Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Review
In a world where people collect Pokémon to do battle, a boy comes across an intelligent talking Pikachu who seeks to be a detective.
Directors: Rob Letterman
Writers: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly, Nicole Perlman (story by), Satoshi Taijiri, Ken Sugimori, Junichi Masuda (based on “Pokemon” created by), Atsuko Nishida (characters), Tomokazu Ohara, Haruka Utsui (original story)
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse
Pokémon is a transcendent property and although you can focus on Detective Pikachu as an adaption of a long running video game franchise, this film embraces all the mediums it crosses including the trading cards, anime and animated feature films. If your biggest question about Detective Pikachu is about its quality as a video game movie, worry not, it’s a good one.
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is content with his life working in an insurance firm in a small town. When he gets news that his Dad has died in a car accident, he makes the trip to Ryme City to attend to his father's affairs.
Ryme City is the only place where Pokémon and Humans live in complete harmony with no battling and no catching. Just everyone working together. It’s this setting that makes Detective Pikachu feel so alive and special, but it also may lead to fan disappointment. Apart from a brief glimpse at a Pokeball and wild Pokemon in the opening scene, Detective Pikachu is devoid of battling, capturing, gym badges and typical elements that make up the core video game series. What you get in return is the absolutely stunning and magical setting of Ryme city where a Snorlax falls asleep in the middle of a street, a Machamp directs traffic, Growlithes work in tandem with the Police force, a Ludicolo serves you coffee, Rufflets walk the streets and Aipom hang from street signs. It's a living Pokémon City that will Pokefanatics scouring every scene in Ryme City for hidden Pokémon like a Where’s Wally book. Ryme City is the most interesting character in Detective Pikachu as you’ll leave the film just wishing you could have spent hours more with it and the greatest success Detective Pikachu has is proving bringing Pokémon to a live-action setting absolutely works.
If all of those Pokémon I just named mean nothing to you, fret not, you don’t need to know their names to enjoy Detective Pikachu. At the same time, the film doesn't treat you to the learning experience the anime does and make sure to have someone (mostly a Pokedex) explain to the audience what the Pokémon in front of them is and their name.
On his train ride to Ryme City, Tim does watch an infomercial for the city that also serves as a nice quick 101 on what Pokémon are for the uninitiated.
The only time Detective Pikachu feels a little heavy on lore and expected Pokémon knowledge is when Mewtwo shows up, the film’s ‘bad Pokémon.’ It’s the most confusing Pokémon in the movie power-wise and its origins are quickly glossed over, even though they’re deep seeded in Pokémon lore.
When Tim arrives at Ryme City and his father's apartment, he runs into Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her Psyduck who are investigating his father's death as a big conspiracy before meeting Detective Pikachu himself (Ryan Reynolds).
Kathryn Newton has fun with her role as Lucy, diving the most into the film’s noir and detective tones. Her Psyduck was a standout for me though as a surprise star. I suddenly love this Psyduck and I think it’s to do with Lucy loving her friend compared to Misty in the anime who treats hers like trash. I digress.
It was questionable if Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu would simply be a PG version of Deadpool, and in some regard it really is just that, but cute. It’s the snappy humour and at times crude and pushing PG jokes that help this Pikachu stand out as a character and separates it from the most famous mascot from the franchise that most know as a non-speaking one from the cartoons. Some of the more adult oriented jokes will go right over kids heads and one liners like “at this point, how could you not believe in climate change?” Are sure to get a chuckle out of older audience members, but overall Reynolds delivers on bringing Pikachu a charming voice. It’s his animation that’s the real star — not to say the other Pokémon are shafted, but Pikachu is a standout — as the mouse Pokémon runs about, performs action scenes and is utterly adorable.
Justice Smith does the most the necessary work as the lead keeping the whole project together. Tim’s story dealing with the loss of his father and trying to uncover what happened is the heart of the film and the driving force of the movie. The finale with Tim needed some more breathing room before the credits rolled to really deliver its true potential however and it might not work for some, but I bought into the films concept, but I’ve seen more contrived Pokémon storylines.
Bill Nighy has a relatively small role as Howard Clifford, the creator of Ryme City, with Chris Geere appearing as his son Roger. Ken Watanabe also has a small but memorable role as Lieutenant Hide Yoshida and Karan Soni appears briefly and awkwardly as Tims friend. Soni sticks out amongst the cast as the only actor that appears to be acting in a SNL skit rather than interacting in a real world.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was a childhood dream for me personally but in no means is it perfect. There’s some pacing issues and the plot is seemingly written backwards, but the world, this Pokémon world that director Rob Letterman and the art and animation team have crafted is just an utter joy to experience. As a kid who watched the original Pokémon Movie in cinemas in 1999, I really couldn't ask for more than this and I had a giant grin on my face the entire run-time.