Standing on Its Own Outside of the Pokémon Universe May Save the Detective Pikachu Movie From Failure
If any video game adaptation can outshine its predecessors, it will come from the Pokémon crew.
This May, the video game film adaptation genre may get the shock (pun fully intended) it needs with Detective Pikachu. The film is a direct adaptation of the video game of the same name, a spin-off of the media titan that is Pokémon, which was a surprising hit for a spin-off installment of a series who’s core games share a very common formula. Even with the clout of Pokémon at its side, will the Detective Pikachu movie be able to rise up past the stigma of the video game movie?
Video game film adaptations began in the 1990s with the live-action Super Mario Bros. which was not warmly received, loosely adapting the series into a gritty cyberpunk style film with humans descended from dinosaurs who now dominate the world (and they save Daisy instead of Princess Peach which feels like mistake number one). The massive flop that was Super Mario Bros. has not stopped the genre from growing, and while there have been some entrees that are good movies in their own right, such as Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, and Resident Evil, more often than not they are unimpressive and fail to live up to the already established game they are adapted from.
In the last few years, we have seen so many video game adaptations fall flat, Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft being great examples, with Angry Birds as the only one to do well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel.
So what is the key to a successful video game adaptation then? Is there some unknown quality to make a quality movie and please the die-hard franchise fans?
The Pokémon Detective Pikachu Movie May Have the Answer
If there was ever a franchise to achieve video game adaptation movie success, it’s Pokémon. The media empire has proven itself time and time again, branching into every sort of media imaginable. Having released 21 feature films to date, Pokémon is especially familiar with the film landscape, but the creators have never strayed from animation in the style of their main series anime.
And that is where I believe Detective Pikachu will shine. It is not an adaptation of the main series anime or a main series game, it is an adaptation of a spin-off game that is in a markedly different style than the other games. Where the normal games follow a routine of the catch/raise/battle RPG format, Detective Pikachu is more storytelling based, following a sleuthing Pikachu to uncover the mystery of what happened to the father of the protagonist.
Straying away from the main series of Pokémon is what gives Detective Pikachu the freedom to be a great film. It will not be as readily compared to its video game companions because it is so different and does not attempt to capture the magic of those games.
The best example of this is in the lifelike rendering of the Pokémon themselves. Throughout the games, we have only seen the heavily stylized versions of these cartoon creatures, but in this, we get a glimpse of what they could look like in the real world, complete with fur, teeth, and more often than not, frightening appearances. Without being gritty, or overly dark, the Detective Pikachu movie has already done well to establish itself as a true to life Pokémon universe.
Setting itself apart like this is what will make the Detective Pikachu movie so unique and fun, with a darker more realistic tone that can appeal to the established fan base, as well as the broader movie-going audience. And with Ryan Reynolds voicing the coffee drinking, wisecracking, titular character, we can expect to see a great amount of humor brought to the role, something that will allow children and adults to enjoy it.
So what is the real difference with the Detective Pikachu movie? Why are we seeing so much support for the film even before it comes out?
I think it is because it is not trying to make Pokémon into something it is not. If we look at Super Mario Bros., we see a film that took an already well loved and dense universe and twisted it into something it was not, taking the high fantasy universe and barely staying true to the material. An example of this is changing the classic dinosaur villains from the games into dinosaur descended businessmen who can shape-shift into lizard people. Detective Pikachu does not do this; instead, it plays to its strength in that it builds the world into ours without forcing it to be something it is not.
So will the Detective Pikachu movie shock the box office this May? Or will this be another video game adaptation that could have remained just a game?
The odds are in its favor to ditch the video game movie adaptation stigma and start its own universe free of constraints, but full of Detective Pikachu and Pokémon.