Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Director: Rob Letterman

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Chris Geere, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy

Screenplay: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Nicole Perlman

104 mins. Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

 

After decades of waiting, a live-action Pokemon movie exists, and it follows Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town as he…wait? It doesn’t? Then who’s it about? Detective Pikachu? Seriously? Okay, let’s start this one again.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith, Paper Towns, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) works in the high-stakes world of insurance, and he has no interest in being a Pokemon trainer, but when Tim learns of his father’s death, he goes to Ryme City to settle things. When Tim arrives at his father’s apartment, he comes across a Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool, The Croods) sporting detective wear and claiming to belong to Harry, Tim’s father. The crazy thing is that he and the Pikachu completely understand each other as if they’re speaking the same language. Pikachu wants to solve the case of Harry’s possible murder, but he has amnesia and doesn’t remember anything. The two unlikely heroes join forces to find the culprits, and their search brings them to a conspiracy neither one ever expected.

I was really disappointed to hear that the first live-action Pokemon movie would be a Detective Pikachu movie, mostly because there was so much material to be mined in the Pokemon Universe, and choosing to focus on a game that was largely unreleased in North America until recently seemed like a really odd choice. Then, I heard Ryan Reynolds was voicing Pikachu and I got really concerned. It seemed to me like this whole franchise was coming together in a really bad way. Then, the poster looked okay. Then, the trailer looked silly, but it also looked like fun, so I became increasingly excited about the prospect of a Detective Pikachu movie, but there was still that lingering confusion as to the narrative purpose of a Detective Pikachu movie. It was only after seeing the film that I got it. There is a very important narrative purpose to this movie, and while I still would have like to see a straight-forward Pokemon adventure, Detective Pikachu is a great introductory course for Pokemon fans, and it has the potential to bring in a lot of new fans.

For the most part, Ryan Reynold’s voice work is pretty solid for him and the writing gives him a lot to play with. His chemistry as a CG-character actually melded pretty well with Justice Smith’s Tim. Their central relationship is the reason for watching the movie, as many of the secondary characters serve a purpose to that central relationship but little else.

Director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens, Goosebumps) injected a lot of little references and visually appealing fan moments into the movie. I had some concern about the use of legendary characters like Mewtwo in this movie, and how they would be incorporated in an interesting way, and overall, it was mostly done with care. Again, the whole Mewtwo has a purpose in the film and a narrative reason to appear, albeit a thin one. What’s great is that, even with Mewtwo, his lore from the animated films and games appears to be intact and built into the character’s past. That’s one of reasons that I couldn’t look away from the screen during the movie. I have been a Pokemon fan since it hit stateside, and I was glued to the screen for every little CG critter to show up.

The biggest flaw of the film is that it caters to one demographic age range, which was a silly choice. This is a kid’s movie, and before you say DUH! I want to say that Pokemon, as a franchise is now multi-generational, much like the Toy Story movies. Kids who grew up with Pokemon when it started are not adults with their very own children, and if Detective Pikachu aimed their narrative at both kids and adults, it would have been more successful. I had a lot of fun watching, but the plotting was a little simplistic and I put it together rather easily. The final turn of the film surprised me a bit, and it was a good little hook to the narrative, but the overarching plotline was rather simplistic. Too much so.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu now holds the distinction of being the best video game movie ever, at least from a critical viewpoint, and I truly enjoyed it. It’s the kind of movie that Pokemon fans will like and non-Pokemon fans can at least understand. It’s plot is a little too rudimentary, but the central comradery between Pikachu and Tim is strong enough to carry, and it has plenty of cute little monsters to keep the spectacle alive.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my theory involving Detective Pikachu’s connection to Home Alone, click here.

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