After all the hype, trailers, and extremely weird Pokemon reveals, we finally got to see Detective Pikachu in an advanced screening yesterday. It was pretty much exactly as presented by the advertisements, filled with lots of great sight gags and odd cameos. We ultimately came out satisfied, if not as amazed as everyone else seems to be. (To be fair, we're pretty jaded about movies around here.)
You probably have some questions, so we're going to do our best to share our thoughts on Detective Pikachu while keeping spoilers to a minimum. Don't worry, we're not going to reveal any of the big twists, and we'll let some of the biggest reveals be a surprise. We're mostly here to talk about why Bill Nighy is awesome.
So read on for the USG Detective Pikachu roundtable, wherein we answer your various questions about the film while sharing our overall impressions.
Most important question out of the way first: Which Pokemon won Detective Pikachu?
Kat Bailey, Editor-in-Chief: Pikachu obviously got the most attention from the production, and it shows. I loved seeing it perched on Justice Smith's shoulder; it really gave me a sense of what it would be like to actually have a Pokemon. As an aside, I feel like Detective Pikachu is the culmination of The Pokemon Company's multi-year effort to dispense with the whole notion of Pokemon being "cock fighting with magical creatures." Yeah, there's some Pokemon battling in this movie, but it puts a lot more emphasis on the notion of Pokemon being pals who live alongside humans.
As for the cutest Pokemon outside of Pikachu, I'm gonna go with the Cubone that pops up at the very beginning of the film. The scene in which it appears is a perfect rendition of what it might be like to stalk and capture a Pokemon, and there's a fun bit of self-awareness in noting how it wears the "skull of a dead relative." It perfectly sets the tone for what is ultimately a really fun take on the world of Pokemon.
Caty McCarthy, Features Editor: The obvious answer is Pikachu himself. That little guy was so expressive and cute. But in actuality, the winner of my heart was Psyduck. Kathryn Newton's character Lucy Stevens had a Psyduck as her companion, and the big duck was adorable. Strangely, Psyducks look bigger than I expected them to look in real life, but when Lucy was walking around with a back harness so she could carry Psyduck around with ease, all I could think was, "I want that." I want a Psyduck.
Matt Kim, News Editor: Pikachu was undoubtedly the star of the film. He had the most screen time, so obviously he had more opportunities to steal my heart. The only other Pokemon with as much screen time was Psyduck and, and while there's something relatable about Psyduck's anxiety prone look, I think the performance I most enjoyed was Mr. Mime.
While Mr. Mime only had a single scene, it was definitely the one I laughed hardest at. Mr. Mime is an extremely weird character if you think about it for even just a moment, so kudos to Detective Pikachu for leaning on the absurdity of the character for comedy.
What did Detective Pikachu teach you about the world of Pokemon?
Kat: So as a quick precursor: I think way too much about how Pokemon society might work. I ponder the fact that it has seemingly no working government; that the cities are owned by megacorps, and that the villages are autonomous collectives with no visible leadership. What is the Pokemon economy like? What happens to failed trainers? Is Pokemon really just Westworld for young rich kids? These are the questions that pop into your head when you play one series for more than 20 years.
Anyway, I liked how Detective Pikachu featured a functional society starring someone who works in insurance. It positioned Pokemon Trainers as the equivalent of YouTube stars or professional esports players—a role to which many aspire but very few can turn into a successful career. I also liked how everyone had a Pokemon partner, which was positioned as a cross between a pet and a kind of helper. So when you retire from training, your Pokemon buddy sticks with you for the long-term.
Caty: The interesting thing about Detective Pikachu's Ryme City setting is that it's a metropolis that feels really original to what we've seen in the anime and games. There are definitely some noir inspirations in the seedy alleys and dive bars too. (Lucy's introduction, too, was a bit on the nose with its noir aspirations.) I think what struck me most about it was seeing Pokemon on their own, with no human at their side; the stray Aipoms loitering on signs, the Snorlax snoozing in the street and messing up traffic for the day.
Of course, Ryme City's philosophy establishes that humans and Pokemon live harmoniously. But it led me to think: aside from stray alley Aipoms and Spearows as pigeon stand-ins, can a Pokemon be completely independent? In this world, most humans have a Pokemon partner, but what about the Pokemon that want to live on their own, work a job maybe, and go home to their own place? Is that possible in this world? After all, in America we have dog mayors for some reason. So why shouldn't it be?
Matt: You can't think too much about the world of Pokemon or you risk asking a lot of uncomfortable questions. Ryme City is no different, but it makes a valiant effort to present the world of Pokemon as something like Zootopia. A society where Pokemon clearly know they're Pokemon and willingly partner up with humans, whether it's to do every day jobs (like Squirtles working as firefighters) or even combat. The main "Pokemon battle" scene in the movie seemed to imply that both the trainer and Pokemon are into battling, kind of like a UFC fighter and their coach.
Who was the best human in Detective Pikachu, and why was it Bill Nighy?
Caty: Man, I had no idea Bill Nighy was in this movie. What a delightful surprise to see him appear. Did he wander on set by accident and no one had the heart to turn him away because they loved his voice, you think? What if Bill Nighy was Pikachu instead of Ryan Reynolds? That might be better than Larry King as Sonic the Hedgehog, honestly.
Matt: Bill Nighy is always game for whatever, and that's why he's great. Whether it's mocapping as a octopus-human pirate captain, or singing a Christmas song naked, he's just giving it 110%. What a champ.
Kat: How much of the script do you think he actually understood? 5 percent? 10 percent? It was pretty great hearing him smoothly recite all of that Pokemon jargon like he had been saying it all his life. Still, whenever he was on screen I thought of him as the police chief in Hot Fuzz. "You're making us all look bad."
As for the rest of the human characters in this movie, I was impressed with Kathryn Newton's willingness to gamely power through some of the worst dialogue in the movie (I think she was written to sound like an NPC from the games at times). Justice Smith was mostly a sounding board for Ryan Reynolds' Pikachu. They were all fine; but c'mon, we know that this movie was all about the Pokemon.
Would you take a young child to see Detective Pikachu?
Caty: I've been thinking about this, and I don't think so. It definitely earns that PG rating. There's a lot of talking, a lot of plot, a lot of action, Pikachu says the word "hell" precisely one time. It might be a little much for kids under the age of seven. Older than that though, I think they'll love it.
Matt: I would, actually. I mean within reason, obviously. I don't know, I have cable again (or internet TV, whatever) and I was browsing through Cartoon Network recently, and kids shows are so weird these days. Like, creepy weird. I think kids like creepy things so long as its family-friendly vibe ultimately wins out in the end.
Kat: I have a friend with a young daughter who just discovered Pokemon through Pokemon Let's Go. She's wild for Pokemon, but Detective Pikachu might actually be a little too much for her. It has several scenes that I would definitely categorize as scary for young children.
Detective Pikachu's distinctive art style; self-referential humor, and slightly more violent script makes me think that it's geared toward an audience of around 8 and up. It's actually interesting to think about the various layers at work here. Pokemon Let's Go is definitely geared toward young children, while Detective Pikachu and the mainline games skew older. The Pokemon Company is clearly casting a wide net these days.
I suppose that's how Pokemon ultimately stays relevant. There's an access point at every single level, whether you're a toddler or a nostalgic adult. That makes Detective Pikachu yet one more cog in the all-consuming marketing machine that is the Pokemon franchise.
So is Detective Pikachu the best video game movie ever?
Kat: I shared some of my thoughts on video game movies yesterday. Basically, I think that video games are better off as television shows, where they have the space to flesh out their individual worlds. It's rare that a two hour film can do justice to a 60-hour RPG, or even a 10-hour shooter.
With that said, Detective Pikachu is a perfectly enjoyable cinematic experience for Pokemon fans. It benefits hugely from more than 20 years of lore, featuring Pokemon from almost every generation while tossing in a large number of references and sight gags. I think it especially gains from being a side story rather than a typical trainer journey, which allows it to avoid comparisons with the games and the anime. (Though a live-action Pokemon Trainer story is reported to already be in the works.)
As for the question of it being "the best video game ever," I certainly think it's better than other high-profile whiffs. Its world is unique, so it doesn't feel like a cut-rate kung-fu film like Mortal Kombat, or an Indiana Jones knockoff like Tomb Raider. And like all Pokemon media, it smartly balances an accessible world with nods toward the existing fanbase.
I ultimately left the theater feeling pleased, even if the movie itself was pretty lightweight. Could it have been better? Yeah, probably. The human characters mostly had cliche motivations; the twists were easy to spot, and the best moments were frontloaded toward the beginning. Could it have been a lot worse? Oh yeah. It could have been so much worse. Just look at Sonic.
Caty: It's definitely the best video game movie, but it's not like the bar was high. I thought Tomb Raider was okay last year. Rampage was a fun, dumb movie. I love the camp of the first Mortal Kombat. (I'm not counting the animated Pokemon movies, as the anime feels like it's own standalone thing, to be fair.) Detective Pikachu blows them all away though, because it knows how to cater to superfans of the series, and be a pretty okay kids movie to boot. I think it did the Pokemon series justice, and I'm excited to see more of the Pokemon Cinematic Universe. (I did just throw up in my mouth a bit writing that sentence though.)
Matt: 1.) Yes. 2.) Even if it's not a "great" film, it was a fun one, and I'm struggling to remember the last time I saw a fun video game movie. Last year's Tomb Raider was a slog despite Alicia Vikander's best attempts to carry the entire film. And films like Street Fighter are "fun" in a laughable kind of way. Detective Pikachu is the first video game movie that was just straight-up enjoyable, without any ironic qualifiers. I'd watch it again is what I'm saying.