Let them fight.
For all of our years as ardent gamers we’ve never gotten into the Pokemon series, having played only a handful of the dozens of releases over the years. Despite that, the moment we saw the trailer for Pokemon: Detective Pikachu we were ready to watch it. Between Ryan Reynolds basically channeling a PG Deadpool and the look of many iconic Pokemon brought into the real world, we were in. Time to find out if it’s a winner or if a wild Snorlax has appeared…
Following the accidental death of his estranged father Harry, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) heads to Ryme City — a place where humans and Pokemon live together freely — to set his affairs in order. While going through his father’s apartment he encounters a Pikachu (Reynolds) that he is able to understand and speak to. Although the Pikachu has amnesia, he’s wearing a hat that belonged to Tim’s dad, and he believes there’s more to Harry’s accident than meets the eye.
Their investigation leads to the discovery of a drug called “R,” which turns any Pokemon that are exposed to it extremely hostile. Eventually the pair are introduced to Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), who is the man behind the creation of Ryme City. Clifford has access to some footage that shows that the accident involving Harry and Pikachu was actually caused by a dangerous Pokemon known as Mewtwo, and that his son Roger was involved.
With this new information, Tim, Pikachu and aspiring reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) head out to a lab to find out just what kind of experiments Harry unearthed to cause the Mewtwo attack to take place. The trio are just scratching the surface of this conspiracy, however, and they’ll need to rely on each other to uncover what’s really going on.
We may not be the biggest Pokemon buffs out there, but we’d seen enough of Ash and Team Rocket to have a solid understanding of how that universe functions and the creatures that inhabit it. The film turns some of it on its head, opting to largely steer clear of the battles that both the game and TV show featured, but the world that’s created is exciting to behold. The city has a cool neon aesthetic, and the Pokemon themselves look great — even if Jigglypuff should’ve been cuter.
Reynolds delivers as the voice of Pikachu, and he has good chemistry with Smith, which is important since that duo dominates the screen time. Their adventure of trying to unravel the events surrounding Harry’s accident is easy to invest in, and the various set pieces that they go through (the Aipom attack, the battle with Charizard, the interrogation of Mr. Mime and so on) both push the story forward and serve as fun isolated sections.
Although it wasn’t really marketed as a kid’s movie, Detective Pikachu should definitely appeal to younger audiences, which is a nice bonus for parents looking for a non-cartoon to watch with their children. Some stuff may be confusing, but there’s enough eye candy and cuteness to hold kids’ interest.
Despite a story that keeps moving forward, Detective Pikachu feels slow in spots, and we would have liked to see more action elements involving the various Pokemon to spice things up a bit. As it is, even scenes in which things could’ve been cranked up are often played for comedy, such as the underground “battle” between Pikachu and Charizard. Those scenes may still be enjoyable, but we would’ve preferred a better mix of comedic and action elements.
THE BONUS FEATURES
It’s an okay set of extras, though the absence of a true history of Pokemon feature feels odd as it seems like a slam dunk to help introduce a new audience to the extended lore. There is a “detective mode” that you can activate when playing the film, which will offer snippets of info about various Pokemon that appear and the like, but it requires re-watching the film. An alternate opening is the only “deleted scene.”
That we made it all the way to the end without mentioning Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is a “video game movie” is a testament to how enjoyable the film is. Sure, it could’ve benefited from more action, but it’s still well worth your time.