Debate: How Detective Pikachu fails to break the video game curse

Much like my esteemed colleague Ben Lamoreux, I just saw Detective Pikachu. And I agree with Ben on several major points — Pikachu is adorable, Ryan Reynolds does a great job with him, and making the movie into a mystery was a wise narrative decision. Those are all important things! Unfortunately, Ben and I have arrived at different conclusions. Despite its good intentions, I believe Detective Pikachu is yet another run-of-the-mill video game movie adaptation that misses the mark with its source material. In my book, it does not break the video game movie curse.

Ryme City, I hardly knew ye

Ryme City is such a good idea: a city where humans and Pokémon coexist, and Pokémon do all sorts of zany, thematically appropriate jobs. It’s a delight to see Machamp directing traffic, for instance.

The problem is not enough of the movie is spent doing things in that charming city. A good chunk of the movie takes place in the woods or at the laboratory seen in the trailer, sucking out a lot of opportunities for imagination. That section all culminates in an admittedly spectacular CGI sequence, but the sequence is thematically irrelevant to both the movie and the Pokémon franchise. It’s flash for the sake of flash. I much would have preferred that all of that budget just go to showing off more Pokémon in prominent positions, to push the story along in creative ways.

Basically, I wanted a lot more Mr. Mime-esque scenes in Detective Pikachu. I wanted engaging story beats that could only be achieved through unique use of diverse Pokémon. And I never got much of that.

Debate: How Detective Pikachu fails to break the video game curse

Do you like Pokémon battles? Prepare to be disappointed

I just said that Ryme City is about humans and Pokémon coexisting. So I know it might sound lame if I complain that there weren’t enough Pokémon battles in a city where there shouldn’t be Pokémon battles… but that’s exactly what I’m gonna do!

I mean, come on. Kids have been playing this franchise for over 20 years, and dynamic battles between awesome beasts are at the heart of it. Yet most of Detective Pikachu is spent fleeing danger as opposed to actually facing it head-on. And don’t get me wrong — I’m all for settling conflict without violence. But it feels like an enormous wasted opportunity to have all these amazing Pokémon and not throw a few earth-shattering battles our way.

Without giving anything away, even the “final battles” of the movie feel like awkward mismatches. One battle seems trivial and goofy, while the other is extremely short and unsatisfying. Exciting battles are at the core of Pokémon, and Detective Pikachu doesn’t have any of them.

Debate: How Detective Pikachu fails to break the video game curse

The bad person’s plan makes no sense (no spoilers)

I can’t go into any detail about this without spoiling the movie, so I’ll just say — the bad person’s plan makes no sense in Detective Pikachu. What this person wants to do does makes sense, but how this person decides to act out the plan is spectacularly stupid by any stretch of the imagination. Like so many video game movies, Detective Pikachu reaches a critical plot juncture and just shrugs its shoulders in the face of common sense.

I’m still in favor of sequels

For all my complaints, I believe Detective Pikachu establishes a healthy bedrock upon which to develop sequels. It really does have a super cool world; I just feel like we never got to see enough of it. Sequels or spinoffs could solve that problem, hopefully while making a greater effort to incorporate diverse Pokémon into the plot in important ways. But as it stands, Detective Pikachu is too reliant on cameos, winks, and nods to the Pokémon franchise, and not reliant enough on actually weaving a unique story out of the things that make the franchise wonderful.

Have you seen the movie yet? Who do you agree with? John or Ben? Tell us in the comments!

John Friscia
Proofs Editor for Enthusiast Gaming. I'm a writer who loves Super Nintendo and Japanese role-playing games to an impractical degree. I have recently returned from living in South Korea.

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