'Detective Pikachu': The Director Answers All of Our Question About That Big Twist
By John Boone
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Massive spoilers for "Detective Pikachu" below.
Detective Pikachu is both the first-ever live-action Pokémon movie and a classic noir, one that happens to unfold in a world where your bartender is a duckbilled, sombrero-headed, bipedal pineapple. Which means that there are as many twisty, turn-y mysteries as there are colorful, onomatopoetically-named pocket monsters.
The main yarns involve the disappearance of Harry Goodman, Justice Smith's character, Tim's, father and partner of Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), and the emergence of a toxic gas known as R, which is causing Pokémon to turn violent. Their sleuthing leads them to a benevolent businessman, the ailing Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), and a secret laboratory where Rita Ora is experimenting on Pokémon to make them larger, stronger, more evolved. There's also an escaped Mewtwo in the mix.
In the end, it's all connected: Howard Clifford commissioned the creation of R because, when Pokémon are under its effect, they become vessels into which the psychic Pokémon Mewtwo is able to transfer a human consciousness. Howard intends to "evolve" into Mewtwo, leaving his human body behind. After thwarting that plan and saving Rhyme City, Tim discovers that his father had helped free Mewtwo, who subsequently saved Harry by merging his consciousness with Detective Pikachu's and wiping the electric mouse's memory. The two are separated and the human Harry (also played by Ryan Reynolds) and Tim are reunited, with Detective Pikachu reverting to a regular Pika-Pika!-ing Pikachu.
Still with me? There is a dizzying amount of reveals to process in the last act, and I had some follow-up questions. Who better to answer them than Detective Pikachu director Rob Letterman? By phone with ET, he broke down all of the twists and shared an incredible behind-the-scenes story about the movie's best Easter egg.
ET: I love that this movie could be pitched as Pokémon meets Get Out.
Rob Letterman: Pokémon meets Get Out?!
Did you see Get Out? In terms of the transferring of consciousnesses.
Of course! I love Get Out. You're the first person to ever say that. [Laughs] But I can see it! I can totally see it.
How did you work through developing that being one of the twists of the movie? That Bill Nighy's character was transferring human consciousness into these Pokémon?
It evolved off of the Detective Pikachu game and this notion of this R gas that causes the Pokémon to go kind of crazy and wild and lose their adorable nature and, "Whose behind it?" and the mystery of that. Those are all things that are part of the video game that we were tasked with weaving into this movie adaptation, so that was already there. And the notion of evolution is a big thing in Pokémon canon. Pokémon evolving is such a big thing. So, in crafting the villain's story, it was just like, Let's use that and distort that and the person who ostensibly loves Pokémon so much is the one who distorts what's so great about them. That was the principle behind it.
What sort of conversations did you have in terms of determining the rules of that? Insomuch as Tim is the only one who can hear his father within Pikachu and when Lucy (Kathryn Newton) is put inside her Psyduck, she still talks as Psyduck.
I mean, the father and son thing is the whole movie. That's the heart of the whole design of the story, it's all curated to be towards that ending. And the conversations about that, you know, the real reason Tim can hear Pikachu is not-- There's no science. It's not the gas. It's not Mewtwo's superpowers. It's purely the connection between father and son. It's the bond. It's the emotional, spiritual thing. That was one of the first conversations we had with The Pokémon Company is that that father-and-son bond goes beyond anything and that's why he's hearing it. But we had to hide it in all these other little misdirects, so that we didn't give away the ending.
And you go through Tim's trauma of his father leaving and how young he was because, otherwise, you would think he would recognize his father's voice.
We disguise it. We talked about it endlessly, about, "Why doesn't he recognize his dad's voice?" There were debates. Justice and I were talking about it forever. And Ryan, like, it was a real discussion point. [Laughs] Where I ended up in my mind was it's not the voice that he's hearing, it's the connection to his father. The reason he doesn't recognize the voice, it's not the literal voice. It's that Tim is estranged from his dad and through this experience, he's getting closer and closer. That's why this voice in his head is purely an emotional connection to Pikachu. That's sort of my take on it.
You end Detective Pikachu with Ryan returning to human form. And it's a very satisfying end to this movie, but if you are thinking of this as a potential franchise, does that worry you at all heading into what could possibly be a sequel? If you don't have Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds anymore?
You're putting me on the spot. It's partly, I can't tell you. Partly, I'm superstitious, because there is no sequel if this movie doesn't do well, so. But we have a solve for everything.
One of my favorite moments in the movie is Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu singing the Pokémon theme song. How did that moment come to be? And what was it like seeing Ryan record that or hearing it for the first time?
It came later on in post. We were wrestling with that scene and we needed to bring levity back in quickly before we dove into the big third act finale. And we had always had a weird kernel of an idea, like, "What's the equivalent of Pikachu being drunk in a bar singing his sorrows away?" kind of thought. So it sort of popped in on that scene at the bridge and we really wanted to throw a bone to Pokémon fans and we knew that they would get a kick out of it.
It also took a couple asks to get Ryan to sing because he did not want to sing at all. I literally flew to Abu Dhabi, no joke, pinned him down in a hotel room, Blake and the kids were bouncing around on the bed, and I literally line-read it to him as he sang each line to get it right. [Laughs] It was so funny and so that's how it all came together.