Pokémon Detective Pikachu/Brightburn: Darker Sides of Lighter Worlds, or the Power of the Proof of Concept (Spoiler-Free)

I saw two movies and I noticed a common element to both of them: They both were only okay films, but they definitely served as evidence that a better film of that type could be made.


13 years ago, Elizabeth Banks found a spaceship containing a small Pikachu named Ryan Reynolds. Finding that the Pikachu has amnesia, she and her husband who didn’t end up marrying Pam on The Office try to raise him and find his partner. The Pikachu grows up to become a sociopathic detective, but not the Beledirt Dumbershoot kind. He proceeds to solve crimes and kill people brutally until something something magic of friendship and genocide. Also, the kid from Jurassic World 2: Let’s F*ck this Franchise is in it.



Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is an insurance agent in the Pokémon Universe. He finds out that his estranged detective father has recently been killed and comes to Ryme City to collect his stuff. Ryme City is a unique place in the Pokémon world, as Pokémon battles are illegal there and Pokémon live as equals. At his father’s apartment, Tim finds a Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) wearing a deerstalker (the Sherlock Holmes hat) who can talk, but only to Tim. He reveals that he has lost his memory but knows that Tim’s father isn’t dead, so the pair set out to unravel the mystery of what happened to him. Also, Mewtwo (Rina Hoshino and Kotaro Watanabe) is in the movie and is basically a demi-god.


In 2006, Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) see a spaceship fall from the sky containing a baby boy. They adopt him and name him Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn). When the boy starts to hit puberty, he discovers that he has more than just new hair growing somewhere, he has superpowers. However, he also has some serious mental issues which quickly drive him to do bad things using his abilities… bad things like murder because he’s freaking Superman, so you’re not gonna stop him. Tori tries to find the good in him and convince him to change before he ends up destroying the world.


On the surface, both of these films would seem to have nothing in common. However, both of them represent an important part of any industry: A proof of concept. Both of them are attempts to demonstrate the viability of a type of film, which is to say, a dark take on a typically lighthearted story. Pokémon Detective Pikachu, aside from having more teenage and adult humor coming from Ryan Reynolds’s Pikachu, also features a more realistic take on a world built around unbelievably powerful monsters that are constantly being imprisoned and pitted against one another. Brightburn, while it failed on some levels, showed us the idea of doing a horror film where the monster is just a perversion of a beloved figure (and if anyone says “isn’t that just an evil clown movie,” no, clowns are always evil).

Now, both of these films actually suffered from the same major flaw: They didn’t go far enough. I give credit that they did start to show us a Pokémon movie dealing with the actual ramifications of having unbelievably powerful creatures that we use for common purposes (Machamp can push a mountain and is seen directing traffic. Vanillish can reduce temperatures to near absolute zero and is working as an air conditioner. Squirtles are seen breathing water as firefighters. Hypersonic bird pokemon deliver mail), but they went out of their way to avoid most of the dangerous parts of that symbiosis (like when you tread on a Growlithe’s paw and it melts your face). The film has to obey the kid-friendly rules of “Pokémon are always kind and loving,” unless the plot demands otherwise, like Mewtwo. Hell, Mewtwo points out that humans routinely abuse, battle, and experiment on Pokémon, but at the end changes his mind because plot. If you’re going to dangle those threads, you’ve got to follow up on them! Give us the darkness and then give us the hopeful ending despite it! Go big or go home! Still, this film did at least give us a taste of that and it gives me hope that someone may take it further in the future.

Brightburn actually makes a slightly different error, but still part of the same flaw. In the film, Brandon Breyer is not evil because power corrupts and he’s f*cking Superman, but instead because nonspecific alien voices tell him to be evil. Sadly, that kind of removes some of the fun from the concept for me. Superman has always had a lot of great horror potential because basically none of us would be able to resist the temptation he faces every day. He has the ability to destroy almost anything if he really went all out, but he always puts himself at risk in order to minimize the damage to his opponents. Hell, in the animated Justice League, he gives a very angry speech to Darkseid explaining that he lives in a “world of cardboard.” When you can benchpress a star and melt someone’s head by looking at it too hard, you probably start questioning why you’re putting up with that asshole ranting on the radio, let alone why you’re intentionally avoiding killing the supervillain that’s attacking you. So, it’s really pretty easy to consider why Superman would become evil just from asking the question “why the hell not?” Instead, Brightburn just says “oh, alien possession monster stuff grrr.” It removes the actual depth of analyzing how easy it is to be evil when you have immunity from everything. But still, despite that, it manages to actually drive home some of what would be truly horrifying about an evil Superman: He’s always just toying with you. At any point, if he wanted you to be,  you’d be dead before you could do anything about it. You’re not an ant to him, because an ant could bite. You’re a slug and he’s holding all the salt in the world. It’s not quite cosmic horror, because he still at least acknowledges you before killing you, but it’s damned close to the realization that all of human endeavor means nothing in the face of a being who can destroy the world with one hand.

Both of these films got a lot of stuff right, but also failed because they didn’t quite push the envelope enough. Still, they’re both fun and they both establish that there is a much better version of them waiting out there to be shot.

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I'm not giving my information to a machine. Nice try, Zuckerberg.

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