- “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” comes out Friday.
- The movie is the big live-action debut for the Pokémon video game, anime, and trading card game franchise.
- The CG Pokémon world that “Detective Pikachu” creates is engrossing and fans will love it.
- The emotional beats of the overarching story don’t land with the weight they should.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
The world’s first live-action Pokémon adventure, “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” is out Friday. The movie is filled with fan service and a top-notch Ryan Reynolds as the titular cute detective Pokémon.
Starring Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, and Bill Nighy and directed by Rob Letterman, “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” is far from a perfect movie, but Pokémon diehards will love it.
Why You Should Care: It’s Pokémon! It’s Pikachu!
The Pokémon, or “Pocket Monsters,” franchise launched in 1996 with two Gameboy Colour games; Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. Players of all ages could explore the Kanto region, catching these cute little monsters and training them to fight and evolve. The wildly popular games led to the expansion of the franchise to include a TV show with an iconic theme song, a trading card game that continues today, and the AR phenomenon “Pokémon Go.” If you are under 30 and had a Nintendo console or access to TV, you probably grew up with Pokémon.
Pikachu is the closest thing Pokémon has to a mascot. The most-popular Pokémon has been afloat in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and is a cultural icon. It’s finally here, a “Roger Rabbit” style blend of animation and live action starring Ryan Reynolds as the voice of the iconic Pikachu, and fans will be delighted.
What’s Hot: The Pokémon look great and there’s plenty of references for fans to latch on to – also Ryan Reynolds
Right off the bat, it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into nailing the look of these Pokémon. Visually, “Detective Pikachu” sets up the onscreen Pokémon universe gorgeously. The Pokémon are animal-like, but all immediately recognisable to fans. They are cute when they should be, like the main character’s companions Pikachu and Psyduck, and gross when they would be gross in real life, like Lickitung. Every nook and cranny of Ryme city, the metropolitan hub of the film, is filled with Pokémon hiding waiting for fans to point to and shout out favourites.
This attention to detail and fan service is “Detective Pikachu”‘s greatest strength. There are plenty of great, spoil-able moments that reference the cartoon and universe throughout.
The story of the movie follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) as he tries to solve the mysterious death of his father. When he meets his dad’s old partner, a caffeine-addicted Pikachu, the movie really kicks it into high gear. This is thanks to an ever-charismatic and joke-cracking Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu. Like with “Deadpool,” not all the jokes land, but enough do to endear you to the character. All the Pokémon are believable, but the animation on Pikachu is amazing, borderline realistic, without diving into the uncanny valley.
The mystery unfolds as a campy ode to film noir. If you’ve seen “Sunset Boulevard” or “Chinatown” the story beats in “Detective Pikachu” will be very familiar. Drugs, dark alleys, and a mystery that goes all the way up to the top, “Detective Pikachu” hits all the noir tropes.
What’s Not: The emotional moments fall flat and the plot is ultimately secondary to the experience
“Detective Pikachu” falls flat in the character relationship department. Tim’s relationship with his father isn’t established enough to have much weight when the movie tries to dwell on this loss. Additionally, there isn’t much chemistry between Tim and young, budding journalist Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), who tags along for the adventure in order to find break the story.
The one element that connects these threads is Justice Smith’s performance. There is hypothetical depth to the character, a Pokémon fan who is left disenchanted by the fact that he will never be a trainer. Discovering his father’s partner Pikachu gives him this second chance. This has the potential to speak volumes to the nostalgia of older fans who’ve fallen off the franchise. Smith, unfortunately, doesn’t tap into much emotion and plays it pretty flat the whole time. His begrudging friendship with Pikachu works, but mostly thanks to Reynolds.
The other actors ham it up appropriately; Bill Nighy as the obvious corporate overlord villain; Kathryn Newton as the over-eager intern turned badass reporter; Ken Watanabe as the grizzled police chief. Smith’s performance just doesn’t have that campy edge that makes the rest of the movie so fun.
As the movie barrels towards its action-packed climax, the plot begins to unravel. The villain’s grand scheme ultimately makes little sense, and explanation isn’t the name of the game here. Accepting that plot isn’t “Detective Pikachu’s” strong suit will make for a much more enjoyable watching experience.
The Bottom Line: If you love Pokémon see ‘Detective Pikachu,’ if not, stay away
Making the choice to see “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” comes down to how much you love Pokémon. As a work of fan service, “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” hits the right notes. Fans of the games and show who have been waiting for this movie for years will be stoked to see their favourite Pokémon on screen in a story that isn’t just a direct rip-off of the anime or animated movies. The originality and creativity onscreen make it a worthwhile trip for anyone who grew up loving or who still loves, Pokémon.
Unfortunately, as a standalone mystery film, it doesn’t quite hold up. If you have no love for Pokémon, this hardly feels like the right place to start and you will just leave the theatre confused and dissatisfied, with more questions than answers about what a Pokémon is.
“Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” arrives in theatres on May 10.
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