Now that’s how you do a video game movie right!
Taking place in the world of Pokémon but loosely based on the spinoff game of the same name, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu follows – you guessed it – a Pikachu who just so happens to be an amateur sleuth in his spare time. Voiced by the always hilarious and charming Ryan Reynolds, Detective Pikachu must team up with Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) to solve the case of Tim’s Dad’s death and possible cover-up in relation to the mysterious and all-powerful Pokémon called Mewtwo, as well as crack the mystery surrounding a dangerous synthetic gas simply called “R” that forcibly enrages Pokémon that come into contact with it. Bolstered by the curious and completely unique ability to actually understand Detective Pikachu (instead of just hearing the usual “Pika, Pika” line), Tim must race to piece together the clues of his father’s tragic death – or lack thereof – while somehow finding the courage to become the man he was always meant to be, and hopefully, finally find a Pokémon partner to call his own.
I’ll admit I scored this one a little higher than I probably should have given the final product, but nostalgia is a helluva thing, especially when it pertains to the Pokémon franchise. Growing up right as the original versions of Pokémon were introduced and through the various multi-media properties brought with it, I’ve always wanted to see these pocket monsters up on the silver screen (in live-action that is) more than anything. Luckily, and with only a few missteps here and there along the way, Detective Pikachu mostly scratches that itch in a way that I wasn’t expecting.
Directed by Rob Letterman and overseen by the actual Pokémon Company, Detective Pikachu excels for one very important reason: the filmmakers truly seemed to get the world these characters inhabit in more or less the same way the franchise has always made it out to be. For example, there are numerous shots spliced into the film that convey nothing particularly important other than building out the world these Pokémon and humans live in. The idea that a Machamp would direct traffic with his four muscular arms while a Snorlax would be passed out blocking the road like a big fat jerk is so spot on and perfect that the world building alone had me smiling like a fool throughout, giddy just like the way I felt opening up a new pack of Pokémon cards back when I was ten. And after initially being skeptical of Reynolds voicing the most iconic pocket monster of the bunch, I almost immediately warmed up to the idea of his casting and couldn’t help but continue smiling because, to put it simply, it all felt right. It’s in these little, seemingly unimportant details that the filmmakers never lose sight of that makes this film a true joy to watch, and I suspect, to re-watch.
Visually this film surprises at almost every turn. Whether it be the realistically rendered Pokémon, the intense and fun action sequences, or the clever way the world building makes this film feel real and lived in, Detective Pikachu is a slickly disguised love letter to fans, the visuals and care to detail alone proving that point. Throw in a surprisingly stellar cast that seems game for anything, and a beating heart and sense of humor that pushes the simplistic story forward in an entertaining and fun direction, and you have a film that is much better than it has any right to be, or could have expected to be.
All that being said, this movie still has its issues. Being a simple, family friendly film, a lot of its problems stem from the fact that a lot of the story and plot points are a little too easy for their own good. I’m not saying that this film needed a twist upon a twist to blow my mind, but after the initial reasoning for what happened to Tim’s Dad and Pikachu and the overall progression of the third act, I felt a little underwhelmed. Maybe it’s because this is a film aimed squarely at children or the fact that it is, at the end of the day, a video game film, but I wish there was a little more to it in the grand scheme of things. I could nitpick a bit more, but like I said above, my pure enjoyment of this film from a nerd/nostalgic level trumps any such issues there may be, and for that, I tip my Ash Ketchum replica hat to you.
It may not be a perfect movie, but Detective Pikachu is the perfect way to bring Pokémon to the silver screen after all these years of being regulated to video games, card games and anime. While not without its flaws, (especially when pertaining to the nonsensical and jumbled third act), this film gets right what it needs to and executes its vision of a world filled to the brim with wonder, excitement and awe nearly flawlessly. Unfortunately, great world building can’t save a few story issues and the feeling that everything seems a bit too simple, linear and hand hold-y, but for a film that’s basically Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for a much more family friendly audience, I couldn’t have asked for more.