Pokémon’s first outing as a live-action, major-motion-picture franchise had to be special. The franchise included games, anime series, animated movies, the cards, and every other Poké-spin-off under the sun (and moon). How could a big-budget Hollywood production bring something new to the table?
The answer, after years and years of development, was this week’s Detective Pikachu. The film fully realizes the world of Pokémon with a blend of 35mm photography and cartoonish computer graphics, then wallops audiences with a jaw-dropping surprise that puts a cap on the entire adventure. As director Rob Letterman and screenwriters Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit tell Polygon, it was the only emotional conclusion that ever really made sense — no post-credit scene required.
[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for Detective Pikachu.]
The final 20 minutes of Detective Pikachu twist and turn like a fantastical Usual Suspects. Howard Clifford, the Robert Moses of Pokémon lore, turns out to be a fascist scumbug who believes Pokémon and humans should be melded into single entities. His son, assumed to be the Succession-like snot behind the proliferation of “R gas,” was apparently locked in a closet for weeks. The silent, pink-haired assailant chasing our heroes is actually a Ditto. Mewtwo is not bad … he’s good! And when Tim Goodman’s journalist father stumbled upon evidence that the genetically altered Pokémon had been captured and abused by Howard Clifford for personal gain, a pack of mutated greninjas ran him off a bridge, and Mewtwo put his damaged body in the resilient husk of a Pikachu.
Yes, not only does Detective Pikachu talk, there’s a whole person inside that little critter body. And the person ... is Ryan Reynolds.
For a movie that derives most of its enjoyment from a cute, cuddly, electricity-slinging mouse creature walking around a town filled with equally cute, cuddly creatures, Detective conclusion is surprisingly layered, poignant, and shocking. No one watching the movie expects Reynolds to pop up with a train ticket in hand at the end of Detective Pikachu, revealed to be Tim Goodman’s unmerged, estranged father, but there he was. And that was always the plan.
”We and Rob [Letterman] felt very strongly that [the twist] is where this movie had to go in order to be emotionally satisfying and sort of play with this idea of evolution, both emotional and literal, in the case of the Pokemon,” writer Dan Hernandez tells Polygon.
A little backstory: The producers behind Detective Pikachu spent years chasing the option that would allow them to even explore the idea of a Hollywood version of the multi-hyphenate property. After finally securing the rights (thanks in large part to the popularity of Pokémon Go), The Pokémon Company remained — understandably — protective of the IP. This needed to be perfect, and not just a repeat of the last 20 years of Pokémon media.
”[The Pokémon Company] really wanted to have a reason to do it, when they had told so many stories in the anime and the games,” says co-writer Benji Samit. “Detective Pikachu was a smaller game, but it’s an offshoot of the world where you’ve got talking Pokemon, too. You’ve got humans in Pokemon living in harmony, which is like a side of the universe that we’ve never seen before.”
The game also established a talking Pokémon, and the potential for a human-focused reveal. As Samit tells Polygon, even though it’s not explicitly stated at the end of the Detective Pikachu video game that Tim’s dad is literally inside Pikachu, giving the fuzzy pocket monster the ability to vocalize words, it’s implied.
”You just don’t see it,” he says, “and we wanted to see the ending fully explained. Where we wanted to take it a step further was the way it connected it to the overall theme and Howard Clifford’s plan of wanting people to evolve into better versions of themselves, the way Pokémon do. That was all stuff that Dan and I brought in. But the actual twist itself of it being his dad, that was a part of it from day one.”
”Because we couldn’t use any of those like standby pieces of the Pokemon universe, we really wanted to look for some things to bring over from the games and the anime,” says Hernandez. “What we homed in on was the concept of evolution. And, you know, that’s something that’s pretty unique to the Pokémon universe. When we made the movie, we wanted to make it not just about Pokémon literally evolving, but a question dramatically. What does it mean to evolve? Can people evolve? Can father-son relationships evolve?”
Reynolds’ appearance in Detective Pikachu is a bombshell, but it’s also concrete: Ryme City is safe, Tim and his dad reconnect, and Pikachu is Pikachu again. The trio walk off into the high-rise sunset promising to maybe solve another mystery. But as Hernandez and Samit hoped for, it’s the conclusion of an actual human story — no sequel tease required. Unlike most blockbusters of late, Detective Pikachu forgoes a last-minute “part 2” tee up or post-credits scene. Everything is simply good in the world. How Reynolds’ Detective Pikachu could eventually make a comeback is a mystery left unsolved.
”I like a really contained movie that has a beginning, middle and end,” director Rob Letterman professes. “I think like the universe is so vast, I wasn’t worried about [a sequel tease]. There’s always a creative way to keep it going. [The world is] just so big and there are so many tendrils to it. I just wanted to make sure, you know, there was a lot of heart and the human journey came through and that the movie could stand on its own without the Pokémon. That was a big deal for us. We wanted to make sure the story worked as a human journey.”