The climax of Detective Pikachu goes to a completely wild place, a place it arrives at seemingly out of nowhere. Partially because it’s not particularly set up well by the movie, but also partially because it’s completely insane. But it actually has some interesting connections to a moment from the very first Pokémon games.
There are two mysteries in Detective Pikachu that coalesce in the film’s third act—the disappearance of Tim Goodman’s dad, Ryme City detective Harry Goodman, and the case of both wild and partner Pokémon being driven into unprecedented berserker rages by a strange new stimulant only known as “R,” created from genetic material of Mewtwo. They come together when Ryme City’s seemingly noble creator, Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), reveals he’s actually behind both crimes. After being hired by Clifford to track Mewtwo, Goodman had a change of heart and helped free the Pokémon from captivity, leading to the car “accident” where Harry seemingly perished.
But why did Clifford need Mewtwo for R in the first place? Because after being diagnosed with a degenerative illness, Clifford decided that Pokémon did not exist in our world to be used in battle, captured, or treated as pets, or even as symbiotic partners as they are in his battle-less Pokétopia. They were humanity’s superior and its next evolutionary step. Turns out R’s true nature isn’t actually as a rage-inducing Pokéstimulant, but to facilitate Clifford’s real plan: forcefully merge himself with Mewtwo via a neural link, and use the legendary creature’s psychic powers to then merge the human citizens of Ryme City with their Pokémon—their consciousnesses and, somehow, even their bodies absorbed into their beloved creatures.
Clifford begins this plan by jacking his own mind into the re-captured Mewtwo, before descending on a parade he’d set up to ostensibly celebrate the anniversary of Ryme City’s founding and the city’s relationship with Pokémon. But really, it’s to get as many people and Pokémon in one place so they can be doused in R gas—hidden in parade balloons!—and be susceptible to Clifford-Mewtwo using its powers to merge people with their rampaging poképals.
For a movie that is first and foremost for kids, it’s actually kind of horrifying to watch unfold. And not in the “dark if you just think about it for way too long” way a lot of the Pokémon franchise’s more messed-up undertones can be. There are people running around in confusion and terror, as their beloved partner Pokémon suddenly turn violent—screaming louder when the Clifford-Mewtwo comes along to zap them into each other. And do you want to get into that existential overthinking? Contemplate suddenly, against your will, having your body and mind psychically fused—seemingly forever!—with this:
And now all you can do is say your own name—not even your name, the name of the creature that, seconds ago, was your pet/best friend. That’s nightmare inducing!
Of course, it’s all resolved by the end of the film and everyone smushed together is un-smushed—a gift from Mewtwo after Clifford is kicked out of its mind thanks to Tim and Pikachu. But it is still a hard swing from cutesy family fun to a good 10-15 minutes of rampant body horror as you watch an alarming amount of people—not just nameless citizens in the crowds but like, important characters to Detective Pikachu like Detective Yoshida and Lucy!—get transformed into Pokémon hybrids.
I haven’t even mentioned Clifford’s copycat Pokémon Ditto, who acts as its master’s sinister agent by taking on human form as a disguise during all this—albeit still with those Ditto dot-eyes—assaulting Tim as both Ditto-Human and Ditto-Pokémon copy to stop him from unlinking Mewtwo from Clifford’s mind. It’s bloody horrifying. And it’s all something the movie pulls out of its ass for one of the most gloriously ridiculous climaxes I’ve seen in a movie this year. It is completely and utterly bonkers in a way that makes very little actual sense—but, in a roundabout way, it has intriguing connections to a moment that’s just as weird in the very first Pokémon games, Red and Blue.
At one moment early on in your Pokémon trainer journey—just after acquiring the second Kanto Gym badge from Cerulean City—in Red and Blue, players come across Sea Cottage, the home and lab of a man known as Bill the Pokémaniac. Bill is a world-famous researcher and, in the games, is the person who designed the (wildly futuristic and powerful, when you think about it) technology that allows the player to store captured Pokémon beyond the six allowed in their battle team as digital data on PCs across the world.
Initially, players don’t actually meet Bill as Bill, however. They meet him after an accident during a Pokémon teleportation experiment he was conducting has rendered him just as Clifford’s victims were: consciously merged with one of his Pokémon. You quickly help the panicked researcher use his Cell Separation System to undo the process, and it’s brushed aside quickly so Bill can scoot you on to the next step of your journey—because of course it is, who wants to dwell on the Pokémon universe’s equivalent to The Fly in a game for five-year-olds?
It’s never really discussed again, outside of fans acknowledging it as another one of those weirdly dark moments in the series that gets worse the more you think about it. Why does Bill have a “Cell Separation System” that can unfuse humans and Pokémon if he’s just experimenting on teleporting Pokémon, anyway? But still, after seeing Detective Pikachu, it was all I could think about (beyond “what the ever-living Pokécrap just happened!?”).
Beyond the body horror, Bill actually does shares some interesting-in-hindsight connections with Clifford—they both love Pokémon, and dedicated their lives to collecting and researching them. They both love Eevee and its evolutions (the evolving Flareon glimpsed in Detective Pikachu’s trailers is Clifford’s). They both have, apparently, thought way too much about putting their sentience into wild animals—although at least Bill’s attempt was accidental. Hell, it’s coincidental, but wonderful kismet that Clifford is played by Bill Nighy, who’s apparently become a bit of a Pokémaniac himself since filming Detective Pikachu.
Whether it was an intentional callback or not, it’s fun to see Detective Pikachu’s most absurd moment actually have some roots in the franchise that inspired the whole wild endeavor in the first place.
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