On paper, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a movie that shouldn’t work and it’s to director Rob Letterman and the film’s four (!!) writers that it just about does. A combination of Pokémon and hard-boiled noir classics of the 1940s wouldn’t have been anyone’s first pick for what the movie should be about, but mashing both worlds together for a modern take allows for an exciting feel that plays well to its core fanbase. Veterans will delight in playing a ‘who’s who’ game of spot the Pokémon, and the franchise is treated with enough respect for fans to admire this bold new take. There’s enough plot to hook casual viewers too, with a compelling mystery element. Think a PG-13 version of The Nice Guys, only instead of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling you have Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith.
Those who have seen Deadpool will be familiar with Reynolds’ routine here, it’s meta and on the nose, and again, most of the jokes land. Detective Pikachu has lost his memory and cannot interact with most humans. He’s only able to talk to the son of his missing partner, who has a boring office job and is one of the few people yet to find a Pokémon partner. The action soon moves to Ryme City, a home where Pokémon and humans can live side by side without Pokémon battles taking place in harmony. But that harmony is threatened when a conspiracy is unearthed that could change the world forever.
The mystery has a few surprises even if it doesn’t get the best out of the entire cast. Whilst big names are involved like Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy, they often feel short-changed in favour of the dynamic between Smith’s character Tim Goodman and Pikachu. Kathryn Newton’s young, quirky intern reporter – Lucy Stevens does get a bit more in the way of character development, but the main arc is about the hunt for Tim’s father who may or may not be dead, and it feels purely plot driven outside of when it slows down for comedy which leads to the characters suffering as a result as they just feel kind of there. But in a Pokémon movie, it’s often hard to fault when the Pokémon themselves are just so well done, and rightly so – the stars of their own movie.
The action does feel bland and generic and its leads to a by-the-numbers finale that could be interchangeable from every other blockbuster of the last decade, but it coasts by on its charm and likeability of everyone involved. The chemistry between Reynolds and Smith is good, and Reynolds oozes charisma even though he’s playing an animated character. More often than not scenes are saved by Reynolds’ take on them, and even when the movie is at its most boring, whenever a Pokémon is on screen, you’re bound to have a good time. Teased in the trailers, a fight scene between a Charizard and Pikachu is among the highlights of the films’ action, and the CGI for the most part, considering how bad things could have been even with the publicly derided trailer for the live action Sonic the Hedgehog movie, is very impressive, especially as Pikachu looks like one of the most adorable CGI creations ever.
Detective Pikachu is an instant crowd-pleaser, especially for fans and younger audiences with plenty of Easter eggs for them to return to and spot, and exciting sequences for them to be entertained by. As a potential franchise starter, it has the ingredients to become a hit in the future with somewhat believable worldbuilding that creates a sense of intrigue. As far as blockbuster movies go, it isn’t a bad one.