I’ll be totally honest – when I first heard that Warner Bros was making a live-action Pokémon movie based on some game that featured a talking Pikachu that moonlit as a detective, I was pretty skeptical. The subsequent announcement that Ryan Reynolds would be voicing the titular Detective Pikachu did intrigue me a bit, at least, but I still wasn’t sure such a thing could work. Then the first trailer hit and the CGI actually looked really good and the tone seemed to be a softer version of Reynolds’ Deadpool humor, so I was a lot closer to being sold on the idea. Having now seen the film, I can safely say that it’s exactly what you think a film with a talking Pikachu moonlighting as a detective and voiced by Ryan Reynolds would be: devilishly funny. But it’s also a pretty solid mystery and a really fun movie. (Mild spoilers follow)
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (written and directed by Rob Letterman)
The story begins when ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim (Justice Smith) to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds): a hilariously wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth who is a puzzlement even to himself. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to communicate with one another, Tim and Pikachu join forces on a thrilling adventure to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together through the neon-lit streets of Ryme City – a sprawling, modern metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side by side in a hyper-realistic live-action world – they encounter a diverse cast of Pokémon characters and uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe.
There are basically two reasons why one might see Detective Pikachu on opening weekend: they’re fans of Pokémon or they’re fans of Ryan Reynolds. In both cases, they should be pretty satisfied with what they encounter. Detective Pikachu is a very loving Pokémon film. The movie is literally stuffed full with reference to the anime and to the Pokémon series as a whole. There are so many nods to things that Pokémon fans will recognize that it should make anybody who adored the series as children squee with joy. The CGI for the Pokémon is extraordinary – it looks very realistic but not so realistic that it’s super frightening. It still feels like Pokémon just in a world that looks more like our own than an animated series. While the film is definitely a love letter to Pokémon fans, audiences don’t have to be remotely familiar with the series in order to enjoy the film. Detective Pikachu assumes that audiences are totally unfamiliar with the Pokémon series, so it takes care to introduce the main elements early on in the film (though, these early exposition dumps are a bit clunky). This is a Pokémon film for fans of the series and for newcomers alike.
Additionally, fans of Ryan Reynolds should also be extremely pleased with this movie. You liked his humor in the Deadpool movies? Cool, this movie is filled with similar meta-humor. Sure, it’s toned down a bit here than it is in the Deadpool films, but it’s very much of the same vein as his other work. Reynolds, of course, is not just an excellent comedic actor; he brings a lot of genuine emotion to each of his roles and Detective Pikachu is no different. Here, he plays a Pikachu whose memory has been lost. He feels confused and alone and quickly connects to Tim, the son of his former (believed to be dead) partner and uses that friendship as a means to discover his missing memories and to try and make a genuine connection again. The heart of this film is in the relationship between Pikachu and Tim and Reynolds (alongside Justice Smith) really sells that emotion in a way that makes the audience actually care about the two of them as characters. Mix Ryan Reynolds’ excellent voice acting with some great CGI and you have a character who you almost believe is actually in the frame with Tim and the other human characters – the CGI looks purposely fake at times, so you never fully believe the Pokémon are there, but you come about as close as you can. Especially with how fluffy Pikachu is here. This movie is gonna make a lot of people want Pikachu plushies.
So, the fact that the movie did a good job at portraying the Pokémon series on the big screen and featured a strong performance from Ryan Reynolds was the bare minimum this movie had to do in order to be a worthwhile experience. It’s the minimum that people going into this movie would expect. It was the minimum of my expectations. What I didn’t expect was just how good a mystery this film would have. The trailers reveal very little of the true mystery at the core of this film; yes, Tim and Pikachu are trying to figure out what happened to Tim’s dad and Pikachu, but that’s really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the mystery at the heart of this film. I don’t want to say much more about the actual contents of the mystery, but it unfolds in a very classic mystery-story fashion, complete with a number of red herrings and intentionally false information, all culminating in a big villainous reveal that is both surprising and expected. Those familiar with the tropes of mystery stories will likely figure out who the ultimate bad guy is before the film tells you, but the villain’s evil plan does come as a tiny bit of a shock. The pieces, however, are laid very well throughout the film. As you watch it for the first time, you don’t necessarily catch each of them, but once you know how the mystery is solved, all the clues that were laid throughout the film become apparent. It’s a pretty satisfying mystery with a pretty satisfying conclusion, though there is one final twist in the last few minutes of the film that, while I predicted it, I’m not sure that I really dug. I get what they were going for, but I’m not sure it totally works. Audiences will know it the moment they see it. On the whole, however, it’s a really surprisingly strong mystery. I will say that audiences might find it beneficial to revisit the very first Pokémon film – the one that features Mewtoo.
All in all, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was a lovely surprise. I went in with minimal expectations – I just wanted something that featured some good Ryan Reynolds comedy and some fun Pokémon – but I got something that was actually better than that. The writing isn’t amazing; it’s not gonna win any awards for mystery films and there’s some really clunky exposition – especially involving Tim’s relationship with his parents – but it’s still a pretty good mystery and there are some really great moments between Tim and Pikachu. Ryan Reynolds, obviously, gives a great performance but his performance is joined by some equally good performances by Justice Smith and the rest of the cast. This is a film that feels like a love letter to the Pokémon series while still being very accessible to new audiences. It’s a great mixture of darkness and comedy, of action and of mystery, and of genuine emotion and complete irreverence. It’s a really fun movie that I don’t think anyone will regret having seen. There are some issues – a few potential plotholes, some cliche emotional beats, some clunky exposition, a sometimes too-long running time – but I think it’s still a very fun movie. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a great time.
4 out of 5 wands.