Was "Pokemon Detective Pikachu" a success?

Detective Pikachu film review

Pokemon by numbers

The Pokemon franchise has been a part of the mainstream consciousness since late 1998., while the franchise itself first started as a video game series back in 1995. Today it is the highest-grossing media franchise of all time with approximate 95 billion USD in revenue since it's inception.

Following that and the recent worldwide success of a mobile game Pokemon Go, creating another entertainment product centered in the world of Pokemon seemed like an assured success, which this year Pokemon Detective Pikachu surely is. That is if we just look at its worldwide gross revenue. However, the movie was pitchforked by the critics and audiences alike, currently holding a measly 6,6 accumulated score on and 68% on a Tomatometer as well as a 53% critic score on Metacritic. With the IMDb being an exception, it seems that the audience accepted the movie a bit better than critics.


Different kind of Pokemon


Rob Letterman's Detective Pikachu,  tells the story of a 21-year old Tim Goodman who is investigating the disappearance of his estranged father with the help of a talking Pikachu, who was his father trusty companion. The movie dispenses with the few standards in a Pokemon franchise, mainly that there are no Pokemon battles, no Ash or Team Rocket, and no hunting and collecting the various Pokemons. However, the main difference is the relationship between a human and a Pokemon.

Letterman, with the ample financial backing by Legendary Entertainment, went to create a first live-action Pokemon movie. In that vein, he decided to make it much more realistic and „down-to-earth“than the previous installments in the franchise. This was accomplished mostly trough redefinition of what Pokemon is. In the franchise up to this movie, they can mostly be seen as the cute weapons of battle, the tools which help to accomplish their owner's personal goals (e.g. to become the best Pokemon trainer there is). In the Letterman's movie, however, Pokemon are peacefully coexisting with the humans, with the exact line being a little bit blurred. Mostly Pokemons are seen in a film as a little more than ordinary (domestic) animals, but with the inclusion of a talking Pikachu, they start to appear as much more than that. The exact nature of the Pokemons in the movie is never explained, but that is understandable as a movie is actually much more concerned with its human characters, with the furry monsters being relegated to filling up the background space.

Not giving us much of a background on this world and deglorifying the Pokemon's themselves by placing them all over the urban environments as normal inhabitants of the city actually work well in movies favor, as any thorough explanation is destined to land flat and crash the film's realism. Personal traumas are after all much more relatable then battles between two superpowered creatures.


Pokemon Cinematic Universe


However, the question that appears is: what is the target audience for this movie? Kids will surely find it lacking in action and what they came to expect from the Pokemon flick while adults will complain about the lack of any complex plot or character development. The movie tries to somewhat please both audiences but it fails completely which especially can be seen in the latter half of the movie where Letterman starts to heavily rely on CGI to tell the story instead of characters. Prime and obvious examples of this are the „flashback holograms“ which show the audience as well as the main characters what happened in the plot. All the detective work of Detective Pikachu is thus done by the simplest of plot devices and absolves the audience of any actual guesswork.

So, is Detective Pikachu a success? Yes and no. It might not be the most satisfying answer, but the movie's lack of strong direction surely deserves it. Furthermore, despite having a fairly good closed ending, the sequel has been greenlighted by the Pokemon Company and it is currently in pre-production. No release date has been yet confirmed and we do not know if main stars Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith will reprise their roles as Pikachu and Tim respectfully.

Despite all the shortcomings of the movie, Letterman's brave attempt to make a live-action Pokemon movie might just be the start of the new big series of movies, kind of a „Pokemon Cinematic Universe“.