‘POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU’ cracks the case for video game movies

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Connor Bynum // Film Critic

It’s no secret that film adaptations of popular video games have had a troubled history with critics. Year after year, fans of gaming franchises would cross their fingers with cautious optimism thinking, “Maybe this will finally be the one to get it right,” only to be let down yet again with another dud.

Things got so bad that Dwayne Johnson even took to Twitter to brag about how the colossal compost heap that was RAMPAGE was the best reviewed video game film of all time (because it was). These films were so irreparably bad that RAMPAGE was considered good by comparison.

That is, until now.

Nintendo is to video games what Apple is to computers. Their products may not be for everybody, but they’re here to stay. Yet, every now and then, a niche company strikes gold with a consumer base outside of their traditional demographic. Apple did it with the iPod, and Nintendo did it with Pokémon. Of all the gaming franchises that have come and gone over the years, Pokémon has been able to capture the imaginations of players for decades.

So, why has it taken this long for a live-action Pokémon movie to be made?

Well, this isn’t Nintendo’s first foray into the world of Hollywood.

Never has there been a better visual representation of a mistake. Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures.

After the cinematic catastrophe that was SUPER MARIO BROS. (1993), Nintendo rightfully swore off selling the rights for their games to anyone in Hollywood. The Mario games were never that heavy on story structure in the first place. “A princess is kidnapped by a giant humanoid lizard. You need to go save her. And you’re a plumber for some reason”. Clearly what works as the story for a video game doesn’t work for a film.

So, why would Nintendo even bother to risk the integrity of yet another one of its precious franchises by throwing it up on the silver screen?

Because DETECTIVE PIKACHU does what no other video game film has done before: Take the established world of the game and use it to tell a fully original story. With this approach, the filmmakers aren’t restricted by cramming the plot of a 30-hour single player campaign into a 90-minute film. And wouldn’t you know it, it works.

Yes, I am aware that there is a game with the same name and similar plot that released on the 3DS last year. But the same principle applies here. Traditional Pokémon games have never been about the story, but rather the experience of catching new monsters and battling gym leaders and becoming the very best that no one ever was. By basing the film around a more narrative driven entry in the series, one can easily forget that this is based off of a video game at all.

However, none of this would matter at all if audiences aren’t compelled to opt out of seeing AVENGERS: ENDGAME for the fourth time and actually go out and see DETECTIVE PIKACHU. Thankfully, the film’s marketing department has been relentlessly reminding us for months just how darn cute that little fluffy crime solver can be.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

It’s nearly impossible not to acknowledge the insane levels of reverence the filmmakers have for the character designs of these cuddly creatures. It seems for the first time when making a “realistic take” of beloved franchises from the 1990s, DETECTIVE PIKACHU has actual respect for its source material. And then, as if the film needed any more help, the folks at Paramount released the trailer for SONIC THE HEDGEHOG and inadvertently made people all the more excited to see someone else’s movie.

“Let’s change literally everything. What could go wrong?” Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Yes, the film’s director has already announced that they will be revising Sonic’s design after the Internet utterly decimated his vision for the Blue Blur. But that just goes to show that if the filmmakers can have some basic respect for the source material, audiences will be more inclined to see their adaptation. Radical stuff, I know. In short, there is a right and wrong way to use nostalgia, and DETECTIVE PIKACHU seems to have cracked the case.

To be clear, DETECTIVE PIKACHU is not a perfect film. It’s story is a little convoluted at times, and some of the more adult humor from Ryan Reynolds doesn’t always stick the landing. But this doesn’t need to be remembered as the greatest film of all time. Instead, it will be remembered as the greatest video game film of all time – at least for now.

POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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