Most video game adaptations on film ignore the lore, loosely borrowing from the source material and ultimately compromising its essence with the hopes that they can rely on sheer IP familiarity. It’s supremely tough to get right, and arguably, Hollywood hasn’t done that yet. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider may have been a hit, but most have resulted in absolute disasters like Assassin’s Creed.
And then, along comes Pokemon Detective Pikachu—a massive success after making twice as much money overseas. Though its competition is basically nonexistent, it’s easily one of the best video game movies of all time, for a number of reasons. Here are some things Detective Pikachu got right, and some issues that should be resolved the next time around, because sequels are tough enough already.
10 Got It Right: Including Older Pokemon
Considering that one of the major draws of fast-tracking a movie like this is to profit from nostalgia, it isn’t surprising that they included some of the more famous Pokemon from earlier generations. However, the story is based on a surprisingly recent game. Kids today might not necessarily appreciate those staples of the franchise, so it was satisfying to have them acknowledged and brought to life on the big screen.
Still, they shouldn’t be abandoned for the sequel because they’re the foundation that this entire franchise was built on. They are also the most recognizable for the uninitiated. Not to mention, after all these years and countless animated movies, they simply deserved a live-action rendition.
9 Needs Fixing: Convoluted Storytelling
This particular detective story somehow manages to fall into predictability and distracting confusion all at once. That’s because there have been plots like these for a very long time, but the writers also included more than a few twists that weren’t in the source material.
By complicating the story with the hopes of staying ahead of the audience, the structure became vulnerable to serious plot holes. It’s very troublesome when you’ve punctured your own internal logic. Kids won’t be able to keep up with multiple red herrings that work, let alone twists like these. Choose a target audience, and stick with it. We don’t just need a mystery—we need clues that amount to sensible answers.
8 Got It Right: Meta Humor
Alright, so comedy is always going to be a subjective thing to judge. However, given the movie’s willingness to embrace its silliness, it was fun to have a Pokémon movie that’s self-aware. Especially after waiting so long to get one in live action, with so much history and—of course—Ryan Reynolds at the forefront.
After all, his Deadpool character was famously designed to consistently break the fourth wall. But this sort of humor simply allowed a few more playful, winking references to longtime fans, most of which worked. This would be a terrific habit to continue, especially when the nature of sequels is low-hanging fruit.
7 Needs Fixing: Missing Pokemon Battles
Alright, so the entire cornerstone of the story is that Pokémon and humans are living together in harmony—and with the purple gas that makes Pokemon lose their minds, it really feels like a riff on Zootopia.
However, every other game and movie includes their fair share of battles, and this movie just didn’t find a way to weave it in. Except for that shoehorned fight with Charizard, which doesn’t exactly play to expectations. Justice Smith’s character, Tim, actually leaps in there himself—it’s not the Safari Zone, Tim. Let’s see some Pokémon battles that are organically woven into the plot next time.
6 Got It Right: Reynolds and Smith
This is probably a controversial opinion, but there’s no denying that Justice Smith is delivering a far better appearance than his foray into Jurassic World. Movies have to pick a lane—either lean into your cheesiness or go for complete seriousness. If everyone in the cast isn’t on the same page, it sticks out. More on that later.
Either way, Smith bested expectations this time, and Reynolds’ fast-talking comedic style lends itself well to a speedy mouse that’s constantly drinking coffee. Reynolds and Smith actually have decent chemistry, and, although Reynolds was essentially asked to play himself, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
5 Needs Fixing: Lucy Stevens
Kathryn Newton has brought enough talent to her work on Big Little Lies, so maybe we can make a scapegoat out of the director? Maybe there was just a misunderstanding about the material. Either way, her work on Stevens just isn’t up to par. Although movies that target a younger demographic commonly draw this sort of performance out of people, it just isn’t necessary.
And neither is the Stevens character herself, a reporter that doesn’t seem to contribute very much throughout the film. She didn’t even have a brief backstory. Stevens shouldn’t simply exist as a love interest; we’re past entertainment like that. It doesn’t help that she has zero chemistry with Smith whatsoever. Give this character something better to do, next time around.
4 Got It Right: Visuals
After that infamous Sonic trailer, there’s no arguing that the Pokémon in this movie could have looked significantly out of character. For the most part, the live-action treatment brought these fascinating animals to life with appropriate, purist designs. Some more than others happen to look very convincing, albeit those few representations that may as well have stayed in one of the animated movies.
Pokémon that are featured heavily should be given priority, however, as Mewtwo didn’t seem to get a lot of TLC in the visual effects department. Regardless, the effort put into making realistic fur and staying true to classic appearances should definitely remain.
3 Needs Fixing: Confusing The Newcomers
This movie doesn’t try to convince anyone to love Pokémon. Instead, it caters to those who already do. With dozens of various creatures flying at the screen, it can probably feel pretty overwhelming. Although it’s refreshing that the movie plays around with so much inside baseball, it shouldn’t actually rely on this alone.
Few things can be more infuriating than watching a movie or playing a game that requires outside material to understand. For example, Halo 5 relies on a lot of exterior entertainment for its characters to be fleshed out and for its plot to make sense. So, try to see this from a family’s point-of-view. Don’t torture the parents and the uninitiated; make a great story first, and then sprinkle in some fan service.
2 Got It Right: Pacing
The story altogether was an issue, but not the pacing itself. Although it can be a little too frenetic at times, children don’t have a long attention span—certainly not these days, where everything promises instant gratification.
Besides, the movie actually bothered to take some breathers here and there. For example, a standout scene where the protagonists must interrogate a Mr. Mime is truly effective and lasts just long enough to equally frustrate you before it’s appropriately gone. The mystery unfolds at all of the “right” beats, actually—if not predictably—so let’s keep that brisk momentum for the sequel.
1 Needs Fixing: Resorting to Clichés
Of course, the film borrows from its own source material, but the genre that it’s riffing on has been around for a really, really long time. Take a page out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which we know you’re aware of—Ditto’s eyes, in the end, are clearly an homage to that iconic, nightmare-inducing image of Christopher Lloyd.
Amnesia is actually a major plot point. Bring enough of your own personality to the table that we can understand why you chose a detective story to begin with. If only the film hadn’t resorted to formula so often, the twists and turns in the movie wouldn’t have been so unforgiving. The only surprises work because something didn’t make sense.