Directed by Rob Letterman
Detective Pikachu is just about exactly what it sounds like. It’s a detective thriller in a world with pokémon, and when you put those two things together you get something a lot like Zootopia. It’s a diverse environment, between creatures and animals, and it turns out the bad guys are infecting these creatures to incite chaos and in the process smearing the reputation of these creatures. Oddly enough it’s a motive similar to that of Charles Manson.
That there is any similarity between Charles Manson and the antagonists of these films, well sh*t it’s just kind of fascinating. These are kids movies so you’re probably not going to give the antagonists much thought, especially knowing they will surely be bested by the upstart heroes, but just the fact that the antagonists might want to start some watered down version of a race war is some heavy stuff.
There’s a little more to it in Detective Pikachu, but that’s the gist of it. There is this purple gas that, when inhaled, turns pokémon into agents of chaos, rabid and ravenous. The hero, Tim (Justice Smith) and his friendly detective Pikachu, will uncover who’s behind this as they investigate the supposed death of Tim’s father.
The selling point there is Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) as well as a kind of all around nostalgia for Pokémon in general. It’s a buddy cop kind of comedy in which every unfolding plot point further fleshes out this world, at least within Ryme City, a metropolis that, like the metropolis in Metropolis (1927), is essentially run by one person.
He is Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), and he has imagined a place in which humans and pokémon can live together freely. His son, Roger (Chris Geere) looks immediately like the power-hungry narcissist you expect to pull every trick in the book to yank authority away from his ailing father.
Introducing these characters so early into the film, during a prepackaged PR advertisement to passengers on a train into the city, reeks of foreshadowing. We know one or both of them will turn out to be the antagonist, the more boring alternative to the superficial antagonist which is almost always a creature or supernatural force. Behind every creative use of villainy is a white guy in a chair, at least that’s how it seems.
Should Roger be the antagonist then his sin is of greed. He is like the Paul Newman character in Hud, a brash young man who wants his father’s lot in life because he thinks it’s what he deserves. His older father, and the older generation too he figures, should just stand aside and grant him what he thinks is his.
Should Howard be the antagonist, well then his sin is also of greed but of a different sort. He becomes not unlike every movie character who has ever aspired to immortality, holding onto the things we just aren’t allowed to hold onto. In such stories the people who aspire to immortality are of course never the ones who deserve it, assuming anyone deserves it. They are corrupted by power and a desire to keep things exactly as they are. Any amount of change is threatening.
All these factors are at play with these characters, some true and others not but all of them at least implied for some amount of the movie’s running time. They are ideas and characterizations put into your brain, and the mysterious but clearly unhealthy dynamic between father and son points to an overall theme about fathers and sons.
Tim hasn’t lived with his father for a decade, and he has a whole lot of guilt towards the old man. Beyond the fact that the central mystery has to do with his father’s death (or possible faked death), we learn more and more about Tim’s complicated feelings to the old man. In the end the film’s catharsis will have to do with his father, of course, and it’s a strange and sweet ending, even if a bit half-baked and expected.
But Detective Pikachu is fun, so that’s all that matters, right? It’s a more colorful, alluring version of the world of Blade Runner, with many apartments and houses that feel like they have been staged as if to be advertised on Airbnb. Ryme City and the entire world of this movie is one of wish fulfillment because I suppose we’d all like our own royal pokémon or at least some degree of the adventure this movie world promises around every turn.
Up Next: Pet Sematary (2019), Sword of Trust (2019), Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)