“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” came at a unique period in Pokémon’s career, the franchise was at an all-time high with the success of its mobile app Pokémon Go and its animated feature “Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us” proving how far they had come in trying new things and doing well each time. Pokémon was in the market of taking risks, especially in the form of new animation styles seen in the Pokémon Sun and Moon anime and aforementioned “Pokémon the Movie: The Power of Us.” So where was the series to go next? The one place fans both dreamed of and feared: live action.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is a beautifully realized mix of live action and CGI, with Pokémon such as Pikachu and Snorlax boasting how cute and snuggly they are with their realistic fur and soft demeanors. Charizard, who breathes fire that can absolutely annihilate anyone in its path, sports the look of an angry lizard. The team worked to translate several of the 800 plus pocket monsters into the film and it certainly paid off.
The plot for “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is fairly simple. Tim Goodman is an insurance salesman who has given up his dreams of becoming a Pokémon trainer. After his father, Harry Goodman, is pronounced dead following a car accident, Tim goes to Ryme City to clean out his father’s apartment. While there, Tim finds a talking Pikachu with no memory of his past but knows that he was Harry’s partner Pokémon. Pikachu claims that Harry is still alive somehow and the two set out to solve the mystery.
If the plot does not sound compelling, it is because it is not. “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is a fun movie, but its plot is a by-the-numbers mystery with familiar story beats just like many films before it. Anything that the film tries to throw at you will be something that you will have figured out way beforehand. But being that it’s a kid’s film with gorgeous cinematography, this is forgivable.
Another reason this is forgivable is that Ryan Reynolds as Detective Pikachu and Justice Smith as Tim Goodman have amazing chemistry. The two have a sort of familial bond that gives the film emotional weight. In particular, during one scene Tim laments the loss of his father, thinking that the case will be fruitless and Pikachu consoles him by saying his father would be proud of him and who he has become. Moments like that, alongside the pure comedy that Pikachu delivers to stooge Tim make for a great buddy comedy film. Sadly the rest of the cast is stale, with characters like Ken Watanabe’s Hideo Yoshida not giving much except for exposition and Kathryn Newton’s Lucy Stevens giving too much to the point of being annoying. Essentially, pretty much anything that does not have to do with the main plot simply does not work, especially the awkward romance between Tim and Lucy.
The biggest problem “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” has is that if you are not a Pokémon fan, this is not for you. The film does little to be accessible to a larger audience and that may present issues when it comes to making sequels. While I, being a strong fan of the franchise since I was a child, was thoroughly excited and captivated watching Torterra walk across the screen, my friend who does not care for Pokémon at all, was totally apathetic.
If you are a Pokémon fan, then “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is definitely for you. It has a predictable plot with plot twists you will see coming from a mile away. The mostly stale cast, which extends to even the villain may leave you feeling barren whenever Detective Pikachu and Tim are not on screen. On the upside you get to see your favorite creatures live in this gorgeous background, and that makes the 105-minute runtime worth every second. Everyone else will feel alienated and either have fun with all of the colors and cinematography or head straight for the exit.