Pokémon Detective Pikachu Review
For those who normally approach any film based on a hugely successful video game with some trepidation, you can safely cast aside any unpleasant memories of cinematic clunkers from the past - like the woeful Super Mario Bros. For the doubters out there, fear not as Pokémon Detective Pikachu is much better than you might expect. If like me you have managed to avoid being swept up in the whole Pokémon phenomenon, unable to distinguish between a Jigglypuff and a Squirtle, rest assured that this live action movie version manages to still be accessible to those unacquainted with its colourful world.
The story finds young Tim Goodman (a likeable Justice Smith) desperate to uncover the truth behind his detective father Harry’s mysterious death in a fiery car crash. His quest for answers takes him into Ryme City, a bustling utopia where humans co-exist with Pokémon – and are expected to partner up with them for the greater good. It’s all the brainchild of wealthy industrialist Howard Clifford, who’s played here by Bill Nighy - adding another oddball role to his repertoire. In these early scenes, the film succeeds admirably in bringing this strange city vividly to life, with its towering glass structures, neon lit sidewalks and menagerie of weird creatures roaming around.
Tim crosses paths with his father’s Pokémon partner, the bright yellow fuzzball Pikachu, who sports a deerstalker and comes with aspirations of becoming a pint-sized detective. The pair join forces to try and crack the case and discover what happened to Harry, which seems inexplicably linked to a purple gas known as “R”. There’s also an ambitious young reporter named Lucy Stevens who appears on the scene and is eager to lend a hand (keenly played by Big Little Lies star Kathryn Newton).
Pikachu is depicted as a caffeine addicted amnesiac, who struggles to remember much about his past. When he speaks, the human inhabitants of Ryme City only hear some unintelligible – and very familiar – squeaky “Pika-Pika” sounds (provided by regular voice artist Ikue Ôtani). That’s all except for Tim, who is startled to hear an English voice, that fires out wisecracks at every opportune moment. In a master stroke of casting, that voice is provided by Ryan Reynolds, who once again demonstrates some brilliant comedic delivery. Not every line hits the mark, but there are plenty that will raise a laugh – and it certainly made the film a better experience for me.
The filmmakers have clearly made a considerable effort to pack in as many sly nods to the franchise as possible, with a multitude of much-loved characters lurking in the background – and devotees will no doubt be determined to “catch ‘em all”. If a movie was rated only for its “cute factor”, this would probably go off the scale for many – and will especially delight younger fans. There’s an amusing running gag too about Lucy’s Pokemon companion Psyduck, a bizarre angst-ridden billed creature who must be kept calm at any cost – or the consequences may prove to be quite unpleasant. Don’t miss some inspired lunacy as well when our investigative duo encounter Harry's informant Mr. Mime, a character who refuses to speak and insists upon acting out different scenarios.
The film is directed at breakneck pace by Rob Letterman, who previously did a fine job with the wildly entertaining Goosebumps (2015). I did find my interest starting to wane in the second half though as we’re treated to one large scale CGI set-piece after another. For all the film’s chases and spectacle, it does lack the heart and inventiveness of Pixar. By comparison, the human characters here are shallow and the story degenerates into something disappointingly routine. The fact that it took no less than five writers to bring this to the screen is perhaps the biggest mystery of all. That's not to mention some shameless cameos by the likes of Rita Ora and DJ Diplo. Thank goodness for Reynolds then, whose funny one-liners will ensure that parents won’t be grumbling too loudly if they are forced to sit through Detective Pikachu for the umpteenth time.
In the UK, Warner Brothers have released Pokémon Detective Pikachu on the following formats: Blu-ray, 3D, 4K UHD and DVD. This review is based on the standard Blu-ray edition.
It may surprise many to learn that this was shot on traditional 35mm Kodak film stock as opposed to the usual digital cameras favoured nowadays. Warner Brothers have done a sterling job with the digital transfer, as the image is suitably vibrant throughout and bursting with detail. Filmed with Panavision lenses, the image is presented in a widescreen ratio of 2.4:1.
Audio options are Dolby Atmos and Dolby digital 5.1. Both do a fantastic job at bringing this world to life.
English subtitles are included along with audio description.
The extras consist mainly of standard EPK material. Best of the bunch is a function enabling you to watch the film in “Detective Mode”- essentially a feature-length pop-up track that is packed full of trivia and Easter Eggs that’s sure to delight fans.
My Pokémon Adventure (2:13) - A brief interview with Justice Smith.
Creating the World of Detective Pikachu (five parts, 21:22 total) - A multi-part behind-the-scenes featurette including "Uncovering the Magic", "Colorful Characters", "Bringing Pokémon to Life", "Welcome to Ryme City", and "Action". Includes contributions from Ryan Reynolds, Rob Letterman, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, animation supervisor Ferran Domenech, production designer Nigel Phelps, stunt coordinator Franklin Henson, and others.
Alternate Opening (1:41) - An extended scene of Tim at his insurance job.
Mr. Mime's Audio Commentary (3:00)
Ryan Reynolds: Outside the Actor's Studio (1:32)
Music Video: "Carry On" by Rita Ora and Kygo (3:51)
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
Dir: Rob Letterman | Cast: Bill Nighy, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ryan Reynolds | Writers: Atsuko Nishida (characters), Benji Samit (screenplay by), Benji Samit (story by), Dan Hernandez (screenplay by), Dan Hernandez (story by), Derek Connolly (screenplay by), Haruka Utsui (original story), Junichi Masuda (based on "Pokémon" created by), Ken Sugimori (based on "Pokémon" created by), Nicole Perlman (story by), Rob Letterman (screenplay by), Satoshi Tajiri (based on "Pokémon" created by), Tomokazu Ohara (original story)