I clearly remember the day when the teaser trailer for Pokémon Detective Pikachu was dropped. We witnessed the contemporary birth of the surprised Pikachu meme. Hell, the cinematic outing being proposed was in itself a meme. Ryan Reynolds is Pikachu! The Merc with a Mouth is playing the role of a yellow electric mouse! But eventually, people started to settle down (they were also distracted by the appearance of Pikachu’s rival, Sonic the Hedgehog) and began to consider the possibilities. So, what do we have here then?
Something is afoot in Ryme City. A metropolis where humans and creatures known as Pokémon live and work together, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) arrives there to manage the affairs of his missing, supposedly dead, father. A young man who at one point sought the life of a Pokémon trainer, Tim was not planning on hanging around for long. But things quickly change when he encounters his old man’s Pokémon partner Pikachu (voiced by Deadpool), who has no memory of recent events and wears a cute detective hat. Oh, and for some reason, Tim is the only person who can understand him, which just raises even more questions. The pair quickly deduce that Harry Goodman is still alive, and with the help of passionate intern reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), work together to find Tim’s father. A series of events that may ultimately bring them face-to-face with a certain powerful Pokémon, while uncovering a nefarious plot.
Firstly, smart move on entering this franchise through the back door that is the Detective Pikachu continuity. This movie would have faced impossible storytelling obstacles if it had centered on lead Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum and his adventures. It wouldn’t have survived the additional scrutiny. And therein lies the movie’s greatest challenge: facing scrutiny from both Pokémon fans and scoffing critics. Of which I am both.
I am delighted to report that Pokémon Detective Pikachu does a damn fine job of standing up to it.
Not only is this possibly the best video game movie we have received (from a critical, filmmaking standpoint), but it is also the best-looking live-action
Pokémon movie we could have asked for. Ryme City looks incredible. With the unavoidable exception of Mr. Mime, every Pokemon has been rendered to near-perfect life. Yes, that includes Likitung. And the logistics of this world work with the greater concept of the franchise. Albeit thanks to some clunky exposition in the first act, newcomers are not left scratching their heads as to why blue turtles are helping to put fires out.
Director Rob Letterman now has a track record for successfully adapting nostalgic 90s properties, his first being 2014’s Goosebumps. He and his production team work hard to tell this story and to make it work. While at the same time, his movie has no qualm with being about monsters that live in children’s pockets and that are used to wage battle. This is something most video game movies are not comfortable doing: accepting that they are adapted from video games.
Where things fall short is in the above-mentioned story. The plot carries some aspects from the Detective Pikachu game and while it remains coherent for the most part, the mystery that unfolds is surefire predictable. ESPECIALLY the final twist. Most of the clues that Tim Goodman and Pikachu uncover are exposited through technology-based sequences and are not as organic as they could’ve been. Simply being handed the clues is not fun, you need to work for them.
The dialogue, specifically that of the supporting characters, adds to this shortcoming. They themselves are a mixed bag. Ken Watanabe as detective Hideo Yoshida is a legitimate, though underused, addition. Bill Nighy and Chris Geere do well as a father-and-son corporate duo. However, Kathryn Newton’s Lucy is obnoxious. I cannot tell whether it works if interpreted as an anime-inspired performance, but her character gets frustrating quickly and we are left just appreciating her for her companion, Psyduck.
But all of this plays second and third fiddle to the title character. There is a lot of Ryan Reynold’s Pikachu in this movie, as there should be. He is funny. He is cute. He is fabulously written. He is reason alone for parents to not be frightened of seeing the movie with their kids. He has immediate chemistry with Justice Smith and Smith does well to enable Reynold’s attitude and feedback. Smith is also good at delivering emotional legitimacy. He may have yet to learn how to cry on command, but the weight he provides works with the greater context of the plot. This is definitely unintentional, but I like how he even seems confused about his ill-feelings towards his father. Time can do that to a person and their memories. Pikachu and Tim remain at the forefront throughout the movie and the movie itself is entertaining throughout.
Fans may be disappointed with the lack of Pokémon battles in this movie, and the neglect towards the greater synopsis of this franchise though. It would have been nice to see more of the trainers and their adventures. But the story and the visuals, as well as Reynold’s vocal and facial motion-capture performance, make up for that shortcoming and the movie’s inevitable sequel should heed the call. On a side note, compliments must be given for Henry Jackman’s musical score. It reminded me of his score for Wreck-It Ralph and its techno-pop edge does wonders for the atmosphere.
What is important to remember when going to watch Pokémon Detective Pikachu is that its reach is cross-generational. People can forget that the franchise is aimed primarily at young kids, and the overall execution speaks to that. The story is straightforward and the characters are outlandish. The visuals are colourful and the writing is never complicated. This is all well and good, but then you also have Ryan Reynolds dropping a joke about drug use. It works because it feels in place and is subtle enough to be gotten away with. Pokémon’s deep and nuanced moments may be few and far between (for proof that the franchise does have such moments, please see I Choose You! and The Power of Us), but the movie does not need to go that far in order to succeed in being both a great live-action adaptation, and an entertaining watch. Which it is.
Last Updated: May 16, 2019