‘Detective Pikachu’: A Case of Marketing Mayhem

*Spoilers Ahead!*

Hey trainers! Are you feeling emotionally confused by Detective Pikachu? You’re not alone! Just what Detective Pikachu was meant to achieve is a bigger mystery than anything put forth by the film, so if you want some answers, look no further!

When I first heard that they were (FINALLY) developing a live-action Pokémon movie my immediate reaction was “I’m excited but also very, very worried.” I lightened up a bit when I found out that it wasn’t going to be a direct adaptation of the anime (because we all know how I feel about that topic), because while I would have loved to see Ash, Brock, Misty, Team Rocket, and whoever else they managed to squeeze in there, I also knew that my love for them meant I would be highly critical of an adaptation. In actuality, I was quite excited when I saw the initial marketing material and realized what the film would be. I began to hope that they might actually be successful at adapting Pokémon for the big screen.

Well… successful is not the word I would use for Detective Pikachu. Or at least, it wasn’t successful in terms of film merit. Detective Pikachu was much more interested in making references than it was to telling a story, but it was clear that the writers hadn’t actually spent much time with the source material. It was, however, successful at the box office, meaning the marketing team really did their homework and managed to dupe myself and hundreds of thousands of other longtime Pokémon fans. So how did they do it?

For one, as I said before, they stayed clear of any characters from the original anime. In doing this, they were able to entice the existing fanbase with virtually no threat of angering them. I, along with many other fans, was more than willing to jump into a story with a new character and a new Pikachu. Which brings me to the next point — Ryan Reynolds. When I heard Reynolds’ voice in the trailer my dial immediately switched back to skeptical. Something about it just didn’t seem right for the character. Reynolds evokes the very adult Deadpool connotations, and in the trailer this seemed to be a very “grown up” Pikachu. So… is the film supposed to be for adults now? (Guess what, the film never figured out the answer to that question).

Ironically, Reynolds & his Pikachu ended up being the best part about the film — they managed to really make that work in a unique way, and I found myself really enjoying that character. That’s about the only character I cared to watch. The protagonist Tim (played by Justice Smith) is ok, the leading lady Lucy (played by Kathryn Newton) is downright awful, and the villain(s) were forgettable — I literally forgot what their names are and it’s not worth it for me to look it up.

POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU
Ryan Reynolds voices the titular character in Detective Pikachu. Source:  Warner Bros.

But who cares about the human characters?! They can’t be sold as plush toys! This is more or less the feeling I got from the characters and the film as a whole. Not only were the characters flat, the story was so half-baked it was as if they took the first ideas people had and mashed them haphazardly together. It was almost entirely exposition, and it was all delivered using every cliche line of dialogue in the book. And then they set it in the Pokémon version of London for some reason? Except they called it something else?? Why not just make a completely new city???

The lack of care overall was something that really bothered me. The filmmakers clearly wanted to get money from the existing fans, but weren’t interested in actually serving them. For example, the movie starts off with a fun scene of Tim and his friend catching Pokémon in the wild, and it looks like what it would look like in real life, or how you looked pretending to catch Pokémon in your backyard. It was fun and nostalgic, a great introduction. But it stops there — there’s no battle before Tim throws the Pokéball at Cubone to establish what that might actually look like, and his reasoning for not wanting a Pokémon in the first place is totally lost by the end of the film. For another example, there’s a bit about Pikachu’s move Volt Tackle, which fans of the anime will know was a pretty significant plot arc for Ash and Pikachu, because it took a lot of training to get right. It’s mentioned in the film, and they even go so far as to say that Pikachu will be knocked out if he uses it, but yet they have Tim suggest it as if there’s no issue here? They also use the Team Rocket logo on the evil gas vile, and call it “R”, but it’s not actually Team Rocket behind it all??

It’s small things like this that confused me. If you’re going to make a Pokémon movie and you want to make the references, why not go all the way with them? Why not spend the time world-building? That’s what everyone wanted to see, not some cheesy, cringy fantasy action plot we’ve seen a million times (and done much better).

But the point is, they wanted something that would sell and sell quick. They didn’t have an interest in the details. And yet again I’m left to wonder who is making these decisions, because there seems to be a serious disconnect between the creators and their audience.

Perhaps part of the problem is that they have no target audience. If this was supposed to be a “grown up” Pokémon, then why was the plot and acting so weak? If this was supposed to be a straight children’s film, then why the random cursing and adult jokes? If this was supposed to be for the longtime Pokémon fans, then why not show us more of what we know and love? If this was supposed to be for newcomers, then why not do a deep dive into the world-building?

Instead of defining their audience, they jumbled them all into one, and the result is an adaptation that is neither faithful nor inventive.

I think I was right the first time to be wary of a live-action Pokémon, and really any live-action anime remake. Until Hollywood is ready to admit that they don’t know everything and bring some people on that do, these films will never be to their full potential.

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Author: JaimeeRindy

I love good entertainment. I hope to make it someday!

2 thoughts

  1. Hmm… I got the exact opposite feeling after watching the movie. It’s true they chose not to use the original anime as source material, but they didn’t really use the original games much as a foundation either. The game mechanics in the original games are great for a fun, complex, turn based battle system but gets pretty weird when trying to apply a sense of realism to it. I personally think this is the reason they used a spin off game as a base for this movie adaption, rather than taking a classic “travel the region to catch Pokémon and become a champion”-approach. Detective Pikachu as a game has a very different tone compared to a lot of the other Pokémon games I’ve played, wether it be the main series or other spin offs. One of the things I liked the most in the game was the lack of battle – the people of Ryme City live side by side with their Pokémon and they help each other out. It’s been established from the start that not everyone it the Pokémon universe are trainers, and not everyone aspire to be the champion, but most people have some kind of relationship with Pokémon, and humans and Pokémon rely on each other, and that’s an aspect of the Pokémon world that I’ve personally wanted to see take more spotlight in the franchise for a long time. I think it was pretty clever of the writers to have Tim be a failed Pokémon trainer to bring the topic of battles into the movie without having to put to much focus on it, and his room is full of fun details giving us little hints of his past and what growing up as an aspiring trainer might look like. Apart from that, the opening scene of the movie is pretty similar to the original Pokémon movie from the late 90’s, and they are clearly referencing the original movie as well when talking about how Mewtwo escaped from a lab in Kanto around 20 years ago. Calling the substance ’R’ was probably not the cause of any member of the film team, seeing as it was called that in the game as well.

    I do agree that the plot could have been better, and it feels very Hollywood, but I do think the team spent a lot of time trying to make it feel like a natural extension of the Pokemon franchise, even if it’s targeted at a more… general audience? I too agree they would have benefitted from a more defined target audience 🙂

    1. Hi Jen, thank you so much for your comment! I agree with much of what you’re saying — I really thought it was a good idea to adapt something other than the anime, because I felt that would cause serious problems and backlash from longtime fans. I think for me I would have like the film more if they had taken the time to write a better, less cliched story (I counted every cliche line of dialogue — there were at least 23!). Pokemon is inventive and original, and I felt this film was a really half-baked attempt, riding on the marketing of Ryan Reynolds and the titular Pikachu. I left the theater wanting MORE Pokemon, but not because the film reignited that passion in me, but because it has severely shorted me of actual Pokemon material. But that’s just my opinion! I know a lot of people really enjoyed it, and I actually went with someone who had virtually no knowledge of Pokemon, and he still found it mildly entertaining. So I guess they’re calling that a success.

      – Jaimee R.

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