Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Review
Since the first trailer of this new Pokémon adaption dropped back in December 2018, only nine months after the UK release of the 3DS game that is its source material, film and game fans alike have been holding their breath as to whether the final product would live up the hype. Whether or not you know your Lickitung from your Ludicolo, or your Gengar from your Growlithe, Rob Letterman’s Detective Pikachu does what few video game movies manage and make the world of pocket monsters accessible for all whilst keeping true to the bright and colourful world that makes this franchise so well-loved.
After private eye and pokémon enthusiast Harry Goodman vanishes after a mysterious accident, it is up to his son, Tim, to uncover the truth about what happened to him. Untangling this mystery leads him to bigger and badder plots involving crazed pokémon and even crazier humans. But he isn’t alone in his mission as Harry’s own pokémon sidekick Pikachu comes to his aid, much to the dismay of Tim. As if things weren’t bad enough for Tim at this point, he learns that he and only he can understand every word coming from this pokémon’s mouth: and with every one sounding like uncannily similar to a certain Merc with a Mouth.
Despite some raised-eyebrows concerning Ryan Reynolds’ role in the film, he brings a familiar charm and personality to this film by the plenty. His talent for comedic timing makes Pikachu’s near non-stop wisecracking not simply bearable but so enjoyable that you’ll find yourself laughing along to his every line. That’s not to say that he’s sidelined to the comic relief; there is the odd sentimental moment as he tries to uncover the reasons why Tim is so distanced from his family and holds such skepticism about pokémon, all of which play out with a quiet sincerity.
Alongside Reynolds is Justice Smith as Tim; more comfortable sat behind a desk in his accounting office than out catching pokémon, he bumbles his way through situations with an endearing awkwardness. Set with the hard task of being an original character in a world surrounded by familiar faces (or familiar pokémon) Smith does well at bringing Tim to life but is somewhat let down by a script that heavily favours his pokémon partner. Nevertheless, with a subplot that sees Tim dealing with past family trauma following the news of his father whilst unravelling the mystery at hand, he is given a decent amount of depth to make you care about him and root for his happy ending.
Although Detective Pikachu follows the tropes of the family-mystery movie (even the title makes that evident), there is a doubtless buddy-com style situated at the heart of the film. The dynamic between the two is lighthearted and interesting. Reynolds might just be a voice but their chemistry is fantastic making it impossible not to have a great time watching them fumble their way through increasingly absurd situations — one involving a stubborn Mr Mime being especially memorable.
Where Detective Pikachu truly excels, however, is in its immersive world building. Let down only by rather vague rules about how pokémon fit into society, the CGI is breathtaking, making Ryme City feel alive and working. As colourful as the art of any Pokémon game or anime, the frame is filled with neon lights and quaint nods to pokémon from every generation. Be sure to keep an eye on the background and you might be able to spot some rather adorable practical pokémon: a charmander lighting a wok with his tail, a machamp using his several arms to direct traffic, a team of squirtles banding together to put out a fire. There are so many small details that bring pokémon and its world to reality, without removing the fun.
It is easy to forgive Detective Pikachu for its somewhat predictable plot points and weak characterisation in favour of celebrating the vibrancy and nostalgia of Ryme City and all its inhabitants — even the terrifying ghost types!
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)