Despite its strange premise and narrative shortcomings, "Pokemon Detective Pikachu" represents the first truly decent video game adaptation. That's faint praise, admittedly, but considering the genre has seen the likes of "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," "Double Dragon" and whatever Paul W. S. Anderson was trying to do with the "Resident Evil" series, it's praise nonetheless. If anything, the critical and commercial reception of "Detective Pikachu" shows that there is an interest in video game adaptations - if they respect the source material.
The video game movie has been a hard nut to crack for nearly 30 years. There have been so many failed attempts at creating anything beyond drinking game material that most fans have given up hope of seeing their favorite games ported to the big screen. When the consensus determined a PG-13 "Mortal Kombat" and a camp-filled Angelina Jolie "Tomb Raider" are the best of the crop, there's a problem. That's like saying Ben Affleck's "Daredevil" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" are the best comic book films on the market.
There's a multitude of issues that make it difficult to adapt a game: the basic interactive nature of the medium, the derivative quality of most video game stories and universes and a general lack of respect from those who are bankrolling the films.
Games are a medium that rely almost entirely on player interaction. It's the player that moves the story along in everything from the most exciting first-person shooters and open-world adventures to the more reserved and quiet point-and-click adventure games or walking simulators. The story unfolds at the player urgency and everything is centered around them and their actions. An eight to 12-hour game following the player character can be difficult to translate into a 90-minute to two-hour film.
There's been talk for at least five years of adapting Naughty Dog's "Uncharted" series into a movie. "Spider-Man" star Tom Holland is now attached to star with "10 Cloverfield Lane" director Dan Trachtenburg set to direct, but nothing has happened as of yet. But the "Uncharted" series started out as an homage to adventure movies like "Indiana Jones" and "Romancing the Stone." It offers nothing new on its own and would be just another generic adventure movie. Most AAA games that are set to be adapted, including, "Mass Effect," "Splinter Cell" and "Metal Gear Solid," have interesting stories in the industry, but are still generic derivatives of what's come before.
In what has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, video game movies are set up for failure because the executives approving and bankrolling these features have little to no respect for the franchises and don't give the productions the resources needed to bring them to life. German director Uwe Boll made a name for himself by making extremely low budget bad video game adaptations. Remember "House of the Dead?" How about "Bloodrayne?" I'm not even sure "Far Cry" exists beyond serving as a money laundering scheme. All were filled with a shoestring budget, despite "House of the Dead" (zombies) and "Far Cry" (island terrorists) offering premises that could be turned into enjoyable, profitable movies.
Even when studios have been handed a surefire profitable hit, they simply try to mismanage and get in the way of the proper vision. Look no further than "Warcraft," adapted from perhaps the most profitable franchise of this century. Director Doug Jones, fresh off the amazing "Moon" and solid "Source Code," was a fan of the series and should have turned in an amazing movie. But in a series of interviews following release, he spoke about how production company Legendary constantly meddled with filming until the released movie - while promising - was a mismatched mess of bad pacing and horrible editing.
Ironically, it was Legendary that helped fund "Detective Pikachu," turning out a movie that was loyal and respectful to the source material and proved video game adaptations can work. Its narrative issues aside - which were no worse than what can be found in other genre fare, including the hot as white fire comic book scene - "Detective Pikachu" was a fun movie that offered plenty of entertainment fueled by the Pokemon themselves. It wasn't ashamed to be a video game film, unlike "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," and it didn't try to cram too much into its runtime, like "Assassin's Creed."
Video game adaptations still have a way to go. This was merely a decent attempt, not unlike "X-Men" for comic book films in the early 00s. But its success at the box office has shown there is a desire to see more quality films from our favorite video games. Perhaps, soon, we'll finally get our "Iron Man" or "The Dark Knight" of adaptations. Until then, take solace in the fact that the days of Uwe Boll and "Street Fighter" are behind us. Oh, wait, there's a "Sonic the Hedgehog" coming out this fall. We still have a long way to go, it seems.