Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
The world of Pokémon comes to life with the beloved series’ first live-action film, Detective Pikachu. While the story has its ups and downs, there’s more than enough heart and humor to carry it through. Come inside for my full review!
If you’ve watched any of the trailers for Detective Pikachu so far, you’ll have a fairly solid grip on the overall basic story. Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is kind of a loner, having lost his mom at a young age and having almost no relationship with his father. Living in a small town, he’s resigned to a quiet life completely free from any Pokémon companion (a rarity in this world).
Everything changes, however, when he gets a call from the Ryme City police. His father, a Detective for the department, was involved in an accident and passed away. Tim is forced away from his quiet life to one of the largest Pokémon-centered cities in the world in order to collect his estranged father’s belongings.
Upon his arrival he finds his father’s Pokemon partner (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), who Tim is somehow able to understand. The discovery leads him, unwittingly, into a mystery that only deepens the further he goes. As he and the amnesiatic Pikachu try to piece together the events that lead them together, Tim becomes increasingly convinced his father is still alive.
Along with the help of an intrepid journalist intern looking for her big scoop, Lucy (Kathryn Newton), they explore the city’s underbelly for answers. Their journey sees them encounter a strange gas that makes tame Pokémon feral, underground fighting, and strange science experiments. It’s very much a noir style film, with plenty of twists and turns as it goes (so I won’t spoil anything here), but done in a way that makes it easy for even younger audiences to follow. There’s enough clues throughout the film to let you piece things together on your own, which is fun, but still does a solid job of explaining everything without being over the top.
I was impressed with how they managed to handle that kind of style for a film that’s overtly bright and colorful, with cute looking Pokémon filling up just about every frame. For older audiences, there’s a little bit of predictability at the end, but how it gets there is still a ridiculous amount of fun.
There are some bobbles, throughout, as the film tries to balance a surprisingly emotional story point (involving Tim’s family problems), and the kooky adventure. It’s a mixture that doesn’t always mesh well and at a couple points feel completely out of whack with one another. Couple that with a tacked on romance that never feels fully explored or developed, and Detective Pikachu comes off a bit uneven.
Despite this, however, the film wears its heart on its sleeve and manages to endear you quickly to the characters. I had a big grin on my face pretty much throughout, and even when the story stuttered, the fun factor pulled me through.
A Believable World
One of the big reasons the film manages to succeed and suck you in so completely, is the world they’ve created. Ryme City is the primary place of action, but the film makes it clear this is very much a Pokémon world (with plenty of references to game related regions spread throughout). From the film’s opening sequence all the way through to the end, you’re immersed in this world of monsters.
While many scenes feel like a game of “spot the Pokémon” with them dominating the screen, the film shines in its subtlety. The Pokémon really, and truly, take up the role of animals in our world. Instead of birds flying in the air, or perching on wires in the city, bird-type Pokémon are there. In darkened streets and back alleys, tiny Rattata can be seen roaming, often way in the distance.
Other rodents can be seen sniffing trash or poking out of cracks in the wall, scurrying underfoot as people go about their business. Basically, any minor background animal you’d expect to see in a “real life” setting are swapped out for Pokémon. The attention to detail on this is stunning (and must have been hugely time consuming for the animators), but the result is a believability factor I didn’t think possible.
This is especially impressive considering that the character designs skew more towards the cartoony than realistic. I mean, sure, they have visible fur, claws, and fangs but they’re very obviously CG constructs and made to make it as easy as possible to recognize one’s favorite creatures. As such, it’s insane how quickly I came to believe in this world and the story it was telling, and there weren’t any moments (in terms of the Pokémon on screen) where I felt pulled out of the experience.
Aside from the attention to detail in each frame, the other major factor in making the cartoony world feel real, were the actors. They all did an excellent job making it seem like they were actually interacting/sharing space with these make-believe creatures. Smaller gestures, like characters absently petting a Pokémon, or watching their feet as they walked to avoid smaller critters underfoot sell the effect.
That’s not to mention Ryan Reynolds incredible work as the titular mouse. He absolutely nails the role of the talkative Pikachu which serves as the audience’s link to the fictional Pokémon. Through him we gain a deeper connection to the creatures, and how humans perceive them in this world. Couple that with his great comedic timing and even the scenes that shouldn’t work, manage to come through.
An Adaptation for (Mostly) Everyone
Everyone knows video games haven’t had the best track record for adaptations, but Detective Pikachu manages to break the stereotype. While it changes up a few things, especially the more emotional points, the film sticks fairly close to the Detective Pikachu game story. There are also a ridiculous amount of Easter eggs to find, pulling from the anime and other games. The result is an adaptation that feels firmly rooted in the games, while still doing it’s own thing.
I’m fully aware that this film may not work for everyone. I’m a long-time Pokémon fan, so there are definitely some aspects of the film that only work, or were funny, because of my knowledge of the franchise. By and large, however, the bulk of the film’s humor will work for those who aren’t familiar with Pokémon (e.g. parents taking their kiddos) and works on multiple levels. Again, Ryan Reynolds deserves a lot of credit for this, along with his live-action costars who manage to sell the jokes and timing without missing a beat.
Kids in the audience absolutely went nuts for it and their energy fed to everyone else. As such, Detective Pikachu makes for an excellent family film that offers a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy. While it’s definitely not for everyone, ultimately, I left the theater feeling eager to dive back into the Pokémon world they’d created.