I liked Pokemon: Detective Pikachu. That is a profoundly silly sentence to type, but it’s also the truth — the movie is a lot of fun, with some fantastic visuals, inventive world building, and a very funny Ryan Reynolds performance at its core. I guess if we still have to talk about the “video game curse” as it relates to movies, this is the first adaptation in my mind to really break it (although I would argue there’s been enough movies that ape the style of video games to such strong effect, from Wreck-it Ralph to last year’s Overlord, that the whole idea that video game concepts can’t make good movies was proven wrong long ago.) But since seeing Pokemon: Detective Pikachu on Friday, my mind hasn’t been on its success as a video game adaptation, or its relative underperformance at the box office over the weekend (it did just fine, but I really was confidant this one would break out…I guess Avengers: Endgame cast too big a shadow, or I vastly underestimated the audience interest in a live-action movie about Pokemon.) No, dear reader, the thing that has been haunting my every waking moment since Friday night was the Detective Pikachu twist at the center of the narrative…and the frankly horrifying implications therein.
For what it’s worth, I’m using the phrase “twist” quite liberally with this one, as its ultimate ending “surprise” is pretty damn obvious, at least to my mind. I frankly put it together just from the clues presented in the second trailer, and I’m very stupid, so it’s not like the film was playing three dimensional chess with its storytelling or anything. The final reveal (and, the driving force of the whole last act really) is in no way a shocking revelation, and very much where the story was going from Minute 1. And knowing all that going in, you would think such a twist would be a thing I would be prepared for.
I absolutely was not.
But to properly explain why, I of course need to delve into complete spoilers for Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, so if you balk at knowing the plot points of your Pokemon movie, turn away now. I mean, really, you should have turned away long ago, as an article with the headline “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu twist” will obviously talk about, you know…the Pokemon: Detective Pikachu twist. But, hey, I am not here to judge your bad choices. I’m here to question that of Detective Pikachu‘s. Because, oh boy, did it make them.
And I’m not even sure the choices were necessarily bad, at the end of the day: the movie still works, and is a very fun and enjoyable blockbuster film, which is a hell of a lot more than I expected from it when the film was first announced. But, like, let’s just say it: the idea of people taking over the minds and bodies of Pokemon, as they are presented and built up in this film, is FUCKED. THE HELL. UP.
Of course, the film believes this too, to an extent: there’s a reason that the whole thing is an evil ploy from the film’s villain. Who, I want to quickly add in this little sidebar, never once gives the reason WHY he wants everyone to become a Pokemon, or what exactly happens after he achieves his plan. Like…everyone is a Pokemon now, I guess. Okay. What was his next step? What was your long-term here, Evil Boomer Businessman Who Sounds Like Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean? Anyways, I digress.
The climax of the film occurs during a big human/Pokemon unity parade (as these things do) in which every human in the area disappears (what is that fucking Thanos-ass shit) and suddenly is inhabiting the bodies of their Pokemon. Or maybe just the Pokemon that was standing next to them, it’s rather unclear. Anyways, the point is this: all the humans are Pokemon now, and all the Pokemon are…somewhere. The film very much glosses over what exactly happens to everyone during this weird case of one-sided Freaky Friday, as I will comment upon later. Just know that Tim and Pikachu did some things, reversed the stuff, and now the film can continue into its big reveal, where the real fun — and horror — emerges.
After over a 100 minutes, the film finally, finally unleashes the revelation we all saw coming: good ol’ Detective Pikachu was the father of our main character Tim all along! Crazy, right? You see, our best buddy/plot device Mewtwo used Mewtwo Magic ™ to transfer Tim’s fathers consciousness into the body of his partner, cute little Pikachu. This allowed Tim’s father to remain alive, for him to get the reconciliation with his son he always wanted (so that the film can have an emotional backbone, you see), and for Ryan Reynolds to make his obligatory live-action appearance (because Mewtwo was able to use the, umm, power of the sun I guess??? to magically bring the mangled, car crash-adled corpse of Tim’s father back to life. I…I think Mewtwo might be literal Jesus Christ, readers.) So yadda yadda yadda, happy ending for all! Unless, of course, you realize the film yadda yadda yadda’d over the most questionable part: the titular bundle of cuteness, Detective Pikachu.
Pikachu is a person. Or, at the very least, an intelligent creature with his own wants, desires, and personality. He is not just an empty vessel for some deadbeat Dad to crack wise in for two hours. But if Tim’s dad was actually Detective Pikachu the whole time…where the fuck was the “real” Pikachu? How was Tim’s dad able to take center stage within the dark recesses of the Pikachu mind, without the actual Pikachu (who, let me remind you, is a REAL FUCKING DETECTIVE WITH LIKE A BADGE AND A RETIREMENT PLAN AND SHIT, PROBABLY) ever popping back up? What exactly was the situation here when the human inhabits a Pokemon’s mind, not just for Pikachu, but for all the Pokemon who found themselves autonomy-less at the end of the film? What becomes of these Pokemon, at their core, if someone else gets into the driver’s seat of their mind palace?
Well reader, we know what happens. Because we already saw that movie. It was nominated for an Oscar and everything.
Mother fucking Pikachu and all his Pokemon pals were all getting Get Out-ed, y’all! Pikachu spent the entirety of this movie in the damn Sunken Place, unable to do anything as this white guy with a coffee addiction poisoned his body, humiliated him on countless occasions, and took complete and utter control of his life (which, due to his Amnesia of Convenience, he began to believe was HIS life.) I know you would like to think Pikachu was not aware during any of this. That he was sleeping in his own mind like an adorable little cat, all curled up and waiting for the moment when he could be given back his free will. But we all know this isn’t true. We’ve all seen Get Out, or that upsetting segment in Black Mirror’s “White Christmas” episode. You don’t just get to peace the fuck out while someone else controls your body, your thoughts, and your ever desire. You have to sit there. You have to watch it. You have to suffer through every single moment. And that’s exactly what Pikachu was left doing throughout pretty much the entirety of Pokemon: Detective Pikachu.
Now I know what you are thinking: what’s the harm? Pokemon are pets, simply animal companions — being disturbed at someone else being in the mind of one would be like recoiling in fear at movies like Tim Allen’s The Shaggy Dog or Kevin Spacey’s Nine Lives. Well, first of all, those movies are disturbing too, so it’s not like this is a new line of thinking for me. But, second of all, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu goes out of its way to show that Pokemon are more than just pets, and that in the “utopia” of Rhyme City, they are viewed as equal class citizens with their own entire society that works hand-in-hand with that of the humans. The film created that world, and it was a neat extension of the Pokemon concept that, once again, also allowed them to skirt that whole “this is slavery, what are we doing?” problematic shit to the side. Pokemon battles are as illegal as mandingo fights now, and Pokemon are no longer subjugated to living in the dinge and squalor of their Pokeballs (I’m assuming the Rhyme City Department of Poke Housing and Development nipped that in the bud). Pokemon in general are allowed to just go out and be sentient beings that give back to society. It’s all great!
…Of course the entire back of that sentiment was built off the city’s founder planning to one day take over all the Pokemon bodies and get to live life forever as a stronger, more evolved Pokemon (seriously, this is Get Out, all its missing is Bradley Whitford), but still! The whole point of Rhyme City was that Pokemon and humans could live together peacefully and equally. But then it turns out the Pokemon we had just spent so much time getting to know, who has been the film’s shining example of what Pokemon “actually think” and what their personalities are really like behind all the “Pika pikas,” was all a head-fake. This Pikachu wasn’t even a Pokemon at all, not really! He was just some white celebrity inhabiting the body of a famously Asian anime character, the autonomy of said character completely ignored for the sake of fulfilling the white celebrities’s character arc–
…Oh no, guys.
This isn’t just a fucked-up Get Out situation. It’s worse than I thought: it’s Scarlett Johannson’s Ghost in the Shell. You NEVER go full Scarlett Johannon’s Ghost in the Shell. Because the ethical doozy of such a plot mechanic can create a pure spiral of existential horror in which viewers are left to question just how much stock we put into the fabric of our own idea of consciousness, and how sentience and self will is just an elaborate lie we tell ourselves to pretend we have control in ANYTHING that happens to us when, in reality, we absolutely don’t. At the end of the day, we are all Detective Pikachu. We are all stumbling around in the passenger’s seat of our own lives, doomed to do whatever the fuck our “relatable” human drivers wants us to do. Trapped behind the wide, inescapable visage of Ryan Reynolds smirk, buried to our necks in fast rejoinders and quipy remarks. It’s absolutely, 100% the stuff of existential nightmares.
How fucking CUTE was that live-action Eevee though, OMG
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