Tim and Lucy’s relationship didn’t actually bother me. I went in expecting to be wholly turned off by their interactions, but actually walked away feeling neutral to the idea of a potential romance and positive towards their professional friendship in future endeavors (I mean, feral reporter with nice by-the-book detective is a very nice working relationship).
So it got me thinking…why? What did Detective Pikachu do right?
And then it hit me.
One of the core themes of the film was the idea of loneliness and the need for bonds with others. These bonds come in various forms across the film, the primary two being the pokemon-human bond and, of course, the father-son bond.
At the beginning of the film, Tim’s friend expresses concern for him. After all, Tim is obviously lonely, and only doomed to further isolation as his friend group leaves the aging little town for bigger, better things. So what does his friend suggest? A pokemon partner, of course.
Within the context of the world this is both natural and normal. However, contrast that for a moment with how it would be handled in any other film: Tim would’ve been set up on a blind date. It would’ve gone horribly, horribly wrong of course, with the woman in question probably being portrayed as a shallow, two dimensional cutout of a person that of course doesn’t gel well with Tim.
The difference between these two situations is actually really crucial, because it’s essentially putting a platonic relationship in the place where romantic relationships typically go.
So what does this mean for Lucy? It means that Lucy can exist without being the trophy of a successful male character arc. Even if they got together, the romantic relationship is not the emblem that Tim is no longer lonely, because Tim has already achieved that in other forms.
Lucy actually gets to be her own character. As campy and cheesy as her character might be portrayed, she has a very clear set of goals, takes the initiative and gathers information that Tim wouldn’t be able to get otherwise, and successfully achieves her goal onscreen when Tim isn’t even present.
Her relationship with Tim is work first, with romance as a footnote for when the world is no longer going to end. Even Tim describes her as “the woman I am highly attracted to,” instead of “the woman I’m in love with,” and hasn’t so much as asked her out on a date as of the end of the film.
(That quote also stood out to me because Lucy is consistently put down for looking too young and too pretty, that Tim referring to her as a ‘woman’ rather than a ‘young woman’ or ‘lady’ or ‘girl’ really reemphasizes that he sees her as an equal.)
So yeah, there really wasn’t a need for that romantic subplot, but also it was barely even a romantic subplot. It was just a couple of young people who are mutually attracted to each other but are overwhelmingly focused on the plot at hand, and don’t particularly let that attraction sway their judgement.
Conversely, it should be asked if, by removing the female lead and romantic bond as the primary important bond, that sets up the pokemon partner to be a trophy in the place of the female character? It definitely could have, except that the entire story hinged on the emphasis and re-emphasis that Pokemon are unique individuals who should be treated with care and respect. The pokemon partners across the film got significantly more characterization and development than a lot of female characters across various action films.
Find me any other action flick wherein the straight romance takes priority, and the majority of the run time is devoted to subtly emphasizing how incredible and unique and kickass women are, and the importance in cultivating a relationship of mutual trust and respect.
tl;dr Detective Pikachu completely ditched the ‘romance is the most important bond of all’ mentality in favor of a healthy platonic and familial ones, which in turn gave both the potential romance and Lucy’s character the breathing room to avoid relegating her to a sexy lamp.