Pokemon Detective Pikachu (MOVIE REVIEW)
I don’t really think it’s worth saying how much of a huge global phenomenon the world of Pokémon has truly become. The gaming franchise spanning nearly 25 years has been loved by a ton of kids and eventually adults of all ages thanks to a solid array of video games, trading cards, along with a TV show and several animated movies to boot. But seeing as the franchise has seen a huge resurgence quite recently with stuff like Pokémon GO and Pokémon Let’s Go on the Switch inviting many newcomers to the world with a reinfused engagement with the cute Pocket Monsters, it only seemed natural for someone to eventually bring a brand new Live-Action movie for the masses to chew on, and that is where “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” comes in. Being based on the more fairly recent iteration of the franchise released on the 3DS in 2016, this movie strives to bring the famed series to the screen as seemingly a mostly cleaned slate. Given how much of the Japanese-produced animated Pokémon movies only really have an audience in their native country along with them requiring its audience to have a lot of interest in the show itself to get invested in, something like this feels inevitable to do if they were ever going to attract any old fanboys or hesitant pretentious critics back into this world. And thankfully, despite some VERY notable flaws, this was a legitimately fun ride.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is set in the wonderful world of Ryme City, a peaceful haven where humans and Pokémon, (the animals with a wide array of special abilities that inhabit this world), all live together in harmony in much difference to the rest of society where most humans would use their Pokémon to train and use in many battles. We meet our hero, Tim Goodman, who’s an ex-Pokémon trainer who gets called into the city when it is discovered that his father, Harry Goodman, was presumed to have died in a freak accident that no one knows who caused it, nor what happened to him as he mysteriously disappeared. In the midst of this, Tim comes across a Pikachu voiced amazingly by Ryan Reynolds. They seem to have a weird bond, having the ability to understand each other unlike anyone else and how both of them seem linked to Harry’s disappearance due to Pikachu being his partner in crime. It’s also revealed that this Pikachu is also suffering from some severe amnesia, having no memories of his past adding a lot more to the mystery regarding Harry’s whereabouts. Teaming up with a young female reporter that’s accompanied by a Psyduck who appears to know a lot more about this case than anyone is willing to let on, the group go out into the Pokémon universe to uncover this huge mystery and discover what the actual hell is going on.
“Detective Pikachu” right from the outset had a pretty laborious task of having to re-introduce audiences into the Pokémon world whilst simultaneously trying to tell a genuinely solid detective story that could have tangible evidence and clues to make for a thematically satisfying experience. One of the ways that the movie is able to amazingly support one of these claims comes just from how brilliant world-building is. Within just the first 15 minutes of the movie, audiences that may not have any knowledge of this franchise will start to pick up on what potential story could come from this narrative, and will thankfully have a good understanding of what Pokémon is thanks a great opening sequence on a moving train. The filmmakers seem to understand that not every audience member will be truly on board with this unique setting or set of characters without any background on how it all functions, which was something that plagued Pokémon movies in the past and was likely the culprit to a lot of scathing critiques. The overall visuals and production design are absolutely on-point too. Ryme City looks and feels like a gorgeous metropolis and the way that the movie was able to translate these Pokémon into Live-Action is nothing short of impressive. Most of them now feature some additional fur and skin textures to help them fit into the more grounded environments, whilst not taking away from any of their signature looks from the video games to feel like something lovingly nostalgic, yet very fresh all at once. It's a very lovely looking movie with some amazing set design, solid cinematography and some solid Blade Runner-esque neon lighting to truly have an identity all its own, so if there is one group of people that need commending for their amazing work, it’s the designers, artists, and animators that brought these creatures and the overall setting to the silver screen with grace and respect.
Even despite the great production design and true loving faithfulness to the source material, though this sort of stuff is all that would be needed to suck players into a video game, you need to also have a solid story and characters for people who want to invest themselves for a whole movie, and thankfully, though not great, “Detective Pikachu” strangely has quite a bit to chew on. What we have here is essentially a Buddy movie where two characters who don’t seem to really get along with each other have to join forces to uncover a potentially sinister plot whilst simultaneously learning to like each other and work together to accomplish their task. Though this plot isn’t anything new, it’s really the execution of it that helps to make it feel fun and fresh. Justice Smith does a solid job portraying the cynical Tim who pretends to resent Pokémon based on some his former life experiences despite having a secret huge love for them, but it’s REALLY Ryan Reynolds that sells it the most as Pikachu. It’s a little bit difficult to not associate his performance to Deadpool since both characters share a similar kind of comedic feel and flair to their performances, but as the film goes on Reynolds manages to find a way to make this iteration of the electric mouse all his own. A lot of this is thankfully because of Tim and Pikachu’s solid chemistry. The two share a strong bond throughout the movie and the way they grow as characters together as this huge mystery unfolds is one of the film’s strong points. However, where I can say the film’s two central characters are very solid, I can’t really say much for the human cast. Most of them are either underdeveloped or generally unmemorable. One character named Lucy Stevens who is a aspiring reporter that joins Tim and Pikachu on their adventure alongside her Psyduck is really just a bland love interest and though she serves some narrative purpose in the story near the beginning, she doesn’t really serve much else and her character only really has to be the bland love interest as if to tick a couple of boxes under the Movie Cliches Guidebook. I could same the same for the rest of the human cast who just sort of come across as one dimensional thanks to only really appearing in two scenes or not serving enough of a campy performance to truly stand out. I mean, IT’S A POKéMON MOVIE! You should at least have some dumb fun while you’re at it.
“Detective Pikachu” really is a movie where the Pokémon sell the final product. They are easily the most interesting aspect to this movie thanks to their already very solid designs along with just how seamlessly blend in with their environments. But if these animated creatures mostly reserved for the background are more interesting than a gang of human characters that the audience is supposed to relate to the most, then something is simply kind of wrong. Much of the film’s Mystery plot does have it’s moments too, but I will definitely not be the first to admit it has some issues. Though it has many twists and turns and interesting revelations to keep things engaging, for a film predominantly aimed at children, I found quite a bit of it needlessly complicated. The film throws so much at its audience to the point where it sometimes feels like you’re solving a Math question during a GCSE exam. Things do thankfully start to make a lot more sense as it reaches its conclusion and I do commend the screenwriters for crafting a tangible mystery just based on Pikachu as a character if you stop and think about it very closely, but it doesn’t stop the film from feeling a bit too overbearing for its younger primary demographic. It’s kind of funny really since the film can be so utterly messy, bonkers and also utterly insane with how it tries to portray this mystery that it weirdly becomes highly entertaining just based on that novelty alone. It’s because of how nuts this story can get that there’s never a dull moment. The film runs at a very brisk pace and no moments thankfully feel wasted, especially during a lot of the action scenes. There may be a lack of iconic Pokémon battles, but it doesn’t stop them from being a visual spectacle. Some may see it as pointless fan service, but a lot of it does serve thematic purpose so it can serve as entertainment but also as some level of importance.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is quite the strange experiment of a movie. It’s an extremely flawed movie with a messy screenplay that attempts to tell a solid Mystery that sometimes does work, but also sometimes feels too messy to really take too seriously, and 95% of the human cast are about as interesting as tarmac on my pavement. However, it’s one of the very few movies that I can think of where despite the film having severe problems in the areas where they feel the most important, the film was still able to win me over thanks to how much clear passion and dedication was clearly taken to bring the world of Pokémon to the big screen with such huge respect to what Nintendo has brought to so many loving fans. It’s an utterly dreamy film from a visual perspective and when the film does work thanks to it’s solid main duo of characters and fun action set pieces, it can lead to some of the most entertaining movie moments that I can pinpoint down over just this past year alone. This is definitely something that I can tell many Pokémon fans are going to ADORE, and I’m also certain that many kids will also find some fun in it too. In many ways, it kind of represents the true core of many people's love for Pokémon and that’s the sense of joyous wish fulfilment. So many of us in our youth wanted to know that Pokémon were real, and this movie only serves as a massive love letter for those who have been battling with their partners since the 90s or are just recent late bloomers into this series. I do think a lot of your own personal enjoyment might depend on how much you are willing to suspend your disbelief with Pokémon as a franchise. I know some people simply don’t get the appeal, or just can’t enjoy it for how silly the concept can be sometimes, but coming from someone who loves movies first, and is a casual Pokémon fan second, I had a fun time with this movie. It won’t be seen as one of the greats and definitely has a ton of issues, but it certainly is entertaining. I’m just glad it exists because it does prove that movie adaptations of video games can definitely be good. Give it a look, and draw your own conclusion.
FINAL RATING: 6/10 (DECENT)