POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU
Starring: Justice Smith, Ryan Reynolds
Writer: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly
Director: Rob Letterman
Studio: Warner Bros.
Every kid that grew up in the ’90s knew Pokémon. The cartoon, the cards, and, of course, the games. The cards ended up being banned at my elementary school because kids were dealing them like the crack they were and getting into fights. My parents got me both Red and Blue versions to go with my brand new Game Boy Pocket for Christmas. Did they know they were essentially the same game with minor differences? Not a chance, in fact, I didn’t care either–they had everything: A ton of cute and curious creatures to collect, a big adventure and challenges ahead, and perhaps most enticing, the dream of setting out on your own at the very wise and world-hardened age of 12 years old to become a Pokémon Master.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most realistic thing, but when you’re imagination is big and you’re little, it’s all that matters.
Detective Pikachu starts by introducing us to Tim Goodman, played by Justice Smith (The Get Down, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom). He’s not that into bonding with Pokémon. At least, not anymore. He’s grown up and is working a soul-crushing corporate job. For fans whose childhood dreams of riding their Pidgeot into the sunrise have died, this is very relatable. After learning of his father’s sudden death, he heads to Ryme City, a futuristic utopia where Pokémon and humans work and live side by side. Once there, he finds a lone Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), who’s been watching old detective films, scurrying around his father’s office. Oh, and he can talk. While that didn’t go over so well in the recent cartoon film, it works very well here.
If you can push the image of Deadpool from your brain away, this is where the movie really takes off and kicks off it’s dual-mystery. Unfortunately, the mysteries at hand are probably the weakest part of the film. It is hard to be too broken up about it, though, because no one plays the Pokémon games for an engaging story. However, to its credit, it does serve as a great path to support its biggest strength: its commendable world-building.
It mainly does this through visuals and just how every aspect of its world is influenced by the pocket monsters. Dan Letterman directs the film, having experience on another ’90s nostalgia-inducing film, Goosebumps, where creatures are running about. So he certainly knows how to manage them here. There are many scenes of this movie that are just packed with Pokémon. I can see rewatches being done to just catch ’em all. Sorry, that one came naturally.
Seriously though, the VFX department did not sleep on this one. From one scene with Machamp acting as a crossing guard guiding cars around a sleeping Snorlax to wider shots of crowds with a mix of humans and Pokémon of all types going about their day. It gives the audience a well-rounded picture of what this world is like, and Ryme City is visual candy. It’s as if Modern NYC met a less ominous Neo-Tokyo. I bet the real estate market there is a nightmare.
Justice Smith gives a fine performance as Tim. Tim as a character isn’t particularly likable as he is written, but he grows on you toward the halfway mark. Reynolds as Pikachu is really who this movie was written for. He’s emotive, gets all the best lines, and your kids are definitely going to want a plushie. I was hoping the movie was going to straddle the line with adult humor — and they do sneak a few jokes in there — but overall, the humor is pretty kid-friendly.
There are a few other familiar faces in here including Bill Nighy (who is always a welcome surprise) as prominent TV Personality Howard Clifford and his son Roger Clifford, played by Chris Geere. We also have a news intern named Lucy who’s looking for her big break. She’s played by Kathryn Newton and, next to Tim and Pikachu, gets the most screen time. She’s a bubbly and precocious personality, a nice compliment to Tim’s nervous and uneasy demeanor.
Let’s get to what fans really want to know about though. Pikachu is as cute as can be, but are the other Pokémon given the same amount of care? For the most part, they are. The movie actually hired a guy by the name of RJ Palmer to work on the movie. You may know him from his art of realistic Pokémon that has spread throughout the interwebs, and it shows.
The original starter Pokémon like Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur (who is somehow the cutest of the three?) are very well-realized. Most of the Pokémon based on real-life animals are successful. I would say about 90% of the Pokémon I noticed looked great. There is one great setpiece in the movie that I thought was particularly fun and creative involving Torterra.
Then, unfortunately, there is a small batch that looks a little strange. Aipom, the purple monkey Pokémon from the trailers, looks unsettling. I think it has to do with the teeth, the same issue plaguing the recently-unveiled Sonic design. There is also a small scene with a Gengar which just did not translate very well.
Seeing people interact with Pokémon, like Pikachu jumping up on Tim’s shoulder, is something that feels believable and successfully captures the spirit of the cartoon. I won’t spoil them, but there are also a few callbacks to both the games and the cartoon, and when the movie embraces those moments, it brought me back to being 8 years old again.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Visual World Building9.5/10
Fully Realized Pokémon9.0/10
Reynolds as our cuddly icon9.0/10
A little inaccesible for the unfamilar6.0/10
- Ryme City
- Translated Pokémon
- Game and Cartoon References
- Weak Story
- A little Inaccessible for non-fans
- Writing is hit-or-miss