Review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)

detective pikachu.jpg

Elementary: Warner Bros/Legendary Entertainment/The Pokemon Company

Is DETECTIVE PIKACHU the best video game movie ever made? Probably. Does it stand up as a film in its own right? Mostly. Sorry if it seems like I’m sitting on the fence with this one but I’m genuinely struggling to tell what % of my view is based on unbridled nostalgia.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) teams up with a talking Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) and a reporter (Kathryn Newton) to solve his father’s death, leading to a conspiracy that will profoundly affect the human-Pokémon harmony of Rime City.

I was a typical 90s Pokéfan; I played the games, I collected the cards and I watched the anime religiously. The animated Pokémon movies that spun off from the TV show I seem to remember being…OK but I get the feeling if I watched them again now after 20 years they’d be considerably less than that.

Detective Pikachu’s mystery plot is a relatively simple one to solve, but we’re taken the scenic route to get to a resolution. There is a late in the game twist that I’ll admit I didn’t see coming, though when I think back all the clues are in plain sight. Whatever the conspiracy being hatched, the baddie’s grand master plan that needs foiling, really it’s all about Pikachu and Tim’s burgeoning relationship as they work towards a common goal.

I’m going to put this down to the younger target audience (the film has two audiences: 90s kids and children of said 90s kids) but there were a few too many instances of characters stopping dead to explain what was going on and why it’s important. Give us a little credit. You also don’t need to call out every Pokémon glimpsed by name; big and little kids in the audience will doubtless already be doing that.

This is the kind of geek property movie that demands to be rewatched and freeze-framed. There’s so much packed into every shot and half the featured Pokémon (reportedly around 60 of the 800-odd total) are blink-and-you’ll miss them. I loved the production design in general on this movie, from the East-meets-West utopia to the photo-real recreation of some of the technology from the anime, to giving believable life to the little monsters themselves. Seeing how humans and Pokémon live and work together, even fleetingly, is fascinating. It all adds to the film’s texture and makes every key scene in Rime City feel alive.

Aside from all the Poké-cameos, some of the monsters get more extended and memorable appearances. My favourite creature was always Cubone, the skull-wearing “lonely Pokémon” who I was thrilled to see gets his moment early on in the movie. Psyduck is as loveable and bewildering as he should be, purple monkey Aipom is rendered more disturbing than you could imagine, larger monsters Charizard and Gyarados get show-stopping battle appearances and The Mr Mime scene teased in the trailer gets…unexpectedly dark. There’s also a fair bit of imagination to the larger scaled action set pieces which I won’t spoil by describing in detail.

The human performances are a mixed bag. I can’t really tell yet what kind of an actor Justice Smith is yet but I also can’t say that he oozes leading man charisma, though he bounces well off of Reynolds, who avoids being a custard-coloured Deadpool. Far more engaging and complex is Kathryn Newton’s Lucy, who I really wish was the co-lead. Among the veterans we have Ken Watanabe who is always able to lend weight to nonsensical exposition (see also GODZILLA) and Bill Nighy who finds himself halfway between two of his go-to genre film character archetypes.

I had quite a bit of fun with Detective Pikachu, but I can’t guarantee someone with no familiarity with the Pokémon world would get much at all out of it. The story and characters are generic and the script wouldn’t have much memorable about it at all without the affability of Reynolds as the titular yellow rodent. But it’s vivid and energetic and big-hearted and if you’ve got any affection for the 90s craze I can almost guarantee you’ll like it. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

Writer and film fanatic fond of black comedies, sci-fi, animation and films about dysfunctional families.
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