Many moviegoers catching Detective Pikachu this weekend will likely wonder what level the Poké-sleuth is (or the level of any of the film's dozens of onscreen pokémon, for that matter), and the answer's simple as can be: Pokémon in Detective Pikachu don't have levels. While not all that surprising, this lack of levels and other traditional Pokémon elements in the movie allowed to focus on other source material elements - namely, evolutions.
In addition to moves like Detective Pikachu's gloriously rendered Thunderbolt and Volt Tackle, this first live-action Pokémon movie opted to hone in on the concept of evolution, rather than be bogged down by mechanics and ideas that work better in the medium of gaming. This is seen not only in the hilarious Magikarp scene and the inclusion of the first and third evolution of every Generation I starter Pokémon, but also in the movie's plot, setting, and overarching themes.
Screen Rant sat down with Detective Pikachu writers Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit to talk more on the subject. Explaining the absence of levels and the role of literal Pokémon evolution in the film, Hernandez said:
"We didn’t really put a level number on any of the characters, but our overtures towards that were really trying to talk about evolution. Specifically, seeing evolution in that moment with the Magikarp. We really wanted to figure out an organic way to use those gameplay elements and those mechanics that fans are familiar with, but weave it into the narrative in such a way that it felt organic and just like a part of [Ryme City] that people understood and were familiar with. There was a similar moment with Eevee and the Flareon, where it evolves."
This was a smart move on the filmmakers' part because the physical transformations of Magikarp into Gyarados and Eevee into Flareon are breathtaking in live-action, and these moments are used sparingly to maintain the sequence's visual effectiveness. As previously mentioned, though, real Pokémon evolution was made to take an intentional backseat to the broader metaphor of evolution in Detective Pikachu. Evidenced most dramatically by antagonist Howard Clifford's obsession with transcending beyond his own human form, Samit expands:
"Because in Ryme City there’s no battling, there’s no Pokeballs, there’s no trainers. Some of those traditional Pokémon elements, we couldn’t really use. But one thing we had, as Dan said, that we really wanted to use was the idea of evolution. From very early on, we wanted to make this a movie about evolving. Because it’s so unique to Pokémon. And it’s not just about one Pokémon evolving into another, it’s about can people evolve? Can relationships with fathers and sons evolve? Evolution was sort of our key word as we were writing everything."
Referencing Detective Pikachu's touching twist on the plot of its spinoff source material, Samit's point about the evolution of human relationships is particularly cogent. By the film's end, the main cast - and even Ryme City, itself - has grown and evolved as a result of the film's course of events. Tim grows closer to his father and moves on from his dead-end job, Lucy gets a big break in her career as a journalist, and everyone present at a certain parade develops a much... closer understanding of their Pokémon, so to speak.
According to Samit, the Pokémon franchise is just getting started in what could be a long line of stories in the new live-action universe. It will be interesting to see where the series may go after Detective Pikachu, as there's no telling how much the budding blockbuster franchise, itself, might evolve in the coming years.