This is a good week for Pokémon. As if it wasn’t enough that Let’s Go! Pikachu and Let’s Go! Eevee will be available to the general public of Switch players on November 16, the first official trailer for the upcoming Detective Pikachu movie dropped earlier today. The movie comes from a collaboration between The Pokémon Company and Warner Bros. Pictures and is based on the Detective Pikachu game for Nintendo 3DS that had a partial release on the Japanese Nintendo eShop in 2016 and a full worldwide release earlier this year.
As far as first impressions go, I’d say this trailer makes the film look interesting, if nothing else. Some of the most noticeable things about it are the designs of the Pokémon themselves — they’re not quite the cartoony critters we’re used to from the games and anime. Instead, they look like some kind of combination of cartoon monsters and real animals. The resemblance is close enough that the Pokémon characters are recognizable, but like almost anything else on the internet, especially when it involves some kind of change to a beloved franchise, the designs of the Pokémon in this movie have caused a bit of controversy.
That said, if you look at the world of Ryme City as a whole and not just the appearance of the Pokémon, things start to fall into place. This ain’t your childhood’s Saffron City where the toughest baddies you have to worry about are Team Rocket — the Detective Pikachu movie is taking Pokémon into the realm of film noir, and its version of Ryme City is appropriately shadowy, and the neon signs everywhere don’t do much to brighten things up. If the Pokémon were as cartoony as usual, they would look out of place in context with the rest of the movie’s aesthetics.
And if the first trailer alone is any indication, there are Pokémon everywhere in this movie, even in the background shots. Longtime fans may wind up watching it multiple times just to fill up their “gotta spot ’em all” Pokédexes. In fact, this trailer alone is chock full of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references, mostly to the Pokémon video games, but apparently at least one classic running gag from the anime will be getting a nod in this film too.
The special effects chops it must take to make a cinematic world of Pokémon where all these cartoon critters exist alongside live-action humans aren’t to be sneezed at; a lot could go wrong if the movie magic isn’t done well, and if anything went significantly wrong, it would ruin the believability of the film’s fictional universe. Also, even though the Pokémon franchise tends to be marketed more towards kids, I would hesitate to take younger kids to see this movie because it looks more serious and scary than your typical Pokémon fare.
Then again, Mr. Mime has always had a bit of a “nightmare fuel” reputation.
Warning: At this point the review goes on to discuss the bits of story revealed in the Detective Pikachu film’s first trailer. If you want to go and see the movie with minimal story spoilers, stop reading here.
The basic premise of the movie’s story seems to be the same as the basic premise of the Detective Pikachu game’s story: the main character, Tim, comes to Ryme City in search of his missing father, who was a skilled police detective. Along the way, he teams up with his father’s former Pokémon partner, and Tim is the only human who can understand his new pal’s Pika-speak. Movie Tim seems to follow the “reluctant hero who struggles with self-doubt” trope, which is pretty different from his video game counterpart. Detective Pikachu‘s character may have undergone some fleshing-out as well. In the game, he was pretty much a straight-up hard-boiled detective with plenty of tough-guy attitude, and the Ryan Reynolds version of Detective Pikachu still brings some of that to the table, but his moods and mannerisms seem more varied. Having the great electric mouse detective be a bit less of a one-trick Pikachu could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how the movie turns out.
Even though the trailer did a good job of establishing the foundations of the world and story, other than that it was mostly just eye-catching action clips. That’s a good thing from a marketing perspective, but since this is supposed to be a detective movie, it would’ve been nice to see a little bit more of Tim and Pikachu working together to solve cases. If we’re lucky, we might get a taste of that in the next trailer. Overall, the Detective Pikachu movie looks like it’s going to be cheesy, but if all goes well, it could turn out as gloriously cheesy as a good plate of nachos.