Like many people, I was surprised when Warner Bros. announced a couple years ago they would be developing a “Detective Pikachu” film. The film would be based on the video game of the same name — which itself is a spin-off of the main “Pokemon” franchise.
Ryan Reynolds soon joined the project as the voice of its title character, and Rob Letterman, the director of “Monsters vs. Aliens” and 2015’s “Goosebumps,” signed on to direct.
To be honest, I initially thought this project was a ridiculously stupid idea. But then I saw the trailer earlier this week, and now it might be one of my most anticipated movies of next year.
When I was a kid, I was a massive fan of the “Pokemon” franchise. I watched the movies and TV series. I collected the trading cards and actually taught myself how to play the card game properly. But most of all, I adored the video games.
Wherever I went, I would always bring my Gameboy (and later my Nintendo DS) with me so I could play “Pokemon.” I would play on long car rides, I would go to friends’ houses after school and battle and trade with them. I even remember playing “Pokemon Ruby” at my aunt’s wedding. My obsession with “Pokemon” didn’t start to die down until the past few years or so, though I still play my old Gameboy on occasion.
Even though my dedication to the franchise has fallen a bit, the immense popularity of “Pokemon” has remained consistent. There is still an almost constant stream of games, trading cards, movies, TV shows and merchandise being released. And just earlier this year, “Pokemon” officially became the highest grossing entertainment franchise in history. The franchise has earned an estimated $59 billion since its inception in 1996. That’s more than “Star Wars,” “Hello Kitty” and even the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is undoubtedly the most popular film franchise right now. Every time a new Marvel movie opens in theaters, it dominates the box office for weeks, and sometimes even months. Earlier this year, “Avengers: Infinity War” became the fourth highest grossing film in history, bringing in over $2 billion at the box office –– only the fourth film ever to do so.
Marvel has faced little legitimate competition at the box office, but if Warner Bros plays their cards right, the “Pokemon” franchise could easily become a new opponent for the superhero juggernaut.
I didn’t understand why Warner Bros. would make a movie based on this spin-off game that not many people were even aware existed, but when this trailer came out, it dawned on me. The general audience’s unfamiliarity with the “Detective Pikachu” game is exactly why it would provide a good starting point for the franchise’s film division. The story of the game seems interesting enough, but they can also take it in whatever direction they want. Very few people are emotionally attached to that game’s story, which means the creatives behind the film have more freedom to do what they want with it.
While the audience gets a small glimpse at what the story is about in the film’s first trailer, they also get a much larger look into the world of “Pokemon.” The trailer highlights the fun and magic of this franchise, while providing plenty of nods to the games and show to get fans excited. Fans of the franchise, both old and new, were amped up by the idea of seeing this world in big-budget, live-action film. The trailer for “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” got people talking, which is exactly what it needed to do.
If “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” is a financial hit when it opens in May, we can expect many more “Pokemon”-based movies to follow. That’s where this franchise’s potential lies.
The world of “Pokemon” is vast. There are over half-a-dozen regions that have been established in the games, all of them with different Pokemon, people and general atmospheres to be explored. Not every “Pokemon” movie needs to follow Detective Pikachu. These movies could explore a myriad of different trainers with many different stories to tell.
These films could bring the classic story of the anime to life, with live-action versions of Ash Ketchum, Brock, Misty and, of course, Team Rocket. They could adapt characters and stories from some of the other games, such as the “Ruby” and “Sapphire” versions or the “Diamond” and “Pearl” versions. If they wanted to, Warner Bros. could even create new “Pokemon” stories of their own, exploring whichever region they choose in whatever manner they want. The story possibilities with this franchise are endless.
If “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” makes the money it has the potential to, audiences accept it and Warner Bros. manages to follow it up with more successful “Pokemon” films, this franchise could really become something noteworthy.
Successful cinematic universes are incredibly hard to pull off, evidenced by the failure of Universal’s “Dark Universe,” but the world of “Pokemon” is ripe for a film franchise like that. Even though I initially thought making a movie based on “Detective Pikachu” was an awful idea that would yield minimal return on investment, I now believe it might be a stroke of genius from Warner Bros.