Pokémon Detective Pikachu Review - A Surprising Oddity
Pokémon Detective Pikachu is finally the video game adaptation we deserve, yet it’s also an oddity we never knew we needed. A Pokémon movie about a talking, hat-wearing, clue-hunting Pikachu that doesn’t fight trainers to win gym badges is a concept that shouldn’t work. But the result is surprisingly solid, both for a video game movie and for a suspenseful mystery flick.
In Pokémon Detective Pikachu, 21-year-old Tim Goodman learns that his detective father died in a fiery car crash and hops on a train to settle matters in Ryme City, where his father worked. In his dad’s apartment, Tim encounters an amnesiac Pikachu searching for the elder Goodman. The two realize they understand each other, and Pikachu suggests the detective may not be dead. The two decide to team up to retrieve Pikachu’s memory and unravel the mystery surrounding Tim’s dad.
Before the plot even unfolds, the movie immediately impresses. The animated Pokémon look fantastic. If Pokémon were real, they would look exactly like they do in Pokémon Detective Pikachu, for better or for worse. Pikachu is cute and fluffy, Bulbasaur has an adorable smile, but Charizard is scary, scuffed and scaly.
Not only are the Pokémon gorgeously rendered, but they are integral to the story and world being built. Pidgeot fly through the sky, Tauros roam their pastures, a Charmander heats a wok for his street vendor friend, and a Machamp directs traffic. Pokémon appear on storefronts and branding, like a Noctowl on a neon sign to advertise coffee. The world is full of easter eggs for fans, and the environment comes alive with the constant integration of Pokémon, mostly from early generations. The movie clearly targets an audience of 20-somethings with fond memories of the early Gameboy entries.
Ryme City, the Japanese-American fusion metropolis, gives Pokémon Detective Pikachu a neo-noir feel with beautiful lighting and shadowing. The camera work in the city captures the contrast of the neon lights against dank alleyways at night. Outside the city, natural environments are lush and bright. Overall, the movie is well-shot, which helps it feel more mature and polished than expected.
The music and sound effects are also on-target, capturing the familiarity of other Pokémon media. Henry Jackman’s (Big Hero Six, Uncharted 4) soundtrack seamlessly meshes some classic Pokémon themes and original compositions that would be at home in a mainline game with contemplative detective tracks and full orchestral arrangements that help the movie feel at home in the theater.
As for the plot and characters, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a mixed bag. The surprisingly complex story keeps viewers gripped, as they uncover clues bit by bit alongside the characters. The “Eureka!” moment doesn’t come until the last few minutes of the film when everything clicks. Even after the movie, viewers might still find themselves connecting some of the more subtle, entangled clues. It feels like a detective movie should be nestled within the Pokémon universe. That’s great for longtime fans, but it may be a little convoluted for kids, especially those who may not know some of the lore around specific Pokemon that play roles in the story.
Nonetheless, anyone can watch the movie and clearly understand the mystery’s solution, even those who don’t play the games. They just might miss a couple specific clues, hints or context. Pokémon Detective Pikachu invites everyone to the movies and gives a little extra to longtime followers.
Unlike the twisting plot, characters are generally flat and follow tired tropes. Without giving much away, let it suffice to say that none of the character arcs should be surprising. The villain has predictable motives. Tim’s human sidekick, a reporter intern named Lucy, is hardly developed. Tim’s best friend appears in one scene and is never mentioned again. Most other characters slip in and out, used as necessary to advance the story. That’s partially an unfortunate consequence of a movie under two hours, but it’s also a failure to write any meaningful roles. While the acting is generally good and the writing mostly strays away from cringiness, the characters themselves don’t have unique tics, habits, or factoids. Even Tim, while likable, is basic.
It is no stretch to say that Pokémon Detective Pikachu is truly a movie about Ryan Reynolds’ Pikachu, the undisputed star of the show with energy, spunk and an addiction to coffee. His jokes are well-written and delivered, and he keeps the audience engaged. There’s something about hearing Reynolds’ Pikachu swearing and making naughty jokes that might never get old.
Despite lacking character development, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is still enjoyable and delivers more than expected. The easiest path for a debut Pokémon live-action film would have been to follow the familiar storyline of a kid becoming a Pokémon champion, but Pokémon Detective Pikachu takes a risk by going off the beaten path. The risk pays off, as the film is consistently quirky, funny, and beautiful to see and hear. Equal parts mystery and Pokémon, it’s accessible to all while providing a sigh of relief for longtime Pokémon fans with fingers crossed for an end to gaming’s big-screen curse. Pokémon Detective Pikachu, while not a cinematic masterpiece, gets the job done and is worth seeing.
If for no other reason, go see it for Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu. You won’t regret it.