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Read this before you see Detective Pikachu

Since its first trailer premiered, Detective Pikachu been one of the most highly anticipated films of 2019. Thanks to recent phenomena like Pokémon Go, Pokémon is still as relevant as ever, and it clearly can still pull in a crowd when it releases something new. Taking a classic series like Pokémon and giving it a new, innovative twist that's still rooted in one of the series' recent video games seems like a surefire path to success.  

Even in the midst of a crowded blockbuster slate, Detective Pikachu seems sure to be a hit when it arrives on May 10th, and fans are eagerly getting ready to get to know this new, Ryan Reynolds-voiced version of Pikachu that they never knew they needed. From its surprising star to the slightly risqué rating and its innovative shooting style, there are a few things you should know before you pick up your ticket to Detective Pikachu — here's all the background you need on Pikachu, the world of Pokémon, and more.

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A little Poké-background

If you're not familiar with the world of Pokémon, you might want to brush up before you head into Detective Pikachu. Known as "Pocket Monsters" in its home country of Japan, this Nintendo series of video games came to the United States in 1998 with Pokémon Red and Blue for the Nintendo Game Boy, and as of 2017, has sold more copies than any other Game Boy game besides Tetris. This massive franchise continued with more video games as the game consoles developed, releasing titles for the Game Boy Advance to the Nintendo Switch, with plenty of spinoffs of the main games as well.

In the main game series, players become Pokémon trainers, capturing wild animal-monster hybrids known as Pokémon and battling other trainers along the way, as well as fighting elite trainers like Gym Leaders (in order to earn badges) and the Elite Four (which makes you the Champion of the region if you win). Trainers must also face off against evil gangs and corporations, from Pokémon Red & Blue's Team Rocket to Pokémon Sun & Moon's Team Skull. Most of the games (with a few exceptions) have two "versions," which feature the same plot and gameplay but different Pokémon, so that players must trade with each other in order to "catch 'em all." Between video games, films, a popular trading card series, a television show, Pokémon Go, and more, Pokémon has secured its spot as the highest-grossing media franchise of all time.

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A specific inspiration

Before Detective Pikachu was chosen to be the next installment in the Pokémon film franchise, it was simply one of the spinoff video games in the series, released in full in 2018 for Nintendo's 3DS console. Breaking away from the loose narratives and specific quests of the original series, this entry dispensed with Gym badges and catching Pokémon to focus instead on the story of a special talking Pikachu (an "electric mouse" who is arguably the most famous Pokémon of the franchise) who teams up with a young boy, Tim Goodman, who is the only person who can understand Pikachu when he speaks.

Similar in some ways to Pokémon Yellow, one of the original standalone games where the player performed the same tasks as they would in Red & Blue except that their starter Pokémon, a Pikachu, followed behind the player as they walked through the game, Detective Pikachu lets the player (as Tim) solve mysteries with the talking Pikachu, evoking the Pokémon anime series. The game received mixed reviews, with some extremely positive reactions, but ultimately, some critics noted that it might make a better movie than video game.

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A new direction

Though there are plenty of Pokémon movies, Detective Pikachu notably marks the first live-action film in the history of the series, and some longtime Pokémon fans were likely curious about why this installment would choose to focus on a relatively recent Pokémon story rather than continue the adventures of Ash, Misty, and Brock from the original films. Director Rob Letterman has opened up about this decision, saying he wanted this film to be set apart from the pack and tell a new story, especially considering how many films have focused on the original character. Thanks to live actors, a noir feel, and CGI that makes the Pokémon in the film look entirely lifelike, Detective Pikachu will be able to make its mark in the franchise with a totally fresh take on these beloved characters.

It will also seemingly be geared towards both adults and children, another notable departure from the original films — Detective Pikachu officially earned a PG rating from the MPAA, unlike the G-rated Pokémon animated films. Though some fans speculated that the film might even earn a PG-13 rating, Nintendo likely didn't want to keep kids out of the audience altogether, but will make sure any parents or Pokémon nostalgics enjoy it just as much as anyone else.

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Meet Justice Smith

Plenty of familiar faces are featured in Detective Pikachu, including British actors like Bill Nighy (Love Actually) and Chris Geere (You're the Worst) alongside veterans like Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai), but one face you might not know yet is Justice Smith, who plays the leading role of Tim Goodman. 

Smith has a small but impressive resume, getting his start in television before landing a supporting role in 2015's Paper Towns, an adaptation of a popular young adult novel by John Green. After that breakout, Smith found more success when Baz Luhrmann cast him as the lead in his Netflix series The Get Down, even though the series was canceled after just one season. His largest pre-Pikachu role, however, came in 2018's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom as Franklin Webb, a former IT technician who has since become an analyst and hacker and can help track the dinosaurs that have spread across the park. With the news that Smith would lead Detective Pikachu as the title character's loyal companion and fellow detective, it became clear that this young actor has far more success ahead of him, and Detective Pikachu looks like it's just another early milestone in a long career.

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The wide world of Pokémon

Don't be fooled by the title — even though Pikachu is the only Pokémon referenced in the title of Detective Pikachu, the film also features plenty of other classic Pokémon that longtime fans will remember from the animated films, the television series, and the original video games. Pokémon spanning several generations and well beyond the original 151 (with every video game, the number of Pokémon has expanded greatly) will be featured, pleasing fans of every generation, from the classics to the newest additions to the Pokémon family.

Though the directors are making sure to diversify the Pokémon in the film, including newer creatures like Aipom, Morelull, and Emolga, the most recognizable will likely be some of the original 150 Pokémon present. Squirtle, Bulbasaur, and Charmander, the three starting Pokémon from which players could choose in Pokémon Red & Blue, are all there, as well as their evolutions, like Venusaur, Charizard, and Blastoise. One of the film's trailers also prominently featured favorites like Mr. Mime and Jigglypuff, and Pokémon will also be on hand as companions to several human characters; Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), a reporter who helps Tim solve mysteries, is accompanied by her own personal Pokémon, a Psyduck, and other characters are aided by Pokémon like Snubbull and Charizard.

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Pikachu sounds familiar

One of the buzziest aspects of Detective Pikachu is the voice behind the creature; since the actor cast would only appear in a motion-capture role, they would have to captivate the audience on the strength of their voice alone. For the role of an incredibly smart Pokémon who solves mysteries in his spare time, plenty of actors might come to mind, but Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds ended up snagging the role, beating out actors like Hugh Jackman, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Danny Devito.) Thanks to his notably dry humor, which viewers love in Deadpool, Reynolds is a perfect choice to play an irreverent yet brilliant Pikachu.

Though Reynolds had a rough few years, appearing in several box office flops, his career was completely revived by 2016's Deadpool, and since playing the foul-mouthed, deeply sarcastic superhero, he's fully returned to Hollywood's A-list. Casting Reynolds might have seemed like a surprising move, but it was a smart on for Detective Pikachu, as his extremely recognizable voice will help flesh out its CGI main character, making Pikachu more popular than ever.

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Encouraging reactions

In November of 2018, some lucky viewers got the chance to see an early screening of Detective Pikachu, and early reactions have been quite positive. Audiences have specifically praised Reynolds' voice acting and his chemistry with star Justice Smith, and even though the CGI was reportedly partially unfinished during this November screening, it's said to be extremely lifelike, with the effects largely inspired by the super-realistic portrayal of computer-generated characters like Rocket Raccoon, the Marvel fan favorite who first appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy. Test screening numbers have been excellent since, drumming up even more anticipation for the film.

What all of this means for Detective Pikachu, besides good reviews and potential box office success, is that it could also hold the distinction of being a well-received video game adaptation. From infamously bad films like Super Mario Bros. to ill-advised big studio attempts like Warcraft, video game movies are pretty much known for being terrible, so it's very possible that Detective Pikachu could break the mold by becoming the first video game film to earn widespread acclaim.

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An old-fashioned approach

Thanks to its innovative CGI work, audiences might expect that Detective Pikachu was shot almost entirely using motion-capture suits and green screen, but as star Justice Smith told New York Magazine that definitely wasn't the case. According to Smith, director Rob Letterman wanted to shoot on location as much as possible, and filming took place in both London and Scotland, eschewing green screens and using the natural beauty of Scotland as well as the urban backdrop of London to great effect, particularly because Letterman reportedly wanted to juxtapose the fantastical world of Pokémon against a gritty urban landscape to make the creatures "pop more."

Most notably, Smith revealed in this interview that beyond a filter Letterman and the film's special effects crew eventually applied to the shots to give it a grainy feel, the movie already had that quality to it thanks to the fact that it was shot on film. Detective Pikachu will visibly set itself apart from any of its Pokémon predecessors, perhaps beginning a whole new tradition for the cinematic branch of the franchise.

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Trailer frenzy

When the first trailer for Detective Pikachu dropped in November of 2018, audiences were at once confused and delighted by their first sighting of the title character, who had the cutesy, classic look of Pikachu paired with the quip-laden banter of Deadpool (a pretty killer combination). The first trailer introduced the basic story of Pikachu and Tim's quest to find his missing father as well as making sure viewers got glimpses of other Pokémon, while also making it clear that this Pikachu would be a slightly more grown-up iteration of the beloved children's character.

The second trailer, released in February of 2019, featured even more Pokémon alongside Pikachu, including the first glimpse of Mewtwo, a legendary Pokémon introduced in the first game that is more powerful than most others thanks to a series of mysterious experiments. With this second, more in-depth trailer, fans got a better look at the overall world of Detective Pikachu, further ramping up excitement for the film's arrival.

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A family affair

From his hilarious Deadpool campaigns to his tongue-in-cheek videos for his own Aviation Gin, Ryan Reynolds is known for his clever marketing, and Detective Pikachu is no exception. Reynolds' signature deadpan sense of humor is a part of all of his appeal.

In a video meant to introduce the second trailer for Detective Pikachu, Reynolds describes a year he spent "living and breathing" as Pikachu in order to prepare for the role, employing a Method approach that seems pretty over-the-top for someone playing a cartoon electric mouse. Reynolds even got his family involved, telling an anecdote about being unable to pick his daughters up at school because Pikachu "doesn't have children" and he didn't recognize them, at which point Reynolds' real-life wife, Blake Lively (who also has a pretty killer sense of humor) interjects to tell viewers that he just left his kids at school. From trying to learn Pikachu's exact mannerisms to Reynolds' attempt to "lose 182 pounds" to match Pikachu's weight until "doctors intervened," Lively and Reynolds parody this obviously fake, ultra-serious approach to the role, perfectly setting up the tone of Reynolds' sarcastic Pikachu as well as creating some seriously funny marketing for the film.

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There's more where this came from

The studios and team behind Detective Pikachu have already been met with excitement and acclaim thanks to the trailers they've released thus far, but they also must be fairly confident that Detective Pikachu will be a success — ahead of the film's release, it was announced that there's already a sequel in the works. Currently, the only concrete news about the sequel is that it will be written by Oren Uziel, who is best known for his work on screenplays for films like 22 Jump Street, Sonic the Hedgehog, and The Cloverfield Paradox.

Whether or not director Rob Letterman or stars like Reynolds and Smith would return for future installments is still up in the air, but presumably, if the film does well, the director and his two two leads could be persuaded to return to their roles. It's still too soon to tell, but we could be looking at a brand new Pikachu-based franchise that lights up the box office for years to come.