Pokémon is, perhaps, one of the world’s most ubiquitous pop culture properties of the last 30 years or so – you don’t have to exactly be an expert to know that Pikachu’s very image can inspire a reaction from adults and children alike.
It’s no surprise, then, that Pikachu is the frame of reference for this entire movie, as Detective Pikachu showcases the furry rascal in every way possible. The plot in a nutshell: Tim Goodman (Jurassic World 2) arrives in Ryme City after receiving news that his estranged father, a detective for the Ryme City Police Department, has died. Tim goes to his father’s apartment to make arrangements and runs into his father’s Pokémon partner who is, you guessed it, Pikachu, voiced by Deadpool‘s Ryan Reynolds.
As the trailers imply, Pikachu and Tim can understand one another – the reason as to why is unveiled during the film, if perhaps a little hamfistedly – and together they begin a journey to unravel the circumstances surrounding Goodman Sr.’s untimely death.
In terms of Detective Pikachu‘s star power, Ryan Reynolds brings it with his voice acting of Pikachu – it’s basically Deadpool but for kids (i.e. sans swearing). The mile-a-minute jokes/gags will be familiar to most, and easily is one of the primary vehicles for the film as a whole. I would submit, however, that even above Reynolds’ star power, the real celebrities of the film are the Pokémon themselves. Seeing Pikachu, Squirtle, Bulbasaur, Charmander (later, a Charizard), Psyduck, Machamp, Ditto, Snorlax, Gyarados, etc., it’s inexplicably exciting for longtime fans of the Pokémon franchise (such as myself).
They look absolutely, breathtakingly real, and are lovingly animated in every possible fashion. The visuals of Ryme City, which is billed as a Pokéball-free place where the pocket monsters can roam free with their partners at will, is a treat to see – it strikes me as a mix of London and Tokyo from a building standpoint, with Pokémon sights stuffed into every corner (Wynaut’s Donuts? I’d like two, please). There are also some fun references to the original Kanto region, complete with Reynolds’ Pikachu singing the 90s cartoon’s theme song.
Unfortunately, the pure focus on the fan service that is showing off the Pokémon universe is also the film’s greatest downfall. If you put aside the brilliant visuals, the rest of the movie is sadly lacking. Tim gets the news about his father while on a Pokémon catching expedition with his friend (played by Deadpool‘s Karan Soni in what is essentially a glorified cameo) and expediently hops on a train to Ryme City. Between the train ride and meeting Pikachu, a scant 15 minutes or so, Tim doesn’t seem to care one bit that his father has passed away. The film wants you to think that it’s because they’re estranged – but truthfully, it’s because Detective Pikachu isn’t really all that concerned with Tim’s feelings about his father – it just wants him to meet the wise-cracking, furry detective as soon as possible.
Something relevant to this: Detective Pikachu Review: A Shockingly Good Spin-Off
There was some real potential for Detective Pikachu to operate as a kids’ noir thriller – still fun and fan service-y, while still engaging with the basic tenets of an actual detective movie. Example: Tim meets Lucy Stevens (Blockers, HBO’s Big Little Lies), a young intern-turned-hopeful-reporter introduced as our female noir lead, but by the next scene she’s already shifted to the gee-whiz young kid expected of a Pokémon movie, and by the end she’s just become a standard love interest for Tim.
Even the actual detective work in the film largely boils down to watching Tim and Pikachu watching camera footage that simply explains the mysteries through exposition directly to the viewer before the main villainous setpiece takes place minutes later (it oddly reminds me of Tim Burton’s Batman movie). Unfortunate as well is that after the promising beginning of Tim and Pikachu skulking about the night time locations of the massive, sprawling Ryme City with Pokémon lurking about every corner, the viewers are taken to labs and forests for much of the remainder of the film, before we return to the metropolis for a brief – and predictable – reveal/conclusion.
Truthfully, it’s a strange situation to be in, because at the end of the day, it’s still a children’s movie. It clearly tries to present itself to adults who have some nostalgia for their favourite Pokémon and capitalizes on that by bringing them to life in convincing fashion. If that’s what you are there to see, then the ticket was worth the price of admission.
As a film, Detective Pikachu is simply forgettable. It’s not that great, nor is it really all that bad. It just doesn’t have anything all that interesting to say, which is a real shame, because the potential was there (Tim’s daddy issues, a real detective story, a Rupert Murdoch-like figure, journalism struggling to do what’s right, etc). Hopefully, with the setup out of the way, the inevitable sequel does a little more.
This is sort of related: Super Mario Bros. Movie: Should Mario Talk?
Detective Pikachu released in theatres on May 10, 2019.
You can find Sho on Twitter (@SNSAlli), where he’d love to chat with you about movies, video games, sports, and more!