Move over, Endgame.
You might have ended a decade of MCU movies, but Detective Pikachu played to my 20-years of investment in the
subjectively best video game series of all time.
My development as a person and writer was kick-started by Mom teaching me to read with the text in Pokémon Crystal. I’ve been waiting for this movie ever since.
So, the objective side of my cinephilia can critique a few key issues. But that doesn’t take away from Rob Letterman giving me the breathing Pokémon society — focusing on more than just prodigal, battling children — that I’ve always wanted.
Detective Pikachu follows accountant Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) as he confronts the death of his mother and resulting alienation of his father after the man goes missing in a utopian city designed for Pokémon to coincide with humans.
He does so with the help of a talking Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds — clearly channeling Deadpool while still grounded in this source material) and aspiring investigative reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton).
To be blunt, Detective Pikachu is bloated with clichés.
It mimics film noir and buddy cop tropes, such as a boy who needs to learn to love again and his amnesiac animal partner. There are also multiple plot points throughout the movie’s two-hour run you’ve seen before:
- The shady, experimenting corporation.
- The blossoming love between main (human) characters.
- The incidents with a substance that causes loss of control (ala Zootopia).
Besides a surprise twist in the third act, the overall situations are well-worn. Yet the actors keep them from feeling stale.
Reynolds made me love the overplayed series mascot I usually scoff at. He’s snarky, heartfelt and delivers some solid (seemingly improvised) jokes.
Minor spoiler: At one point, he sings a depressed rendition of the original anime theme song, and it’s worth the price of admission alone.
Reynolds and Smith sell the buddy cop bit, and I liked Smith and Newton’s chemistry as well — especially since their burgeoning romance ended without a dramatic kiss.
Smith carried the movie handily, surprisingly so given my lukewarm reception to Fallen Kingdom. I really enjoyed his character arc and relationship with Pikachu that shined during a heart-to-heart mid-way through the film.
That scene in particular also has a gorgeous shot where Smith’s stoic face during a sad story is betrayed by a tear that makes the neon city lights outline his cheek.
Detective Pikachu had surprisingly pretty cinematography in my opinion, outside of some shots that relied too heavily on shaky dissolves and off-center angles for my taste.
On top of that, I never once felt like the CGI Pokémon were out of place. They always seemed believably real in the living people’s arms.
Granted I might be predisposed to believing in real-life Pokémon because of my history and encyclopedic knowledge with the series. But my sister (who saw the movie with me) is less of a hardcore fan and didn’t report any concerns.
Ironically, I felt like the Pokémon CGI was masterful in-part because a lot of the practical effects were… Real bad? Most of the actors looked like they were slipping around on wires during action scenes.
But for me, that was barely a concern in light of the respect Detective Pikachu shows fans of the series in its overt and subtle references.
Alongside the anime’s theme song, most of the music throughout the film sounded like it could have come from the Sinnoh or Unova region games.
There are dozens of the 800+ Pokémon appearing as live models (both the recognizable Pikachu and less conventional Treeckos or Purrloins) and set-pieces (some favorites being the Latios and Latias stickers in Tom’s room, and a store named after Whismur).
Their appearances are true to established lore as well, with Charizard weakened as someone stomps on its tail flame and Slaking almost exclusively loafing around.
Mewtwo‘s powers are a less traditional example that sticks out, but even that strange treatment plays into an unexpected plot point that I enjoyed. Plus, they nailed the legendary Pokémon’s origin with an interesting new angle.
People who are not a fan of the games or anime may be somewhat lost. It immediately drops audiences in and lets most references quickly fly by. Yet enough is explained for the public to follow its plot, and the movie is funny regardless of pre-existing knowledge.
You might get more out of some jokes if you know Mr. Mime, for instance, but even if you don’t his scenes have some great slapstick with effective sound effects.
Frankly, I’m not sure what else I can say.
I’m obviously biased, but the movie is just as obviously tailored toward fans like me. From that perspective, I wholeheartedly recommend Detective Pikachu from my three-year-old heart and from the highly knowledgeable dork I am today.
But the movie also has enough family-friendly elements and appeal for non-super-fans. Some of the effects aren’t perfect, and the overall package leans on clichés, but the cast and world-building do more than enough to make up for it.
I had a blast seeing this movie with my sister. It’s a master class in video game adaptations — One that’s very much needed in the face of Sonic the Hedgehog and Angry Birds 2.
Go see it, so we can get more live action Pokémon movies. And cards to go with them:
You won’t see a TCG fan like me complaining.