Video-game movies often fall flat because there isn’t enough story to build upon their premise. Pokémon Detective Pikachu works well enough because it takes its amusingly bizarre premise – humans co-existing with weirdly cute creatures- and wraps it in an adequate mystery-adventure that embraces Pokémon lore. The live-action Pokémon become surprisingly wonderful due to some great visuals that have created realistic Pokémon with personality and expression. While the film’s narrative is a bit clunky and its character work is simplistic, the charming and humorous interactions among humans and Pokémon make for a breezy, enjoyable viewing experience.
When resigned Pokémon trainer, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), is informed of the death and disappearance of his father, Harry, he goes to Ryme city (a place where Pokémon and humans co-exist) for answers. Here, Tim finds his father’s Pokémon, an amnesiac Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) whom he is able to talk with, and the pair set off to solve Harry’s mysterious vanishing and Pikachu’s memory-loss. With the help of struggling reporter, Lucy (Kathryn Newton), and her Psyduck, Tim and Pikachu’s investigation of mysterious gas leads them to a shady Pokémon genetic experiment that connects to Harry.
Our introduction to the world of Pokémon is an exciting, visually appealing one. Ryme City’s neon-aesthetic not only looks cool but fits the mystery-based plot. This city is brought to life by heaps of fun details like Pokémon merchandise, shops and underground battles. I’m sure there’s tons of Easter-eggs that Pokémon fans can spot in each scene. Meanwhile, the Pokémon themselves are just plain awesome and oh-so-adorable. Whether they are doing random city jobs or battling our protagonists, the movie makes the most of their unique abilities and personalities. Psyduck is a definite stand-out. The creative integration of Pokémon in human society, as well as the earnestness in which the film treats his subject matter, helps sell this world’s believability.
Expectedly, Detective Pikachu is the star of the movie, and Ryan Reynolds brings his cute, wise-cracking personality to life. Every scene with him is a delightful joy to watch, especially his exchanges with other Pokémon. Meanwhile, Justice Smith’s Tim Goodman is an endearing protagonist and is able to hold his own against Reynold’s Pikachu. Their growing bond and banter make the movie work, providing both humour and emotion. However, while all the Pokémon are fun to behold, the supporting human characters are pretty forgettable. And though the film tries to delve into fractured parent-child relationships and second chances, these things are explored rather superficially. Luckily, the characters’ chemistry makes up for it.
The overall plot is serviceable, with a mystery that is more convoluted than compelling, even with its various twists. The script makes pretty good use of Pokémon mythology, but unfortunately, it’s very exposition-heavy and features a boring, underdeveloped antagonist. The third act is easily the weakest link, featuring a nonsensical villainous plan and a fairly average resolution to the conflict. Regardless, the main appeal of the movie is Tim and Pikachu’s adventures and the various Pokémon interactions which are all genuinely entertaining. The novelty of a Pokémon-inhabited world keeps you interested even when the narrative is basic.
Fans and non-fans alike can enjoy this playful mystery-adventure story because the Pokémon world created is so dang charming and fascinating. The cuteness-factor of many Pokémon alone is worth seeing the movie for. Meanwhile, creative world-building and sincere storytelling balance out the cheeky humour and unique action. Notwithstanding the heavy-handed storytelling and unmemorable human characters, the filmmakers have done a solid job of bringing Pokémon to life. Detective Pikachu only scratches the surface of the potential of this property. And though this story is self-contained, the world is ripe for many more adventures.