When The Formula Turns Insane: ‘Pokémon Detective Pikachu’ Hits A New Level Of Bizarre

Senior Editor

The idea of a movie based on a videogame, or a live-action version of a cartoon (both categories to which Pokémon Detective Pikachu belong), are painfully mundane; capitalism at its most uninspired. Yet experienced as a stand-alone film, Detective Pikachu might be one of the weirder movies ever made.

Partly that’s due to the weirdness of the Pokémon concept in general, which gets pretty dark the moment you put any thought into it beyond “Aww, cute cat thing!” It exists in a world where humans coexist alongside cute/possibly dangerous cartoon monsters. If a human can trap a monster in a spherical prison, the human becomes that monster’s “trainer,” and can make his monster fight other people’s monsters. It’s sort of like a Hello Kitty version of the Mandingo fights in Django Unchained. Except that supposedly the pokémon really want to fight, and the human trainers just helping them “evolve” into their final form. So, sort of like Mandingo fights plus eugenics, I guess.

In Detective Pikachu, Justice Smith plays Tim Goodman, a young adult traveling to Ryme City to investigate the death of his estranged, detective father. Unlike almost everyone he meets, Tim doesn’t have a Pokémon sidekick, which in this universe is apparently like not having a girlfriend, only worse. In an early scene, Tim tries to capture a poké (or is it a mon?) in his spherical prison, but the pokémon escapes. “It wasn’t meant to be,” Tim’s friend consoles, because apparently you can only imprison the pokémon with whom you share a cosmic, emotional connection. Which sounds sort of like how Goop might’ve justified colonialism.

In Ryme City, Tim meets his father’s best friend on the force, Yoshida, played by Ken Watanabe, and his father’s partner, Pikachu. I’m still a little unclear on whether the partner is Pikachu, or a Pikachu, whether these pokémon are individuals or simply members of individual pokémon racial categories, from charizard to jiggly puff, all with a set of general characteristics. Anyway, Tim discovers, to his surprise, that he can actually understand what Pikachu is saying. This is apparently a big deal, because under normal circumstances, pokémen tend to just say their name or their catchphrase, like the hype man in an 80s rap — “charmander!” and “Pika pika!” and so forth.

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