Review - 'Pokémon: Detective Pikachu'
Though I thought the videogame movie curse was broken with last year’s Tomb Raider, Rob Letterman’s Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is the film that critics and audiences finally, sort of, got on board with. That’s me saying that it took a little longer for me to get around to watching this movie and that my mind was already tainted by many others opinions on the film. With that disclaimer out of the way, I found Detective Pikachu to be perfectly serviceable little caper in the Pokemon world, and another decent video game-based film to add to the short, but growing list of successful adaptations from the medium.
Pokemon: Detective Pikachu follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a former Pokemon trainer looking for his missing father, Harry Goodman. Tim travels to Ryme City and discovers his father’s Pokemon partner, a Pikachu, which can inexplicably communicate fluently with him, and only him. He reluctantly teams up with Pikachu to uncover the secrets surrounding Harry Goodman’s disappearance.
It’s hard to gauge who will get the most enjoyment out of this film. Personally, I’m pretty familiar with Pokemon. I played some of the earlier Gameboy games, was enamored by the television show and had an unhealthy obsession with the trading card game. For me, seeing all of these Pokemon brought to life was nostalgic and I would be lying if I said my previous affinity for the property didn’t add to my overall enjoyment of the film. Still, I feel like there’s a sense of wonder to the world of this film that should at least pique the curiosity of someone not familiar with Pokemon. World-building truly is where this film excels. I loved the Ryme City and all of its Pokemon inhabitants, and I believe that both Pokemon fans and the general public will, at the very least, appreciate the attention to detail and thoughtful consideration poured into every frame of this film. There’s not a single moment where there’s not something eye-catching happening in the foreground or background of each and every scene.
It’s good that the world is so much fun to spend time in, because the mystery that drives the story is not very compelling at all. Justice Smith is fine in the lead role, but not for one second did I care whether or not he found his father, I just wanted to bask in the sheer Pokemon-ness of the setting. There are plot revelations that are meant to be impacting, but did nothing for me whatsoever, and to a degree that’s okay because the film is clearly more concerned with the colorful diversions that happen between point A and B of the story.
The film also isn’t all that concerned about making its human characters interesting. As mentioned before, Justice Smith is technically okay, but there’s nothing about his character that made me root for him. The same can be said for Kathryn Newton, who plays a reporter named Lucy Stevens. She partners up with Tim early on and there are meant to be tinges of romance, but it all falls flat due to the writing and the stilted delivery of the dialogue. The one shining light performance-wise comes in the form of Ryan Reynolds, who provides the voice of Pikachu. Sure, it mostly boils down to PG Deadpool/Ted, but it still somehow works, even though I never believed for one second that his voice was actually emanating from the cute yellow fluff-ball bouncing around on the screen.
Speaking of cute yellow fluff-balls, Pikachu and all of his Pokemon peers have never looked better. These creatures could not have been imagined in a better way for a live-action film. They aren’t realistic, but they also aren’t too cartoonish, which ensures that they avoid looking creepy but still interact believably with the realistic setting they live in. Hats off to the VFX companies that likely took FOREVER to bring this world to vibrant life.
Pokemon: Detective Pikachu isn’t going to send you over the moon, and that’s mainly due to its lacking characters and a story that I couldn’t give two Ratatas about, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had in this lively world of pocket monsters.