In honor of the worldwide phenomenon of Pokémon GO and the recent news that Legendary Pictures is looking to secure the film rights to Pokémon, I’ve been thinking about how Pokémon could translate into a live-action film. Though most of the ideas about translating Pokémon I’ve seen revolve around adapting the video game narrative or the anime series (a young trainer from Pallet Town is introduced to the brand new world of the Pocket Monsters, goes through 8 gyms en route to the Pokémon League, and becomes the very best like no one ever was), I think I’d like to go a different direction for the material. Before I get into that, I’d like to explain why I’m forgoing a direct adaptation of the video game and anime:
- A trip through 8 gyms and the Elite 4 Pokémon League members along with a champion is too much to cram into a 2 hour film
- Even if the movie could be split into different parts, 13 major battles on top of Team Rocket and rival fights will result in repetitive action with severely cut development to all characters
- The rival, various gym leaders, Team Rocket, and Pokémon League will all compete for attention and will overwhelm the focus of a 2 hour film
- The story of 10-year-old trainer Ash Ketchum and his rise through the Pokémon league ranks with his beloved Pikachu has been done to death in the anime, anime specials, and manga
So if we aren’t going to tell the story of a tried and true protagonist like Ash Ketchum, what is our story going to be? I believe there is a fascinating supporting character in the Pokémon canon that lends himself very well to a film adaptation. While he has appeared in the last 3 Pokémon main series video games as well as the anime, even the most devoted Pokémon fans are likely to only have a passing familiarity with this character. This character, prime for a film adaptation and further character exploration, is The Looker.
Not much is directly stated about The Looker, but what is suggested by the video games makes him an intriguing recurring character in the Pokémon series. From what we can piece together from the games, we know:
- The Looker is an International Police officer traveling the world investigating various villainous teams. He has a stronger motivation to stop these teams than a group of children, because putting a stop to villainous gangs is his job.
- His first appearance in the game Pokémon Diamond & Pearl suggest that he is not a native speaker of the national language (due to his odd grammatical constructs).
- He is a master of disguise. The Looker is able to trick the Diamond & Pearl protagonist by donning the evil Team Galactic’s armor and even able to trick the Pokémon Black & White protagonist into thinking he is their mother!
- In the latest games, Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire (preceding the events of Pokémon Diamond & Pearl by 3 years), the protagonist catches The Looker recovering from being washed up on a beach with amnesia.
On top of his mysterious past and his cool job, his character design resembles that of one of the most popular characters in geek culture, Doctor Who (specifically, David Tennant’s portrayal of the tenth human form of The Doctor).
For this reason, in my film adaptation I would select David Tennant to portray the Looker. The Looker’s story has the bare bones of what can be a globe-trotting spy adventure culminating in a race to stop Team Galactic from gaining control over time and space. David Tennant already has a built-in fanbase for playing a similar character that travels through time and space in order to neutralize threats against humanity. In addition to having plenty of charm, he also has a dark streak as seen in his portrayal of the treacherous Kilgrave from Netflix’s Marvel series, Jessica Jones. So with the right character and the right actor, we need the right story.
Pokémon: Through the Looker’s Glass would pick up in Looker’s first chronological appearance in the games in the Hoenn region. Washed up on shore and recovering from complete amnesia, Looker is taken in by a small community that happens to be occupied by the villainous Team Magma. It is here where Looker learns the national language and learns of Pokémon, their place in the world, their bonds with various trainers, and Team Magma’s intention to exploit the Pokémon for personal gain. Though Looker still knows very little about the world, he cares about the community that took him in and taught him about the wonderful world that he’s in. He devises a plan that uses his raw skills in stealth, disguise, and pickpocketing to drive Team Magma out of the area. Impressed by this bit of news and the fact that Looker didn’t even have to use a Pokémon for his plan, the International Police contacts Looker and offer him a job. They convince him that while he did manage to overthrow Team Magma occupying a small community, he’ll need Pokémon to drive out various criminal organizations from much larger areas. Having built relationships and several bonds throughout the small town, Looker is reluctant to join InterPol and leave them behind. However, they urge him to make the world a better place and prevent criminal organizations from ruling over other cities. Saying their tearful goodbyes to each other, Looker agrees to join InterPol as an officer.
From there, the story picks up ~3 years later in the Sinnoh region where trained InterPol officer Looker and his Pokémon partner Croagunk are on their biggest case yet: stopping the stoic nihilist leader Cyrus (portrayed by Javier Bardem) and his Team Galactic from catching the Legendary Pokémon, Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina (who control time, space, and antimatter respectively). He strikes up a friendship with a few extremely talented young trainers named Dawn, Lucas, and Barry. While Looker is able to piece together Team Galactic’s locations and plans, the young trainers are instrumental in defeating Team Galactic members in Pokémon battle. Along Looker’s investigation, we get to see snapshots of Cyrus’ tragic upbringing: constantly rejected by his peers for his introverted personality and considered a disappointment by his parents for his imperfect performances in school, Cyrus felt unable to form close connections with anybody throughout his life. He developed a philosophy against the emotions causing him pain and the spirit as a whole. As an adult, Cyrus began a grassroots campaign preaching this ideology to naturalist scientists, marginalized groups, and impoverished individuals, who found the appeal in both its cold scientific logic and promise of ending pain. From this campaign, Cyrus built Team Galactic and formed a plan to rebuild a world without emotions or spirit through the capture of the powerful Legendary Trio of Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina.
Since the story concerns the Legendary Trio of Pokémon in control of time, space, and antimatter, much of the latter half of Act II/first bit of Act III will feature various sci-fi elements such as time travel, space exploration, interdimensional travel, and a surrealist realm known as the Distortion World. This leaves the opportunity for Looker to chase Cyrus through time, the young trainers to chase three of Cyrus’ commanders, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars through space, and Pokémon League Champion Cynthia to confront the strongest commander Charon (who owns the Legendary Pokémon/volcanic titan, Heatran) in the Distortion World. Through the portions of the story featuring these sci-fi elements, it gives the film the opportunity to use recognizable Easter eggs as backdrops such as the Kanto region featuring Ash Ketchum, Johto’s Mount Silver during the battle between Trainers Ethan and Red, and an alternate dimension of Hoenn featuring Mega Evolutions and Primal Reversions. Alternating between these various types of times and locations would allow for tons of variety in every scene and maximize the scope of the Pokémon world. Furthermore, these worlds will show the audience what’s at stake and the amount of power Cyrus would attain if his plan were to obtain all three of the Legendary Trio.
After a thrilling finale where Looker manages to defeat Cyrus and capture Dialga (while the others defeat their respective villains and capture the other two), Looker can’t help put take a peek back through time to uncover the mystery of his own identity. While there was an International Police Officer onboard the S.S. Anne the afternoon before Looker washed up on shore, Looker was not that officer. On the contrary, Looker was actually a member of the evil Team Rocket. It is here that we learn the tragic story of Looker’s past. As a young boy, his father joined the military to fight in the Pokémon war (as mentioned by Lt. Surge in Pokémon Red & Blue). Soon after his father died in war, his mother died of illness and left Looker to fend for himself as an orphan. Struggling to survive with no support, shelter, or formal education, Looker became a criminal, constantly on the run and honing his skills in stealth, disguise, and pickpocketing. Over the course of his life, he joined a variety of gangs eventually ending up in the Kanto region where he joined Team Rocket. Looker was a career criminal until the day the S.S. Anne crashed and he washed up on the shores of Hoenn (wearing an InterPol officer disguise). Looker is distraught that he was a part of the same types of groups that he’s been trying to stop over the last 3-4 years.
Upon returning to InterPol HQ, it is found out that he used Dialga to travel back through time. The chief of InterPol explains the situation: InterPol knew Looker was a part of Team Rocket when they offered the job to him. Everyone decided to take him on because he was a truly reformed individual. Despite being in a bad situation growing up, he didn’t need to continue that lifestyle into adulthood. A supportive community is what he needed to turn his life around, stop hurting the people around him, and stop those who were hurting those around him. InterPol even assigned Croagunk as his partner because they were aware of how well he battled with Poison-type Pokémon in his Team Rocket years. Because of their faith in him, Looker feels more encouraged to stay with InterPol. He goes forth with his trusty Croagunk to reform people and Pokémon who have been under the control of criminal organizations, knowing that he is living proof that they can turn their lives around.
To recap, we have a live-action Pokémon film that:
- Serves as an introduction to the world of Pokémon with a fish-out-of-water protagonist
- Services fans with fun Easter eggs from nearly every generation of Pokémon in a way that is logically allowed within the story
- Explores the grand scope of the Pokémon universe
- Contains a focused narrative with a clear goal of Looker, Dawn, Lucas, Barry, and Cynthia fighting to stop Cyrus & his Four Commanders of Team Galactic
- Contains clear motivations and goals for protagonist Looker and antagonist Cyrus
- Features a popular actor among geek culture (David Tennant) as well as a popular actor among international audiences and film enthusiasts (Javier Bardem)
- Sends a strong message to all audiences that a loving, supportive community is necessary for an individual to blossom as a productive member of society
For the look of the film, I’m actually somewhat glad that Legendary Pictures seems to be the frontrunner for the film since I did like the character design of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. If the Pokémon could look similar to Godzilla in that 2014 film, I think they have a chance to look realistic enough as actual animals existing in a live-action environment, while also bearing enough of a resemblance to their animated counterparts to remain faithful to the source material. Of course, the Pokémon and world is going to cost millions and millions of dollars to render, but a Pokémon live-action film done correctly has the capability to easily break the billion dollar mark at the box office. Don’t believe me? Just look at the $1.6 billion daily revenue numbers for Pokémon GO.
For the director of Pokémon: Through the Looker’s Glass, I would want somebody who would know how to bring visual flair to the project as well as direct imaginative action sequences. Being able to capture a childlike sense of adventure and draw good performances out of kid actors is also key for this film. Contenders would include Steven Spielberg (too busy), Guillermo del Toro (has more unfinished/cancelled projects out of any major director right now), Robert Zemeckis (might have peaked at the turn of the century), Jon Favreau (hit-and-miss with blockbuster projects), and Alfonso Cuarón (relatively inexperienced with big budget action blockbusters). However, my number one choice for directing a live-action Pokémon film would be Star Wars: Episode VIII director, Rian Johnson. From Johnson’s previous sci-fi film, Looper, he demonstrates the ability to draw a good performance out of a child actor and properly build a futuristic sci-fi world. Furthermore, his work on television (specifically Breaking Bad‘s critically acclaimed episode, “Ozymandias”), he has shown tremendous ability in visual storytelling as well as nailing character drama. Coming off of the latest Star Wars, he’d have plenty of experience handling a big-budget blockbuster film and directing numerous action sequences. I suppose the only thing that could go wrong is if Star Wars: Episode VIII is a complete disappointment the likes of which never have been seen before and everything is blamed on Rian Johnson’s relative inexperience with big-budget movies. Given his résumé and the fact that even the Star Wars prequels have their fans, I highly doubt this would happen. But if it does, I guess I’ll just change my answer to any one of the five directors mentioned above.
What do you think? Is this something you would like to see out of a Pokémon live-action movie? Should a major movie studio even attempt a live-action Pokémon movie? If so, what would you do and what characters or Pokémon would you most like to see brought to the big screen? Who would you cast? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment below if you’d like to discuss. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for taking time out of your Pokémon GO-related activities and PokéStopping by (I’m sorry that I don’t have any PokéBalls or Razz Berries for you).