When it came time to adapt Pokémon in live action for an American audience, many questions arose. With the animated films, one could perhaps count on the fact that an audience was familiar with the TV shows that established the Pokémon world and all the characters therein. There was never a need to spell out the Pokémon world in cinematic form. A live-action film, however, may be many viewers’ first brush with the franchise, and fans speculated wildly prior to the release of this 2019 film if it would, say, posit that the world of Pokémon was indeed post-apocalyptic.
The makers of “Detective Pikachu” went full-bore in the opposite direction, electing to adapt a rather obscure video game offshoot of the franchise wherein Pikachu wore a deerstalker, could speak English, and solved mysteries. Nothing was explained. Audiences were just dropped in. Like with “The First Movie,” one had to merely catch up.
It’s almost baffling how well it works, though. Ryan Reynolds plays the titular talking Pikachu, and he must team up with Justice Smith to solve a mystery about Smith’s missing father, a corporate magnate (Bill Nighy) and a drug that turns Pokémon feral. He is aided by a plucky reporter (Kathryn Newton). It’s textured and fun and funny. It shouldn’t function, but it does. Never mind that the plot is predictable; no points for guessing Billy Nighy is the bad guy.
Incidentally, “Detective Pikachu” was the first live-action adaptation of a Nintendo property since “Super Mario Bros.” in 1993.