This movie was never going to amount much as a work of storytelling. Yet even with such low expectations, the live-action Pokémon movie Detective Pikachu fails spectacularly. But I cannot be too harsh because of the task that was laid before the filmmakers. They had to create a film that appealed to the casual movie-going audience and extended beyond the nostalgic adults reminiscing over their trading cards, anime, and/or video games. Detective Pikachu works as a fun pastime; however, I do not think it will be able to appeal to more mainstream sensibilities. This is not an action-packed Pokémon film, nor it is a ‘true’ Pokémon film anyways.
Pokémon always felt like it was too popular not to receive a big budget live action film, and finally in 2019, we got our first Pokémon live action film. As far as I am aware this is Nintendo’s first property allowed to be made into live action since the Super Mario Bros (1993), but the less we talk about that project… the better.
At the start of the film, we are introduced to Tim (Justice Smith) as he receives news of a family tragedy, forcing him to travel to Ryme City. During his time in the City, he stumbles upon a Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds. As the title of the film suggests, this Pikachu is a Pokémon detective that is trying to solve a missing persons cases. The two team up and go adventure that consists of uncovering the truth.
The real issue I had watching this movie was the plot, or lack thereof of a fully fleshed out one. Without spoiling anything, all I can say is that the film’s entire plot is guessable within the first 25 minutes. Although the plot follows a typical formula and essentially ‘plays it safe’, the film managed to establish somewhat of an emotional connection with Tim and his Pikachu.
A common criticism amongst reviews centers around the names of the strange-looking creatures, scaly and fuzzy, monstrous and adorable alike. The names do not exactly… roll off the tongue shall we say, making it frustrating not to be able to identify anything they saw on screen. I did not have this problem, but saw it happening with friends, who I went to see the film with. Perhaps including Pokémon from a more comparative nicheiness of the video gaming world didn’t translate to well to common audience.
Detective Pikachu attempts to be more than a mere video game adaptation that pays homage to Pokémon. The establishment of Ryme City as the setting of the film allows writers to turn its Pokémon into actual characters. However, the world’s design does not find them exceptional at all. Many reviews have said that Detective Pikachu is the first post-Pokémon movie. It recognizes that people know who Pikachu is, what a Pokémon battle consists of, and how humans interact with their pocket-monster pals. This in turn allows for Pokémon to exist in the movie’s background. You would expect this to benefit the film, but it is a determent to the stor. Having Pokémon exist mainly in the movie’s background makes their existence unremarkable in the process.
That being said, I love everything about Pikachu. He steals majority of scenes he is in, but that is mainly due to the impeccable voice work done by Ryan Reynolds. I would say more about the elements of the film I enjoyed but its hard to recall some of those elements. Not because they do not exist, but because they are not memorable enough. Pokémon as a business has always relied on the audience’s intimate relationship that players have with their creatures, and Detective Pikachu follows that train of thought by homing in on Pikachu and Tim’s day-by-day blossoming friendship. Even at its worst, the film still remains funny and endearing. It is worth giving it a watch if (1) you have a child that needs to be entertained or (2) you’re looking for an enjoyable way to kill 1h 30mins.
Rating – 6.5/10