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|“||You think you can stand in the way of the future?! I AM THE FUTURE!!!||„|
|~ Howard to Pikachu - his most famous quote.|
|“||A futile effort. A Pikachu cannot beat Mewtwo in battle!||„|
|~ Howard insulting Pikachu before his defeat.|
Howard Clifford is the main antagonist of the 2019 video-game film Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. He is the disabled founder of Clifford Enterprises and the visionary behind the creation of Ryme City, who, in reality, is a criminal mastermind who plots to use the psychic Pokémon Mewtwo and the drug R to merge all of humanity with Pokémon. He is also the father of Roger Clifford, and the Pokémon trainer/partner of Ditto.
He was portrayed by Bill Nighy, who also portrayed Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Carribbean film series, Whitey in Flushed Away, Rattlesnake Jake in Rango, Prince Naberius in I, Frankenstein, General Fallon in Jack The Giant Slayer, and The Network in The World's End, and additionally voiced Mewtwo in the film when he is possessed by Howard's conscience.
On the outside, Howard portrays himself as a deeply caring humanitarian who wishes the best for all those around him. His degenerative disease had seemingly given him a new lease on life that caused him to deeply value the connection between humans and Pokémon, driving him to build the utopia of Ryme City for the sake of unifying both groups. He has a great passion for Pokémon and constantly surrounds himself in monuments and artifacts related to them (as best seen in his office, which contains a number of Evolutionary Stones and statues of Legendary Pokémon); though, at the same time, this same passion has lead to him overlooking many other parts of his life, including his own son, whom he feels he has neglected throughout his life. In addition to this, Roger often accuses him of being incredibly narcissistic about his accomplishments and thinking incredibly highly of himself, further adding to the strain in their relationship. Yet, despite what he has accomplished, Howard feels restricted by his aging and disabled body, having to invent hologram technology so that he can experience the world in some way. His compassion is also shown to extend to people as well, as he shows remorse to Tim and Pikachu in their meeting for Harry Goodman's kidnapping.
However, as revealed towards the end of the film, nearly everything that Howard had shown about himself previously was a farce to hide his true nature. In truth, he was power-hungry, ruthless, legitimately arrogant and egotistical, and utterly delusional in his goals. Though he still believes in the unity of humans and Pokémon, he has a warped perspective as to what is necessary for them both to peacefully coexist, given his plan to forcefully bond both groups together so they are both capable of "evolving" into better versions of themselves. At the same time as this, however, he has no problem with harming or experimenting on Pokémon for the sake of his end goals—endangering dozens of them through the R testing done in Sebastian's illegal Pokémon battles, funding PCL's growth enhancement and mind control experiments (resulting in mountain-sized Torterras and a group of Greninjas being converted into loyal henchmen), and actively tormenting and hunting Mewtwo—which implies that he may have never cared about them at all. Additionally, his way of merging people and Pokémon gives the latter no way of controlling their own bodies while essentially erasing their conscious, further showing his disregard for their well-being. He also seemingly never cared about his own son as well, given that he was willing to go as far as to frame him for his scheme and even kidnap him to keep him out of the way (though Roger states that he knew of his father's illegal experiments yet presumably did not know of his end goal). Furthermore, Roger's claims of him having a narcissistic attitude seem to be made somewhat valid by the end of the film, as he regards himself as the future of both people and Pokémon alike.
The only person/Pokémon which Howard is ever shown to trust is his Pokémon partner Ditto, whom he created in one of his experiments and either trained or engineered to be capable of taking human form, to the point where it can seamlessly pose as his assistant Ms. Norman, his son Roger, or a number of other individuals (while also being intelligent enough to operate technology, to the point it can actually communicate with him through text). He possesses an extreme disregard for the lives of anyone who stands in his way as well, justifying his attempt on Harry's life in his mind by claiming he was getting too curious about his operations, and trying to kill his enemies throughout the final battle as well; ordering his Ditto to take care of Tim, while he physically attempted to dispose of Pikachu in Mewtwo's body. It can also be presumed that he had a great desire for power as well, given that he not only transports his consciousness into Mewtwo (who is referred to as the most powerful Pokémon in the world at many different points) and takes full advantage of his incredible abilities, but seemingly seeks a place as the ruler of his new world as well. In the end, Howard proved himself to be nothing more than an empty, sociopathic husk of the persona he created for himself, devoid of virtually all the compassion and love he was believed to have.
Prior to the events of the film, Howard founded his company Clifford Industries and had a son named Roger (though who his mother is remains unknown). At some point, Clifford was diagnosed with an unnamed degenerative disease that eventually cost him the use of his legs, and in his search for his cure, he ended up developing a deep value for the bond between people and Pokémon. With this value in mind, he helped create Ryme City—a metropolis where Pokémon and people are treated as equals, and Pokémon battles, Pokéballs, and other normal Pokémon traditions are outlawed—to suit his new world view. However, in secret, Clifford possessed much more nefarious intentions, having developed the ideology that, for humanity to evolve, it needs to be merged with Pokémon, since they can (quite literally) evolve into better versions of themselves.
Due to this belief, he helped fund Pokémon Comprehensive Laboratories' many dubious Pokémon experiments, and hired renowned detective Harry Goodman to track down the genetically-engineered Pokémon Mewtwo to further their work. He also helped distribute the drug R—which was synthesized from Mewtwo with the ability to make any Pokémon who inhales it go berserk—into the illegal Pokémon fights run by Sebastian for the sake of his research, and had PCL's chief scientist Dr. Ann Laurent develop a neural link that would allow the user to transfer their consciousness into another Pokémon's body. One of his genetic experiments also enhanced the natural abilities of his Pokémon partner Ditto, who used it's shape-shifting abilities to masquerade as his assistant and cohort Ms. Norman.
Eventually, Harry Goodman and his Pikachu became curious as to what Clifford's intentions were, instead of taking his money and walking away like Clifford intended. Harry and Pikachu would later help free Mewtwo from his imprisonment, though, thanks to PCL's Greninjas, they both ended up in a car crash that resulted in both seemingly dying. With Mewtwo having escaped, Clifford's plans were held off, though he continued to look for him in hopes of meeting his end goals. Harry's supposed death also results in his distant son Tim coming to Ryme City to say his goodbyes.
Meeting Tim Goodman
Clifford is first seen in a informational video for Ryme City that Tim watches while taking the train there, which states his history and motivations for creating the city. Later on, Tim meets with Pikachu—who, strangely, only he can communicate with—and the two decide to team up and investigate Harry's disappearance together, starting by getting information about Harry from Lucy Stevens; a Clifford News Media intern who dreams of being a reporter. Tim and Pikachu go to the CNM building to meet her, and while there come across Clifford and his son in the middle of airing an advertisement for their upcoming parade in celebration of Ryme City. After the filming is over, however, Roger angrily chastises his father for again proclaiming himself as the "visionary icon of Ryme City" and celebrating his accomplishments to overshadow him, though Clifford insists that he didn't intend to and that Roger's own people wrote the script. Before the argument can continue, Clifford's Ditto (in the form of a human assistant) wheels him out of the room, much to Roger's frustration.
Following their meeting with Lucy and interrogating a Mr. Mime for information, Tim and Pikachu end up at Sebastian's Pokémon fighting ring, where they know R is being distributed; and while there, they are spotted by Ms. Norman, who texts Clifford to tell them of their arrival. A short while after seeing Lieutenant Yoshida, who tells them that there was no way Harry could have possibly survived his accident, Ms. Norman meets Tim and Pikachu and brings them to Clifford's office. Clifford begins to tell them about how Pokémon can evolve into better versions of themselves (evolving an Eevee into a Flareon to demonstrate his point) and how precious their relationship with humans is, and that he had Harry investigate the origins and distribution of R, which threatens everything which he has built. Continuing, Clifford tells them that Harry found out that Roger was the one responsible for R before his disappearance, and that he figures that his son wants to destroy the relationship between humans and Pokémon out of revenge, since he regretfully paid more attention to them all his life rather than him.
Clifford then activates a holographic device, saying that he invested in the technology in order to have another way of interacting with and seeing the world, and shows Tim and Pikachu a recreation of Harry's crash, claiming that the footage they saw at police headquarters was not entirely accurate. In the footage, Tim and Pikachu see that Harry had survived the accident, which was caused by Mewtwo, who subsequently kidnapped Harry and erased Pikachu's memories. Clifford tells them that to find Harry, they must find Mewtwo, and that he has been unable to do anything because his son controls most of his company and the city, including the police, and thus Tim and Pikachu are he only ones he can trust. Following Clifford's lead, Tim and Pikachu get information from Lucy that leads them to going with her and Psyduck to PCL to find out what Harry was investigating there; Tim and Pikachu discovering the origins of R and the neural link in the process, and that Harry was supposedly hired by PCL to track down Mewtwo for them, making them believe Mewtwo kidnapped him out of revenge. Afterwards, the duo, Lucy and Psyduck escape PCL's Greninjas (which were remotely released by Roger to capture them) and manages to survive the field of massive Torterra created by PCL's growth experiments, although the latter encounter leaves Pikachu greatly injured.
Tim then convinces a herd of Bulbasaur and Morelull to lead him to a Pokémon who can heal Pikachu, and they take him to Mewtwo, who, after healing Pikachu, projects his memories into the two to reveal that the former had freed him from PCL and met him after the car accident, though before he can tell the whole truth he is captured and restrained by Roger. Heartbroken about seemingly betraying Harry to Mewtwo, Pikachu runs away from Tim, who goes with Lucy and Psyduck back to the city to warn Clifford and everyone else about Roger. Meanwhile, at the same time, Pikachu ends up at Harry's crash site and deduces that Greninja caused Harry's accident and not Mewtwo, making him realize that Clifford manipulated the hologram recreation and was using them the whole time.
Plan Revealed and Defeat
In Ryme City, Tim attempts to warn Clifford of Roger's plan, only to find him in his office with the captured Mewtwo, who demand that he run. Using the neural link, Clifford transports his mind into Mewtwo's body and confronts Tim using his newfound psychic powers, expressing joy in no longer being confined to his aging, disabled body. Clifford proceeds to reveal that he had used Tim to lead him to Mewtwo, and tried to eliminate Harry or getting too curious about his operations and freeing the former in the first place. Upon restraining Tim with psychic energy, he further confesses to his plans to use Mewtwo's powers of merging human minds with Pokémon in combination with the R to fuse all of humanity with Pokémon, starting with Ryme City, before knocking him out. As the parade begins, Clifford/Mewtwo greets the public and proclaims his intentions before unleashing the R hidden inside the parade balloons. Despite Lucy's efforts against it, the R causes most of the Pokémon in the area to go berserk immediately, and Clifford then uses his powers to merge every person there with a Pokémon; including merging Lucy to Psyduck and Lieutenant Yoshida to his Snubbull. However, Pikachu then returns to the city, and, after finally remembering how to use Pokémon moves, begins to use his electricity to destroy the R balloons, which is noticed by Clifford, who angrily goes off to stop him.
Upon awakening, Tim realizes that he needs to remove the neural link from Clifford's body to free Mewtwo from his control, and also discovers Roger, who had been tied up in the closet the whole time and was being impersonated by Clifford's Ditto, who reveals itself to Tim and uses it's shape-shifting abilities to take different forms (including Lucy's) to attack and keep him away from Clifford's body. After dealing with Pikachu, Clifford orders Ditto to finish Tim off, which it tries to do by punching him over to the window as Machamp and taking the form of Cubone to swat at his fingers. Seeing this, Pikachu slams into Clifford with a Volt Tackle to hold him off, while Roger helps Tim back up and the latter uses a pipe spewing R to defeat Ditto. Recovering himself, Clifford grabs Pikachu with telekinesis and begins to taunt him, telling him that it is impossible for a Pokémon like himself to beat a Mewtwo, though Pikachu replies that it was never his intention to beat him, but rather to distract him. Clifford then turns to see Tim removing the neural link from his original body, which causes him to return to it while Mewtwo is set free. Upon returning, Clifford falls from his wheelchair and sadly asks Tim what he's done.
Mewtwo proceeds to save Pikachu from falling and undoes Clifford's actions with a wave of psychic energy, destroying the R and returning all people and Pokémon to normal. Clifford is then arrested for his crimes, while, despite his father's actions, Roger shows remorse for not being around for him enough. Roger subsequently gives Lucy the opportunity to report on the story; noting that her report should end with mention of him going to dedicate his time and resources to atoning for his father's actions against the city. Mewtwo arrives to Tim and Pikachu after this and says there is one last Pokémon to fix; showing them that, after the crash, he had merged Harry to his Pikachu in order to save him and throw off suspicion from Clifford, knowing that so long as he joined with Tim the two would be able to put an end to Clifford's evil. Mewtwo thus returns Pikachu and Harry Goodman to normal, and Tim decides to stay with them both in Ryme City and become a detective.
- Coincidentally, Howard's actor Bill Nighy ended up becoming a Pokémon fan himself in the process of making the film, despite knowing next to nothing of the franchise beforehand.
- Roger Clifford was thought of being the main antagonist of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, mainly because he is the main antagonist of the Detective Pikachu game. However, it was revealed that Howard would be the true main antagonist of the film, although he first appeared as a supporting character and ally, but his true intentions were hidden in all promotional and marketing material.
- Howard also has bigger plans in the film than his son Roger from the video game. In the video game, Roger planned to use the R to have control over Ryme City and take over the world, whereas in the film, Howard planned to take control of Mewtwo and have all of humanity and Pokémon merge together. Howard's other goal to merge all humans and Pokémon together is similar with that of Roger's goal. Howard is also more successful in his goals than Roger from the video game.
- Although he is an original character to the film, Howard seems to be loosely inspired by the character Mr. Ethan Graham from the original Detective Pikachu game, given their similar appearances and depictions (Graham being the founder of the Graham News Network and boss of Roger Clifford, and Howard being the founder of Clifford Enterprises and it's media outlet Clifford News Media, and the father of the movie's Roger Clifford).
- Towards the end of the Detective Pikachu game, Meiko Okamoto makes a passing comment that she never would have suspected Roger of being the mastermind yet wouldn't have been surprised if Graham was; which is fairly ironic given that, while Graham was an innocent suspect in the game and Roger was the true antagonist, in the film Roger was the innocent one while Howard was the culprit.
- Howard's characterization is also much more in line with Roger's from the game, as he too used the R drug to unethically experiment on Pokémon and indirectly caused the disappearance of Harry Goodman, while also pretending to be an ally of Tim and Pikachu. They also have similar personalities (they both appeared to be nice people at first before their true colors were revealed), but Howard is a lot worse compared to Roger from the video game.
- Howard is the first villain in the Pokémon franchise to have an actual physical disability; that being his inability to use his legs.
- Interestingly, Clifford seems to act as a foil towards Harry Goodman, since both are fathers who possess strained relationships with their sons because of their work who come to inhabit the body of a Pokémon. Unlike Harry, however, Clifford forcibly put his consciousness into Mewtwo's body, and makes no effort to connect with his son Roger, going as far as to take him out of the way to keep him from interfering with his scheme.
- Additionally, both Tim and Roger show remorse over not spending enough time with their fathers; though while Tim eventually succeeds in doing this by staying in Ryme City with Harry, Roger doesn't as his father had already been taken off to jail.
- Clifford's true nature is seemingly foreshadowed by the fact that his office is surrounded by statues of the Legendary Pokémon Dialga (who created time), Palkia (who created space), and Arceus (who created the entire Pokémon universe), which hints towards his god complex.
- In the trailers for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, when Mewtwo is seen at the parade scene, the neural link on his head is digitally edited out to hide the fact that Clifford was inhabiting his body during the sequence.