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Pokémon Detective Pikachu Review

May 10, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Detective Pikachu Image Credit: Warner Bros. Legendary Pictures
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Pokémon Detective Pikachu Review  

Directed By: Rob Letterman
Written By: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly and Nicole Perlman; Based on the Pokémon series and characters
Runtime: 104 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements

Justice Smith – Tim Goodman
Ryan Reynolds/Ikue Ôtani – Detective Pikachu
Kathryn Newton – Lucy Stevens
Bill Nighy – Howard Clifford
Ken Watanabe – Lieutenant Hide Yoshida
Chris Geere – Roger Clifford
Suki Waterhouse – Ms. Norman
Rita Ora – Dr. Ann Laurent
Karan Soni – Karan Soni

It was probably only a matter of time before a live-action movie based on the Pokémon franchise was ultimately made. While I’m hesitant to say Pokémon Detective Pikachu is the video game movie to break the video game movie curse, I would say it’s at least an entertaining, solid, and mostly enjoyable buddy film that at least doesn’t spit on and destroy the franchise it’s adapting. More or less, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is on the level of the first Mortal Kombat for any gamer who is partial to that film. It’s not a masterpiece, but it gets its job done for the most part.

The story follows young adult Tim Goodman (Smith). He’s a small-town insurance appraiser who has no interest in catching or partnering up with Pokémon in a world that’s full of Pokémon. One thing that director and co-writer Letterman does very well is establishing a world where humans and Pokémon coexist without taking a ton of time explaining how it works. There’s only one minor aside sequence that offers a bit of insight. It’s a bit refreshing not to have a giant prologue or exposition scene to set up how this can happen.

After a failed attempt to catch a Cubone at the urging of Tim’s friend Jack (Soni), Tim learns that his estranged detective father, Harry, died in a car accident. Tim travels to Rhyme City, which is a human and Pokémon utopia where the two races live and work together in harmony, to check on his father’s apartment. However, after unwittingly unleashing a noxious gas from a vial he meets a wayward Pikachu (Reynolds). However, this Pikachu has the ability to communicate with Tim, and only Tim, and believes he’s a detective. This Pikachu knows in its “jellies” that Harry is still alive and only he and Tim can solve the mystery of what happened. Reluctantly, Tim decides to work together with Pikachu to crack the case. But they’ve also stumbled on a deep conspiracy that threatens to shake the foundations of Rhyme City.

The main drawback to Detective Pikachu is that there are hints of a better film, that of an underdog sports movie rather than a buddy cop thriller. Instead, the movie went with the direction of the video game Detective Pikachu, which is fine, but there isn’t quite that sense of ‘Gotta catch ’em all’ and ‘being the very best.’ Additionally, Tim has a background where he appeared to want to be a Pokémon trainer but left it behind due to a family tragedy. This comes up at a couple of points in the film, but it’s largely put aside. The movie does work in Pokémon attacks and abilities at points, and they are integrated well when they do show up. It simply could’ve used more.

Detective Pikachu has a couple of plot twists that are fairly predictable and telegraphed. However, the film does have one major plot twist that works and does vastly improve the rest of the narrative, with a more sensical explanation.

In terms of the visuals, Pokémon in the film are vast and varied. They all have nice appealing designs, and the visual effects artists and animators didn’t go too far in taking too many liberties with these designs. They are fairly faithful to the games and anime series, which I believe fans will appreciate. That being said, some of the CG models for the Pokémon are a little iffy and looked a little flat on the screen. Some of the animated models are not integrated well with the real world they are supposed to inhabit, so it breaks the immersion.

Now, some of the Pokémon creatures look sharp and on point, such as Pikachu and Charizard in their highlight scenes. The Charizard fight sequence is probably the standout scene in the movie. However, there are other scenes where the CG looks a little flat, unfinished, and uninspired. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but it looks like the Pokémon computer animation could’ve used another layer of polish. Either that or the producers could have considered creating some of them with some practical effects.

In terms of the performances, Justice Smith does a good job as the window in character for the narrative. The female lead, Lucy Stevens (Newton), does serviceable work, but some of her dialogue is rather goofy and forced. Lucy is a lowly intern who works at CNM but aspires to be an ace reporter, stumbling on the case Harry Goodman was working on. Though her Psyduck partner was probably the show-stealer.

Reynolds’ vocal performance as Pikachu is largely decent and inoffensive. Some of his pithy one-liners are great, but there are instances where Pikachu’s constant need to provide running commentary on what’s painfully obvious can be a bit grating. Reynolds’ particular brand of sarcastic humor and one-liners are well-suited for the Deadpool character, but not quite as much for Pikachu. His version of Pikachu is a toned-down, PG-version of Deadpool, which very well might work for some fans.

Detective Pikachu generally works and is a reasonably enjoyable, fun film. Considering what’s happened with video game-based films in the past, that’s high praise at this point.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Pokémon Detective Pikachu Review is not a masterpiece. It's not the Iron Man of video game movies and doesn't come close. However, it does provide a solid, entertaining, and generally fun experience that kids and families will likely enjoy together without the parents regretting it later. The first cinematic experience for the Pokémon probably could've gone in a couple more preferable directions, but this is adequate for the most part.