Pokémon is no stranger to movies. Over the past two decades, there have been just over twenty movies all together. However, they have all been tied to the anime, with the exception of the most recent two being an anime reboot of sorts. However, this all changed with the new release of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. Is it good?
Let us start from the top and break this down, one area at a time. There will be some very light spoilers, but nothing critical or heavy at all.
Setting the Field
Detective Pikachu is an adaptation of the spin-off game with the same name in the Pokémon franchise, though with several liberties taken. The story focuses on Tim Goodman, a young man who recently lost his father after a deadly accident. Coming to Ryme City, the ultimate utopia of Pokémon and humans, to put his past and father to rest, the young man has a chance encounter with a special, fuzzy pocket monster. It’s Pikachu, his father’s partner. However, things take a wild turn when Pikachu starts talking English and only Tim can understand him. From there, the two set out to find the truth behind his father’s disappearance.
The plot of Detective Pikachu as a whole is predictable-ish. A lot of its story beats and how the movie frames things can make it fairly obvious about who will be the true culprit and how it will ultimately play out. It foreshadows so heavily in areas it is as subtle as a cannonball. It also can stretch credibility and logic with how it reaches for certain points, even within its own outlandish and wild universe. For instance, the big climax at the end stands out with how ridiculous things can get. As such, the story doesn’t really make for the most compelling of sits for older adults and aims for a younger audience.
But that’s not a real problem. While the movie’s story isn’t exactly heavily nuanced or surprising in what it does, the overall journey is what makes the film shine. The movie really takes us on a fun trip throughout Ryme City and some of its surrounding areas, leading Tim and Pikachu through many situations as they try to figure out the mystery. Each scene is very enjoyable and pulls you in well as our dynamic duo tackle each issue that comes their way: whether it be interrogating a Mr. Mime or recovering after a devastating, heart-breaking blow. There’s plenty of twists and turns along the way, some of which were definitely not predictable, keeping you on your toes throughout.
The movie balances its humor, its action, and surprisingly effective drama rather well too. For example, the first fifteen minutes don’t even have a lot of humor going on, just focusing on emotional beats and Tim’s background to flesh him out. Most of the humor lands and the action is pretty easy to follow. The ride with the story is just terrific and more than makes up for any weaknesses with its predictability.
But a story like would be nothing without a cast of good characters. The stars, the true hearts of the film are Tim Goodman, played by Justice Smith, and Detective Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds. The two of them have fantastic chemistry together, Tim as the serious minded guy with a lack of interest in the Pokémon world and Pikachu as the overeager, coffee-guzzling, excited detective wanting to uncover the truth of what is happening. Their humor and drama can really pull you into what they’re going through as they struggle throughout, with the highlight being their talk outside the police station. Their character arcs are simple and predictable, but work well enough due to how they play out within the story and how they both further each other’s growth. They’re a great duo through and through.
The supporting cast lands on the weaker side of things due to a lack of development and little time spent with them. For instance, Detective Hideo Yoshida, played by Ken Watanabe, is barely in the movie and is more there to deal out exposition. The villain of the piece is interesting due their motivation being grounded enough to understand, even when it suddenly takes a hard right turn into lunacy.
The strongest of the supporting cast would be Lucy Stevens, played by Kathryn Newton, an intern with aspirations to be a reporter. She’s not particularly deep, but her motivations are clear and her personality does lead to some fun moments. She’s also sort of a love interest for Tim, but it really doesn’t go anywhere or detract from anything.
However, I would say the lack of supporting characters or fleshed out ones really don’t hurt the story that much ultimately. This is Tim and Pikachu’s film and their personal stories. Everyone else exists to help them out in one way or another. The important, emotional beats are all with those two and due to how they are written and portrayed, it is ultimately what matters the most.
The World as a Whole
If I had to point to one of the strongest aspects of Detective Pikachu, it would be its world. It is fully believable in its design and it functions. Ryme City is a place where both people and Pokémon can live together in harmony without issue, no trainers, no battling, and so on. We see both groups working together, like an outdoor restaurant area where a chef can prepare food while a Charmander can cook it with its tail. Pokémon are just everywhere and everyone just treats them like normal, everyday parts of life. Combined with how the movie eases us into this universe with it laying out some rules, the material succeeds at making a fully real, believable world.
The effects go a long way with helping making the world feel real. All the Pokémon designs are based fairly closely to the originals, adding a few extra details to make them a tad more realistic, like the fluffy fur of Pikachu to the earthy, rocky texture of a Torterra. It never goes too far into realism unlike some other, recent game designs, providing an almost perfect blend between classic and real-ish design of the creatures. Even the off-looking Pokémon, like Loudred, still feel like they work.
The special effects ultimately work more than they don’t. Sometimes, it is fairly obvious there is no actual creature there interacting with others or the effects don’t feel right, like during the climax. Most of the time though, it does work, like panning shots of locations of Pokémon just hanging out in the background or during the action bits. The effects provide for some wild, really enjoyable fights and intense moments, like Tim and Pikachu fleeing from some Aipom. There’s also one effect, that I dare not get into, that was both really great, but also creepy as heck. Though given the situation, the latter does feel intentional.
Overall, the movie is very enjoyable as it is. But, how does it stack up to its source material, the original spin-off game?
Having played the original game, I would say the movie is its own beast in a way. It still has the mystery solving going on, uncovering a conspiracy with the strange drug called R, some of its locations, and a few different plot and character beats. But it mostly does things differently, like with its different take on Tim Goodman, the more adultish content at points, the true goals in place, and having a stronger resolution I felt. More importantly, it lacks the talking down the game has and while it may be as simplistic in some ways, it still can catch you off guard in the end with where it goes. It does lack a bit of the investigating and interacting with other Pokémon outside of the Mr. Mime scene, which is a tad disappointing. I would say it was a good adaptation, but not the best.
“What About Me?”
And finally, moving away from that, let’s answer the most important question for a certain crowd: If I’m not a fan of Pokémon, will I enjoy this or be able to follow along?
For friends, family, parents, and so on being dragged to Detective Pikachu by a loved one, I do believe that you’ll be able to follow the movie just fine. It may get crazy, but everything is explained away or setup, from what Pokémon are to what they are able to do. There are plenty of jokes that aren’t just winks or nods to the franchise, providing entertainment for others not in the know. If you are being taken to the film, you will not have a problem keeping up here.
As for enjoyment, I do not see this sort of movie changing anyone’s minds about the franchise. This is a film definitely for fans or people with a passing interest or even just video game fans in general. It will certainly dazzle you in some parts or peek your interest with its fascinating world, but there’s nothing here that screams that it’ll try to convert you over instantly. So, if you had no interest before, I do not see that changing in the end.
As a whole, as an experience, as a ride, as a kid’s film, and as a video game movie, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is just wonderful. While the flaws in its story stand out and some elements are a bit too wild and undercooked, for the first live action Pokemon movie, this one succeeds incredibly well. Here’s to a hopefully bright future for video game movies… please let the future be bright…