POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU

Ah, Pokémon. The media franchise that just never seems to die. Trading cards, video games, TV shows, movies, and pretty much everything else, nothing has endured and transcended time and generations quite like these little monsters. I was a child when the original cards, games, and show launched, and now 23 years later, it’s still here and still huge. My nephews even play the games and wear Pokémon shirts. It’s absolutely nuts that it’s still around. While I don’t really care anymore, only occasionally playing the games, the nostalgia is still there. I wouldn’t really care if it went away for good, but that’s clearly not happening anytime soon, now with a live-action film coming to the big screen.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a lonely young man living in a world surrounded by Pokémon and their masters. The problem is, Tim doesn’t want a Pokémon, preferring to be alone after the death of his mother and estranged relationship with his father. Suddenly, his father, a detective who was onto something big, disappears and while looking for him, Tim strikes up an unlikely partnership: his father’s detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) partner. The twist is, Tim and Pikachu can actually speak to each other, which is something rare between the two species. With this newfound partnership, Tim and Pikachu team up to find out what happened to his father. 

While I do enjoy the Pokémon games and overall world, I never really found it to be ripe for feature film adaptation. Obviously, there was a story with the anime, which I watched a lot as a child, but looking back, it certainly isn’t all that great. However, having the Detective Pikachu idea as the vehicle for bringing the brand to the big screen in live-action seemed like an appropriately bizarre idea. Adding Ryan Reynolds into the mix as Pikachu’s voice just added to the absurdity, but surprisingly, it all sort of works. Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds have fun chemistry with one another, with Smith acting quite well with his completely animated counterpart. While a lot of their scenes are comedic, there are scenes where it’s legitimately dramatic, such as Tim talking about the death of his mother. Director Rob Letterman and the screenwriters actually allowed the dramatic moments to breathe and the emotional core was strong enough to where I actually had some investment. I’ve always found Ryan Reynolds to have a much wider range than people give him credit for (seriously, watch Buried, if you haven’t), and it shows here even with his voice acting, as he pulls off both the comedy and drama. 

This is all really nostalgia speaking, but I found it exciting to see the Pokémon world come to life. You have Squirtles helping firefighters, a Jigglypuff’s singing putting people to sleep, Machamps directing traffic, and much more. I loved the designs of the Pokémon, which didn’t look completely realistic, but were uniquely stylized and composited well enough into the film to make it all seem real. Pikachu was especially adorable with his range of facial animations and he clearly got most of the CG budget, but the rest of the Pokémon were fun to look at it, so I didn’t mind. There’s just so much detail and while it’s without a doubt heavy fan service, it’s appropriate for the movie. It doesn’t really do a good job at guiding the uninitiated through the world, though, so you really have to have some knowledge of the franchise to really get full enjoyment. However, I really appreciated the fact that the filmmakers seemed to genuinely care and respect the lore. There’s a lot to love for fans of the franchise, young and old. The theater I attended was giving out Pikachu plushies to all of the children and I’ll admit, it was adorably endearing seeing all of the kids clutching their Pikachus while watching the movie. 

As the anime and the many movies based off it are, the story and plot here are razor thin, merely acting as a cheap conduit to bring the world to life. Once the plot gets set into motion, it’s just Tim and Pikachu going from location to location looking for clues and meeting some characters and Pokémon along the way. They team up with intern investigative reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her Pokémon Psyduck to uncover the mystery and as you would expect, they develop a romance… but they don’t. Tim mentions to Pikachu that he has a crush on her, but nothing really ever comes of it. The plot and eventual resolution, aside from one twist, were incredibly predictable from the moments their elements were introduced. With all of the unresolved subplots, underdeveloped characters, and simple, predictable narrative, it gave off Saturday morning cartoon vibes, such as the original Pokémon anime. It reminded me a lot of Bumblebee, which also had a ridiculously simple narrative, but like that film, Pokémon Detective Pikachu has a serviceable story backed up by a decent amount of heart to make it all work. 

It took 25 years, but Pokémon Detective Pikachu finally rises up as the best video game adaptation ever, but really, that’s not a high bar. Honestly, the bar still isn’t very high, but as far as a Pokémon film about a Pikachu who’s a detective, it was a pleasant little family film. If you’re familiar with Pokémon, there’s some stuff to like here with an entertaining narrative to keep it fun. If you don’t know anything about, though, there’s really not much at all for you to enjoy. So, there’s clearly some bias with me, but as video game adaptations go, it’s certainly the very best, like no one ever was.

6.5/10

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