Movie Review: Pokémon – Detective Pikachu
Is Pokémon: Detective Pikachu the very best (like no-one has ever seen)? Not really, but it has enough fun for children, and enough poke-balls for die hard fans of the series.
It’s a bit of karmic justice that the very next movie I watched after the fan-servicey Avengers: Endgame is another fan-service film, this time aimed at a fandom I have zero interest in. I enjoyed the former because it paid off my years of both comic and comic movie geek-dom with loads of big wet kisses. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu does the exact same thing for Pokémon fans, a craze that missed me by a good decade or so. But having absorbed enough Poke-culture simply due to Pokémon’s 20+ years of existence, I can see where the movie does the series justice. You could almost say I detected it.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) was a die hard Pokémon fanatic in a world that has long coexisted with the quirky critters. When his mother passed away, it drove a wedge between Tim and his father. His father Harry dove into his work as a detective, spending all his time cracking cases with his Pikachu partner. Tim abandoned all his Poke-fantasies and decided to make a stable, predictable life for himself in his Grandmother’s small town. When Tim gets the bad news that Harry has passed away while in the line of duty, he dutifully goes to settle the affairs of his estranged father.
There, Tim stumbles into Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), Harry’s alive yet amnesiac partner. Pikachu is convinced Harry is still alive, and pesters Tim into reopening the case… and old wounds.
I’ll get my gripes out of the way real quick. The story is a very vanilla whodunit. It’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit with a serious amount of hand-holding. Tim and Pikachu go to one area, get a very out in the open clue spoon fed to them, which then leads them to *surprise* another location with another spoonful. It has a twist to the ending: one that you’ll see a mile away, despite the film committing another detective movie sin trying to obscure it. That sin is hiding evidence via “we chopped off ten seconds and half a screen’s view from a scene we previously showed you, just so we could add it back like an “Ah-Ha” moment”. It’s lazy and/or amateurish mystery plotting.
The second issue was that Detective Pikachu, while not held back by Ryan Reynolds, isn’t improved by him. My whole reason for seeing a film about a fandom I’m not invested in was seeing what a toned down Deadpool would be like. It’s… ok. We still get snark and meta-commentary, but it’s restrained. And not by Reynolds; he’s just fine as a voice actor. It has to be the writing. It can’t commit to any real subversive or transgressive stuff. The jokes are tame, and the only good ones were used in the trailers. Stop doing that, Hollywood.
Detective Pikachu also doesn’t have a well written straight man to bounce Reynolds off of. And once again, it’s not a knock on Justice Smith; he is likewise fine. The writing never sells us on why Tim dislikes Pokémon so much. It’s not like a Pokémon killed his mom or his dad eloped with a Jigglypuff. Deadpool had a two-pronged team of Colossus trying to deal with Deadpool in good faith while Negasonic Teenage Warhead was completely not having it. Who Framed Roger Rabbit had a hard drinking dick who had a good reason to hate toons. There’s just not enough there.. there.
Cute as a Toy Fire Truck full of Hamsters
On to the good stuff. The Pokémon are gorgeous. Pikachu in particular. They add just enough realism to the classic designs to make the Pokémon feel like a real part of this wacky world. Pikachu’s expressiveness combines with some fabulous fur-work to create a living, pika-ing creature. Most of your favorite Pocket Monsters are here, in sometimes cute or clever cameos. No Mimikyu though. While I know they were sticking to classic Pokémon, that little thing is adorable, and would have worked into the plot very well.
The world is impressive to boot. From pastoral plains to high tech metropolises, it’s all eye candy. The CGI is very good, and rarely to do the critters clash with the settings. They bounce off things and cling to people realistically, selling the immersion needed for a world where mankind got along with super powered rodents since they climbed down from the trees.
Your Squirtles Will Love This
While it won’t satisfy Detectives, the plot works hand in hand with the beautiful CGI to make a very approachable story. At it’s heart, it’s a family story, and a tale about learning to trust and find wonder in life again. Once again, I think Who Framed Roger Rabbit did it better, but Detective Pikachu is a very child friendly story about concepts they will most likely understand. All the leads are charismatic, including Kathryn Newton as a Psyduck toting Journalist. They play tropes, but in winsome ways.
In the end, If you are a giant Pokémon fan, Detective Pikachu is for you. If you are the former and have children, it’s a slam dunk. If you are a giant Deadpool stan, this film won’t really top you off until DP3. But if you like Ryan Reynolds and have kids, you won’t spend the brisk run time of Detective Pikachu wishing you could crawl into a Poke-ball.