DetecivePikachu_Review_01

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

June 6, 2019

‘Detective Pikachu’ and ‘John Wick 3’ Are More Similar Than You Might Think

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I took Intergroup Dialogue Project this past semester and a big part of the class was learning how to recognize and deal with my own ingrained biases. For example, I know that I liked Detective Pikachu more than I should have. I played in in-person Pokémon tournaments as a kid and put in my pre-order for Pokémon Sword two months ago — it’s slated for release in December.

Detective Pikachu (or, more correctly, Pokémon Detective Pikachu) is a film that in no way earned the sheer amount of joy it brought me, but similarly to how Avengers: Endgame was inexorably tied to a boatload of nostalgia, this movie was able to play with my heartstrings in a way few others have. Despite its flaws, this was more than just a movie to me.

So, in trying to seek a more even-keeled and objective perspective for those of you who might be on the fence about heading to the theater, here’s my buddy Ely, a more casual fan of the early games who was a little more lukewarm on the film than I was:

“While the nods and references to the long history of Pokémon will keep any fan entertained, Detective Pikachu doesn’t offer much for newcomers to grab on to. Ryan Reynolds delivers a Deadpool-like performance as Pikachu, hilariously pumping electricity into an otherwise exposition-heavy plot. The leads Tim and Lucy, played by Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton, deliver fine performances despite their lacking any real chemistry. I didn’t actually realize there was a romantic arc between them until Smith’s character stated it outright in the film’s final minutes. The draw of Detective Pikachu is the world it builds, with every corner carefully populated with Pokémon.”

Ryan Reynolds' sarcastic lightning rat looked great on the big screen.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ryan Reynolds’ sarcastic lightning rat looked great on the big screen.

Thanks Ely. Like he said, the film does a couple of things right. Ryme City, the film’s setting for the majority of its runtime, felt as ‘lived-in’ as could be. The movie was bursting at the seams with attention to detail. Right from the start, it’s abundantly clear that the team behind this film spent a lot of time thinking through how various Pokémon could theoretically cohabitate an urban environment with humans and if nothing else, that’s the movie’s strongest selling point.

Squirtles serve as firefighters, Machamps direct traffic and Loudreds pump out tunes at dance clubs. I could go on and on about how awesome it was seeing certain Pokémon matched up with relatively believable real-life occupations but what I’m getting at is that this movie incorporates fan service well, which is good because that was clearly its intention.

However, its devotion to it is a double-edged sword. In trying to fill every nook and cranny with small-scale nods to Pokémon fans, the film misses big-time on some of the more ‘macro’ elements of cinematic storytelling. The evil plan underlying the film’s conflict — for Howard Clifford, the wealthy philanthropic creator of Ryme city, to use Mewtwo (a really, really strong Pokémon) to merge the minds of everyone in the city into the bodies of their Pokémon partners — doesn’t actually make any sense.

For Clifford, who was suffering from a degenerative disease, transferring his own mind into the body of Mewtwo, one that would outlast his own, checks out but it’s entirely unclear why he wanted to subject everybody else to the same transformation. He echoes the idea that the reality he’s trying to create is one in which people and Pokémon could perfectly coexist, but that was the whole idea of Ryme City in the first place. It’s a head-scratcher.

Anyway, my point here is that this film’s story leaves a lot to be desired but that it took me seeing the film a second time to even realize I was unsatisfied. The first time around, most of my attention was spent scouring the background and lighting up like a Christmas tree every time I saw a different facet of Pokémon lore brought to life. I didn’t so much care that the plot had Charizard-sized holes in it because the film was constantly distracting me with well-thought-out nods to its source material.

Detective Pikachu is a film that manages to come across as fun despite its litany of issues. The combination of shockingly well-animated ‘real-life’ Pokémon, solid directing from Rob Letterman (previously known for Monsters vs. Aliens and Shark Tale) and a surprisingly great soundtrack make it well-worth any fan’s time and money.

And since I don’t have much else to say about Detective Pikachu, here’s something completely different.

John Wick did a cool thing, plunging its audience into an outlandish criminal underworld while making that world’s best assassin, Keanu Reeves, a sympathetic hero.

At the start of the film, we see Wick grieving the death of his wife, for whom he had laid down his arms and gotten out of the game. In the days following her death, we see that she had arranged for a small puppy, a beagle named Daisy, to help her now-widowed husband cope with her passing.

Enter Iosef Tarasov, played by Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen, heir apparent to the prominent Tarasov crime empire that Wick helped create. Iosef, not recognizing the Boogeyman, breaks into his house, steals his car (a 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1) and kills the dog.

Deep breath.

From that point on, we cheer as Wick kills 77 people with unflinching, furious efficiency because it no longer matters that Wick was the bad guy in his old life. In killing Daisy, Iosef made John good. We as an audience absolutely need to see him kill every single one of those bastards with god-like moral authority because they were all in some way culpable for the irremediable wrong that was Daisy’s death.

Iosef and his gang robbed Wick of his wife’s last gift, an opportunity to mourn, so in return, he dispatches them with breathtaking machine-like precision. He does not quip and takes no joy in his revenge, he simply completes his task in the most straightforward manner he can.

What made the film so special wasn’t its simple plot or even its stellar action (more on that later), but that it kept its mesmerizing assassin-fueled alternate reality just on the periphery, allowing its world’s intricacies to dance in and out of frame. In pulling back the curtain just a little, it ignited its viewers’ imaginations. The possibilities for a sequel were endless.

If John Wick was Wick’s toppling a demi-god, John Wick: Chapter 2 saw him take on a pair of deities. At the outset of the second film, we see John recover the car Iosef had stolen in the first film. With his original task finally behind him, John is content to return to his ‘normal’ life but is quickly shown that his entering back into the fray had consequences.

Whereas before he had settled his accounts with the “High Table,” the mysterious governing body of the assassin world, in killing Iosef, Viggo and their men, he’d broken the terms of his retirement — debts that had previously been forgiven were now ripe to collect.

Enter Santino D’Antonio, younger brother of Gianna D’Antonio, head of the Italian Camorra crime syndicate and newly-appointed member of the High Table. Santino wants his sister’s seat, and so calls in his “marker,” a blood pact of sorts, with Wick to have her killed. Wick travels to Rome and does the deed in spectacular fashion but D’Antonio turns on him, placing a bounty on Wick to avenge the same sister he’d ordered him to kill.

Wick kills Santino on consecrated ground, breaking the rules of the Continental hotel, a recurring setting from the first film and part of a battery of assassin-focused services including a bullet-proof suit crafting tailor and a gun sommelier played to perfection by Peter Serafinowicz.

Winston, the manager of the hotel played by Ian McShane, has no choice but to dub Wick “excommunicado,” revoking his access to those services and opening the door for any assassin in New York City to collect the now-heightened bounty on his head. Winston gives Wick an hour head start and the movie comes to a close with the already beaten-up assassin limping away with the new dog he rescued at the end of the first film.

The second film served as a fitting follow-up to the cult classic original, introducing video game-esque mechanics to its stunning action sequences while still keeping largely mysterious the greater forces behind the story’s conflict and setting the stage perfectly for another sequel. John killed two of the pantheon’s gods and now is set against that pantheon and all its forces.

Through two films, the John Wick franchise was a bit of a dunk on the action industry, shying away from a number of tired genre tropes and techniques and instead delivering well-choreographed and easily followable action while not over complicating its plotlines. The expertise of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, two long-time stuntmen, the first of whom was Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix and the director of all three films and the second who’s spent more than 20 years working on some of Hollywood’s biggest movies and has more recently directed Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, is apparent in every scene. The level at which these movies execute their action is unprecedented.

That streak of excellence continues in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. The new film is bigger, louder and more absurd than its predecessors in almost every sense of the word. While in John Wick: Chapter 2 we finally watch Wick recreate his fabled pencil take-down, the franchise’s third entry sees our on-the-run assassin get really creative, killing several of his would-be killers with horses and bringing down Philadelphia 76er Boban Marjanović (a fun piece of stunt casting) with a book.

In keeping with the breakneck pace set by the earlier movies, John Wick 3 hit a lot of good notes, playing up how Wick is a bit of a legend within the assassin community and giving Winston and the Continental’s concierge Charon, played by Lance Reddick, the screen time they deserve. Halle Berry kicks some serious ass alongside her two body-armored Belgian Malinois dogs and Mark Dacascos, who you might recognize as the Chairman from Iron Chef America, turns in a hilarious performance as the main assassin foil to Reeves’ Wick, a role occupied by Common in the second film. Laurence Fishburne also makes an over-the-top return as the Bowery King, an under-the-table street-level complement to Winston, and Billions’ Asia Kate Dillon is chilling as the “Adjudicator,” an agent of the High Table sent to right the disorder stemming from Wick’s reemergence.

Keanu Reeves looks intimidating in the rain.

Courtesy of Summit Entertainment

Keanu Reeves looks intimidating in the rain.

The new film’s greatest sin sadly isn’t its long name, though. Whereas the first two films took care not to overexpose the unrealistic mechanisms beneath their carefully constructed world, the third falls on the wrong side of the line, giving on-screen answers to some of the more unanswerable questions its forerunners had posed.

Where do all these coins and markers come from? A manufacturing plant in Morocco. If the High Table oversees Wick’s world, who oversees the High Table? Sameer from Wonder Woman. These are logical answers, yes, but are somewhat unsatisfying because of their realism. To give a face to the force above the High Table, a man who these movies have suggested might as well have been God with a capital ‘G,’ is to take away the imaginative element that made the first two movies so rewatchable.

The here-and-there hints that the previous films had dropped were just enough to spark audiences around the world to try and piece together how this all could work without providing enough information to really rule out any particular fan’s explanation. The John Wick movies made people look at the real world with newfound fascination. Could my regular hot dog cart guy have a Glock just behind the ketchup?

This, then, is where Detective Pikachu and John Wick: Chapter 3 are surprisingly similar — they live and die by the same sword. Both make their money by taking an unrealistic concept and attempting to ground it in reality, but that decision leads to drastically different results. The choice to pull the curtain all the way back and show one version of how Pokémon and people could interact elevates Detective Pikachu from a rather pedestrian film to one that’s held my full attention through two viewings. The way its creators were able to so seamlessly integrate Pokémon into a familiar city setting keeps the movie afloat. On the other side of that same coin, Parabellum’s curtain pull is exactly what holds it back from greatness. In delving too deep into the secrecy that made its predecessors so fascinating, it took some fuel out of the franchise’s fire. In making its fantastic real, it diminished that same fantasy.

Both movies are almost sure to receive sequels or spinoffs — in fact, Legendary Entertainment, the production company behind Detective Pikachu, had announced its intention to pump out a sequel before the film even hit theaters. We can only hope that each takes a lesson from its current film: In John Wick’s case, to roll back the mythology and go back to the basics that made it successful in the first place and in Detective Pikachu’s, to dive even deeper as the intricacies of that world which, spanning seven generations of games and including 809 total Pokémon, leaves few limits on the creators’ imaginations.

This post has been updated to change the title.

Nick Smith is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nsmith@cornellsun.com.