Imagine walking into Avengers: Endgame on opening night without having seen a single comic-book movie, let alone one that takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and you’ve essentially just pictured what it was like for me when walking into the theater to see Detective Pikachu.
They even handed out Pokémon cards, for the love of all things holy. What am I even supposed to do with these things?
Pokémon Detective Pikachu is the latest studio tentpole film from Goosebumps and Gulliver’s Travels director Rob Letterman (oof) and at least seven different screenwriters (no, really, OOF). The film is obviously based off the worldwide phenomenon that causes the majority of 90’s kids to go into hysterics if they so much as here the name ‘Squirtle’ while in public, as it’s now coming out a couple of years after the whole Pokémon Go swept (and nearly destroyed) the nation.
Tim (Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom’s Justice Smith) doesn’t want anything to do with pokémon. He may have wanted to be a trainer early on in his life, but he now wants to avoid them at all cost, even despite his friends all being obsessed with them and the fact that pokémon literally dominates the culture and world that he lives in.
Hang on. Is Detective Pikachu just one large metaphor about the kids who either weren’t allowed or didn’t want to play with pokémon when growing up, but still had to watch all of their friends drool over it, day in and day out? I….I think I might be on to something here.
Tim doesn't have a whole lot of people to lean on in life, either. His mother died at a young age and his father is too preoccupied being a detective over in Ryme City, meaning that he’s pretty much out of the picture.
Yet, upon hearing the news that his father had been murdered in a fiery car crash one evening, it’s now Tim’s turn to head to Ryme City and play detective for a while.
He’s hanging around in his father’s apartment the night of his arrival when Tim is visited by the fluffy yellow rat that even people who have never played Pokémon instantly recognize, Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds).
Great, Tim figures. He’s got a pokémon to keep him company — the exact thing that he most definitely did NOT want.
This pokémon is different, though. Tim quickly realizes he’s one of the only people out there who can actually understand what his new friend is saying and, more importantly, that he actually has something worthwhile to say (that is, he has one valuable line out of every 200 that he throws out there).
Pikachu was allegedly Tim’s father’s partner in the field and was there the night of the crash. He just so happens to be suffering a bad case of amnesia and can’t remember how everything went down, but he’s determined to discover what really happened and wants Tim’s help in doing so.
Skipping over all the boring parts where Tim tries to resist and tell Pikachu that he’s not interested, the two eventually team up and start searching Ryme City for clues and whatnot.
It goes without saying (meaning that I’m going to say it anyway), but Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a film that is most definitely created for the fans. Someone like me who would struggle to name more than four pokémon off the top of their head isn’t going to have the same experience as all the die-hard fans out there.
That’s okay. I’ve long preached that not every movie needs to be made for every person. It’s okay to have something that’s made with the fans in mind, as it creates more film variety, cult-classics and whatnot.
That being said, I’m still here to judge Pokémon Detective Pikachu as an overall film — and that’s where I think this thing kind of falls flat.
To start on the more positive side of things, I actually really like our two lead characters. Justice Smith was an inspired casting choice, and a risky one at that, as most people seem to agree his character in Fallen Kingdom was an annoying punchline who didn’t exactly scream ‘leading man of a new franchise.’ Smith rises to the task, however, and puts in a good performance while actually playing a real, human character this time around.
The dynamic between Tim and Pikachu is a fun one, too. Reynolds was also a smart casting decision, as the studio was smart enough to realize he’d bring in all the Deadpool fans into the theater. While the jokes can get a little stale after we hit the 40th or 50th punchline, Reynolds still brings an extra something as you buy the way these two interact with one another. The best scene of the film, hands down, is when the two are just sitting on the side of a road, chatting. They aren’t trying to decide where the case is bringing them next or entertain us with a new stand-up routine, but are rather just talking, listening and having a normal conversation about their past mix-ups and parental figures.
On that note about the parents, I appreciate how Detective Pikachu tries in that regard. They attempt to give Tim’s character a bit more emotional weight and include some kind of arc, which goes a long way for those of us who aren’t going to be as entertained by the thousands of cameos this thing is littered with. I’ve seen the arc done before and, to be honest, done better in things like Bumblebee, The Iron Giant or a handful of others, but I think I might have *really* hated this thing had they not bothered to include that bit at all.
It’s the overall detective story that kind of let me down. You don’t have to have played pokémon before to figure out where this thing is going long before it actually gets there. All you have to do is possess or normal, functioning brain and have seen at least one or two noir films prior to this. It’s really predictable and not all that interesting, as I was able to piece together just about every part of this puzzle long before we got to that messy and botched climax.
And, I don’t know, maybe it’s just me here, but this whole thing just kind of feels uneven. There’s no denying that the world they’re building up here is intriguing and the animation is awesome. That’s all very true. Yet, even though Detective Pikachu wants to be a fan-service kind of movie, it doesn’t really seem like they know how to do fan service. We see Tim and Pikachu explore different settings in Ryme City — an underground battle arena, a secret pokémon scientist lab, etc. — which all should be a lot of fun, right? They never really do anything of note in those situations, though, as it kind of just feels like the filmmakers are going ‘and look! Here’s another pokémon you recognize from the games that isn’t actually going to do anything! And another one! And another! Are you having fun yet? ARE YOU?!’
With some underused or misguided performances from Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy and Ben Is Back’s Kathryn Newton, Pokémon Detective Pikachu feels like a movie might want to be inclusive, but really is actually only trying to appeal to kids and those will be satisfied with the most basic level of fan-service. For those who are new to this property or were hoping for a really deep-cut pokémon experience, it feels pretty lacking.
I’m sure that Hollywood will still green-light twenty more of these movies, though, so maybe they’ll get it right the second time around.
Watch the trailer for Detective Pikachu here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the movie!
'Pokémon Detective Pikachu' - Catchin' all the clichés [REVIEW]5