From Netflix’s “Death Note” to M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender,” there’s been no shortage of terrible live-action adaptations of beloved animated properties in recent years. So when the trailer for “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” dropped this past Monday, it’s no surprise that many fans were reportedly just a little bit apprehensive.
It takes only a cursory viewing of the trailer to notice very striking similarities to a certain other Hollywood adaptation of a certain other Japanese franchise with the popularity to rival Pokémon.
Yes, I’m talking about Dragonball, and yes, I’m talking about perhaps the most egregiously horrible live action property-based movie ever made – 2009’s “Dragonball Evolution”. The film, which is loosely (and I do mean loosely) based on Akira Toriyama’s OG Dragonball saga, took the most influential shonen adventure series of all time and reduced it to a campy, strangely orange-tinted slog-fest of bad CGI and even worse writing. It set the precedent for how bad these anime adaptations can be, and I reckon that standard won’t be lowered anytime soon.
So do I think “Detective Pikachu” is going to be as bad as Evolution? Probably not. But I also don’t know if I’d hedge my bets on it being good, either.
For starters, its premise strays quite a distance away from what I’d imagine the majority of fans would like to see from a Pokémon movie (which is to say, a story about the trials and tribulations of a beginner Pokémon trainer, similar to the anime and video games). And yes, I’m aware that the film is based off of a spin-off Nintendo game of the same name, but even though it’s not exactly deviating from the source material, die-hard fans of the original RPGs will probably feel cheated nonetheless – sort of like how Dragonball fans felt when they found out Goku would be going to high school in “Evolution” rather than hunting giant fish in the wilderness.
Fans who’ve been with the iconic Pokémon franchise since the 90’s want to experience the nostalgia of having their adventures recapitulated on the big screen. They want gym battles, rival trainers, the thrill of wild encounters and trying to capture ’em all — not a buddy cop detective film. “Evolution” went too far by completely bastardizing the source material; we’ll have to wait and see if the result will be the same with “Detective Pikachu.”
Oh, and then there’s the good ol’ whitewashing controversy. While Dragonball fans struggled with the inanity of accepting that a white dude named Justin Chadwick was, in fact, “Goku,” don’t be surprised to hear similar grumblings about how a non-Asian actor is once again taking the lead role in an Asian franchise.
And although the lead can’t be Asian, Warner Bros. clearly had no problem with shoving in a sage Asian grandpa character – eerily similar to “Evolution,” where Randall Duk Kim and Chow Yun-fat portrayed Grandpa Gohan and Master Roshi, respectively. In “Detective Pikachu,” Ken Watanabe briefly shows his face as the token Asian mentor figure, profoundly offering, “I remember you wanted to be a Pokémon trainer when you were young.” The comparisons write themselves.
With all that being said, “Detective Pikachu” definitely has some things going for it. Wildly contrary to traditional depictions though he is, smart-mouthed Deadpool Pikachu is actually strangely endearing, and the film already appears to have more charm than “Evolution.” Meanwhile, the brief glimpses of the other Pokémon designs – Greninja, Charizard and Mr. Mime being chief among them – look pretty awesome. The fact that the studio hired the OG “realistic Pokémon” artist leaves that particular department in good hands; no matter how the movie turns out, fans can rest assured knowing they’ll see some kick-ass, faithful representations of their favorite critters on screen.
The “Detective Pikachu” trailer was intriguing, there’s no doubt about that. But given the history of these sorts of adaptations, we’ll have our fingers crossed until May 10, 2019.