth be told, Hollywood has come close a few times with ventures like Tomb Raider and Warcraft, but Detective Pikachu is the first video game movie to garner enough critical praise and box office success to feel like the long-awaited triumph gamers have deserved.
This is great for the future of Pokémon movies and should be a great motivator for other studios that had previously written off gaming films, but the movie itself wasn't all that it could have been. Now, it's difficult to create a script worthy enough of being made into a feature film, let alone one that adapts a beloved property for the first time. Truthfully, the writers behind Detective Pikachu delivered on bringing the spinoff experience from the Nintendo 3DS game of the same name to life. The thrill of seeing a handful of living, breathing pocket monsters on the big screen is the core appeal of the movie, but after seeing Detective Pikachu, it's obvious there were other elements that were lacking.
The game that inspired Detective Pikachu is a fun romp, but it ultimately suffers a similar fate as the film. Why is this? Because developers often (but now, always) have to sacrifice narrative and storytelling in order to implement interactivity. When these events play out on the big screen, however, they don't cater to an unpredictable third-party (the player) meandering around the environment - nor can they rival the time invested in the software to paint arcs. This means that more story has to be packed into a shorter amount of time because of the way the narrative was originally conveyed in the games.
That's not to say that Detective Pikachu isn't a great jumping off point for a live-action cinematic universe based on Pokémon. In fact, it should be argued that it's the best because it allowed Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures to cast a voice actor for Pikachu, and Ryan Reynolds (the man behind the monster) did a spectacular job bringing a comedic element to a character that otherwise only recites its name. But outside of that, the human characters that surround the title character fall flat.
This happens as a result of time and effort that's been put into creating a world of Pokémon that's immersive for fans, but features characters that don't really mesh well with the setting. Tim Goodman (portrayed by Justice Smith), Detective Pikachu's partner in the film, doesn't fit in the world because he doesn't have a clear role. He attempts to be as deep and complex as the universe in which he resides, and his motives constantly shift as a result. Does he want to find his dad? Does he want to go home? Does he want to be a Pokémon Trainer? Does he want to pursue a relationship with Lucy Stevens (played by Kathryn Newton)?
The answer is that he kind of wants it all, which makes the payoff for one thread of that character mean less given the limited screen-time Tim has the scattershot approach to goals he carries. It doesn't help that the actors seem like aliens in a world they are supposed to be well acquainted with. The way Newton's character Lucy is introduced and portrayed in particular was enough to remove some viewers from the film entirely.
Other segments involve the contrast of the father-and-son bond with the main antagonist of the film and Tim Goodman's relationship with his father. How grief and loss can impact two sides differently, but that's not expanded upon much either. Ultimately, Detective Pikachu goes out with a spectacle rather than much substance. But instead of emerging from the cinema with a negative take, Pokémon fans are better equipped to become immersed in the world because it's so true to the source material.
References to Pokémon Red and Blue in Detective Pikachu make for some spectacular fan service with larger implications, while the use of the creatures in real-world scenarios play to their strengths from the lore of the games – for example, Loudred being used as speakers in an underground Pokémon fight club.
The success and generally positive reviews of Detective Pikachu are great, as they help to secure future live-action Pokémon films. With that said, becoming the best video game movie is a relatively low bar to clear, but it's a 'warts and all'-branded product in the making that fans can look back at years from now and recall positively. Elements can now be built upon to ensure bigger, better projects in the medium moving forward under the Pokémon banner. While something like a Super Smash Bros. movie appears to be a pipe dream, for the time being, a Pokémon cinematic universe no longer is.
This foray into film outside of anime has seemingly proven successful for all included parties, and this is great for Pokémon fans everywhere. Truthfully, this is exactly what the IP needed and it's going to be a lot of fun to see where the franchise goes next. For now, though, Detective Pikachu - as dumb as it is at times - is a great first step.