Detective Pikachu doesn’t pull too many surprises — it’s a fun and a sometimes adorable jaunt through a well-created world. Director Rob Letterman brings us into a world of Pokémon as we’ve never seen before, but it’s got enough of the original charm that it carries over nicely.
After a humorous misadventure with a Cubone, the surprisingly dark beginning is a portrayal of a disjointed family and the death of a loved one. Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) has just gotten word that his father was in an accident and has been declared dead. Traveling to an idyllic city where pokemon and people live and work as one — no Pokeballs and no battles — Tim gets thrust into unveiling the mystery behind his father’s purported death. He meets the titular Detective Pikachu, who was Tim’s father’s partner pokemon, and the two team up to work out exactly what’s going on.
The world that Detective Pikachu puts together is colorful, and the filmmakers have done a great job at filling it with all sorts of little details. It’s evident that the film is aimed at both newer audiences and those with some nostalgia regarding the Pokémon series; the attention to detail put into the different Pokémon and the eclectic variety shown is rather impressive, and will leave fans pointing at the screen as they pick out things they recognize. There’s also a subtle but very nice nod to Pokemon: The First Movie, referencing the events around Mewtwo’s original escape. A bit of a goofy dichotomy with darker subjects exists, like an underground fight club and drug use put against the lively world of Pokémon, but it never crosses the line too far in either direction. The film is still at heart a family movie, but it doesn’t shy away from some of the darker aspects of its plot.
One of the major draws of Detective Pikachu is arguably the pokémon they chose to feature, as well as how they are adapted for this more realistic take. Pleasantly enough, there is a good mix of a few generations, as well as some interesting choices are thrown in (though the Jigglypuff closeup which caused a bit of controversy when the trailer first dropped is absent).
A scene which perfectly captures this draw is close to the beginning when a crawl across Ryme City reveals a plethora of detail and colour. An impressive shot shows a host of pokemon, often walking beside their human partners or going about their own business. There are also wild pokémon who coexist in the same city space, and Ryme City truly feels alive from these very first moments. The CGI, as well as how the actors interact with the movement of the Pokémon, is certainly deserving of praise. An underground fight club scene sees Tim being swept up and thrown about by a raging Charizard, and it’s quite convincing. The filmmakers have clearly worked hard getting things to have a tactile, physical quality, and it pays off.
Another very strong element is the humour, with Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds (as the voice of Pikachu) bouncing off each other perfectly. They work incredibly well together and carry the movie triumphantly forward. A lot of other pokémon interactions are also presented in funny and adorable ways, such as aspiring reporter Psyduck, who has a fair share of great moments, and is always a point of interest in any scene.
His human partner, Lucy (Kathryn Newton), is another nice addition to the team, and forms as the love interest for Tim. Surprisingly, this amorous plotline doesn’t override any part of the film, and doesn’t force itself. Lucy aides the main duo in their escapades and investigation with her own valuable information, and is portrayed quite effectively as a very excitable but hard-working girl with big dreams. She may not get the same shine that the main duo does, but she fits well within her role.
As for the story, there is a couple of major swerves that the script thinks it’s throwing at the viewer, but they’re fairly predictable. I didn’t walk in expecting a big convoluted plot, however, and despite the straightforward narrative, Detective Pikachu is an overall fun ride with plenty of intriguing stops on the way, from fight pits to government experiments.
The only major flaw is the villain’s master plan, which leaves the ending sequences feeling a little hollow. Sure, part of it makes sense, but his actions past a certain point aren’t bolstered with much good reason. It’s a trip down memory lane that might have some appeal to the younger audience, but it does take away from the final confrontation quite a bit. Outside of this there, were a few characters that felt a little weak and strongly undeveloped in the background — sadly including Ken Watanabe as a senior detective — but the major focus of the film is an incredibly strong core. It’s also a little predictable for a mystery, but despite the straightforward narrative, Detective Pikachu is an overall fun ride with plenty of intriguing stops on the way, from fight pits to government experiments.
With this film, some new games on the horizon, and the upcoming remake of the first Pokémon film (titled Mewtwo Strikes Back: Evolution), Pokémon seems to be maintaining its incredible stronghold in pop culture. If quality like Detective Pikachu is consistently presented, they certainly deserve it. As someone who grew up playing every new Pokémon game, and as someone who has also drifted away from the series over the past decade, I still found great enjoyment in Detective Pikachu. It’s a well-crafted feature, with two incredibly strong characters helming the investigation. Whilst there are some elements which feel a bit weak and lacking in needed focus, Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds propel this movie forward to greatness.