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New York City's MTA could learn a thing or two from the Ryme City subway system. The copywriters in charge of the advertisements that sit above straphangers' heads might want to take some notes, as well.
As stunningly rendered as the creatures in this spring's Pokémon Detective Pikachu were, the first live-action Pokémon movie needed more than just furry, scaly, dewy-eyed monsters — it also needed to give them a believable home. With Ryme City, director Rob Letterman and crew did just that, conjuring an immersive world for the Pokémon to roam, a bustling metropolis resembling a neon-soaked, near-future Tokyo that was perfect for a murder mystery story. Star Justice Smith, who played a kid sucked investigating his own father's death, snooped around sets largely created with CGI, a concession to costs and sheer soundstage real estate; to promote the upcoming home video release of Detective Pikachu, Warner Bros. built a small cross-section of Ryme City and planted it right in front of the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con.
There was no CGI Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds to join visitors, but its floor-to-ceiling details still made it feel pretty real.
The activation's entry point is a Ryme City subway car, complete with audio "announcements" (really just clips from the movie) and a furry bench that would become its own ecosystem in New York. The interior panel advertisements were the highlight, as they built on one of the most delightful and fan-pleasing elements about the movie. Letterman and screenwriters Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit deployed Pokémon into the Ryme City economy in very creative ways, giving them different jobs that matched their strengths and abilities. Some were used as major gags — Squirtles as firefighters, for example — but others were more subtle, buried for eagle-eyed fans and repeat viewers. The subway installation expanded that gag-filled fictional economy, with several new businesses, including Magikarp's water park and Machamp's bodybuilding gym.
The subway system map was also a nice way of deepening the city's mythos; it looked a lot like a Washington DC or Chicago subway map, though it's unclear if there are other train lines that weren't represented. In any case, the mass transit in Ryme City seems thoughtfully laid out, giving fans an idea of the geography of the story that unfolded on screen.
The next "stop" at the activation was a back alley where much of the important early action takes place. The film's Ryme City had just enough grit to recall the great sci-fi noirs while maintaining the fun, slightly mischievous spirit of the video games and anime source material, and that was well-translated here, One highlight was the marquee for the Mr. Mime performance — the movie had Jigglypuff singing instead — mostly because that Pokémon is a terrifying crying clown in the film and contemplating what its routine might be like is bone-chilling and fun.
The caged Psyduck was even creepier, in the best way possible. This thing looked real, and if Detective Pikachu had been a suitimation movie, it could have been screen-used.
The next few rooms contained fun Easter eggs for fans, including reproductions of important elements of the video games, like the Thunder Stone and Old Amber. It likely meant little to any non-Pokémon player in the maze, but after years of chasing down pixelated versions of those powerful boosters, it was pretty cool to see them in "real" life, even if they were just props for a movie that didn't require them. There was also a terrifying Mewtwo hovering in the corner of one of the room with the stones, watching your every move under a hazy purple spotlight.
The Detective Pikachu activation fed into a line for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment's other big SDCC initiative, Shazam!. The Zachary Levi-starring superhero flick just hit home video, bringing the semi-surprise hit to audiences that missed out on the joyful movie this winter. Whether it qualifies as a Christmas film can be debated, but its centerpiece scenes do take place in a holiday carnival in the center of Philadelphia. The activation reproduced part of that carnival, or at least its spirit, with some Christmas in July decorations and games.
There were four games in total, two of which I totally beefed and two others that I used my natural athleticism to conquer. The ring toss is always a scam, if you ask me, so it only makes sense that I wasn't able to get a single ring on the pegs in front of me.
Tossing bean bags into small spaces and shooting basketballs require true skill (use backspin on the basketball game). That's why I won prizes on those games — I now own two Shazam! lightning foam fingers, which can conveniently fold into all suitcases.