HEAT VISION

Why 'Detective Pikachu' Looks Like a Throwback to Bygone Summers

Despite coming across as modern in its action, humor, and casting of Ryan Reynolds, the Pokemon movie doesn't look interested in appealing to a select fan club.

If the latest trailer is any indication, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is shaping up to be one of the year’s biggest event movies, and certainly the perfect summer movie to pull audiences away from streaming services and into theaters. Warner Bros./Legendary Entertainment looks to have a hit on its hands with Rob Letterman’s film. I’ll admit, I’ve never been a Pokemon fan. I grew up in the right era for it with Pokemon at its height and the subject of popular TV series, movies, and video games, but it was never my thing. I wasn’t even aware the characters were still popular beyond fringe groups until Pokemon Go cropped up on smart phones and people started walking into lamp posts in their quest to catch them all. With all that being said, I think Detective Pikachu looks great. I don’t know the names the characters, I can’t break down the references, and I’m no source of history on the property. But Detective Pikachu has captivated my interest, and within a blockbuster space where so many films are fan-oriented, it makes a strong case for the summer movie that will welcome fans and non-fans alike.

The concept of humans living in a city populated with monsters, both cute and odd, appears to be an original take, and a deviation from the “worlds collide” type of films. While so many genre films are based around creatures invading human spaces and sending them back where they came from, Detective Pikachu introduces us to a world where they are already here, and apparently have been for a while. There are brief glimpses in the trailer that provide insight into how the pocket monsters have led to a culture shift that has changed both the design of the world and the way we communicate with each other. It’s a rich sci-fi concept that immediately creates a sense of scale for the movie. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of watching a mystery movie is being taken to a place we’ve never been and exploring its many avenues. The establishment of the world alone is enough to gain my interest.

There’s also the fact that Detective Pikachu looks like it will provide a nice break from superhero summer movies. I love superhero movies, but Jurassic World, Fast and the Furious, Mission: Impossible, and the Conjuring Universe entries provide a breath of fresh air and expose us to styles and tones that exist outside the pages of comic books. Detective Pikachu, alongside Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is easily one of the most exciting films on the schedule this summer. Both films look to provide story that we don’t get often anymore. Detective Pikachu in particular, despite coming across as very modern in its action, humor, and casting of Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu, feels like a throwback to the summer movies of the '80s and '90s.

We’re at no shortage of nostalgia-driven films. With Aladdin, The Lion King, Men In Black: International and new entries of Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, and Robocop on the way, Hollywood has something for everyone looking to revisit their childhood. And although Detective Pikachu may be based on a property that found its greatest success in the '90s, it doesn’t feel like it’s interested in telling a story we already know or appealing to a select fan club. There doesn’t appear to be any fan-service driven appearances by Ash, Misty, or Team Rocket (I’m at least aware of that much when it comes to Pokemon characters). Detective Pikachu seems inviting for both fans and newcomers. While I may not know much of anything about Pokemon, I can recognize the fact that this odd collection of characters, both helpful and dangerous, is reminiscent of the films of Joe Dante, who captured imaginations with Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987). And the format of pairing an animated character with a human in a mystery that takes them across a familiar canvas has shades of Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Detective Pikachu looks to evoke a style of film, rather than a specific generation.

When Detective Pikachu was first announced, I couldn't have been less interested. And now, two trailers later, it’s a movie I’m expecting to be a pop culture event – one that I’ll certainly show up for on opening night. It’s not the brand that has made the film appealing to me, but the fact that it looks like a stylish and funny opportunity to bring something new to our blockbuster landscape. It’s doubtful I’ll walk away from it feeling a need to buy a bunch of Pokemon merch, watch the anime, or download the Pokemon Go app on my phone, but if Detective Pikachu is as good as the trailers suggest, then I can easily see myself championing a new franchise.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu opens in theaters on May 10.

  • Richard Newby
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