Detective Pikachu is weirdly dark, but tons of fun!

My wife and I went with her sister’s family to see Detective Pikachu this afternoon, and had a ton of fun! The film is charming and fun, but it’s greatest strengths by far are Pikachu and his Pokémon costars.

I’ve only played a bit of the Detective Pikachu game, but have played a boatload of the mainline games. If you want to hear my adventures through the first quest of Detective Pikachu, you can find part 1 of my 4-part podcast series covering it by clicking here.

There’s not a lot to say about the plot of this movie, except that it does a good job of setting itself apart from the standard Collect-em-all-and-battle-to-be-the-best format from the very beginning, which lets it put together a way more movie-friendly plot than mainline Pokémon games would lend themselves to. Instead, there’s a mostly coherent conspiracy mystery that the main human star and an amnesiac Pikachu detective fumble their way through.

The movie centers around a death which is very quickly revealed to have mysterious circumstances circling all around it. I knew that being a detective movie this would have some death in it, but I was really surprised at how dark some of the themes the story dug in to were. At one point in the middle, it basically becomes a creepy haunted house movie, complete with jump scares, torturous imprisonment, and ooky slime dripping from the ceiling. None of it was terribly extreme for those of us who grew up on the original 151 20-some years ago, but my six-year-old nephew was at least a little freaked out for the whole back half of the movie.

On the plus side, the integration of the Pokémon in this film was fantastic, both in terms of the reality of the movie and the visual effects. The city this movie takes place in is a sort of safe haven, where Pokémon and humans live side by side as partners, without poke balls or Pokémon battles, which lets the movie show the adorable creatures everywhere. There are Pokémon cops, Pokémon baristas, Pokémon DJs, and Pokémon construction workers, and it’s incredible to see people interacting with them all over the place. For the most part, the visual integration was really good, too, and seeing so many animated creatures walking around with a human cast gave me some strong Roger Rabbit vibes.

Not everything about the Pokémon was perfect – Snorlax was way too small, Charmander looked plastic, and Mewtwo’s mouth will give me nightmares – but the sheer charisma Psyduck alone more than made up for those shortcomings and the strange tones of the plot. I really liked this movie, and am really curious when another video game movie will top it.

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