Detective Pikachu is a children’s movie based on the popular videogame franchise Pokémon. It stars Justice Smith as Tim Goodman, son to absent father and policeman Harry Goodman. When Harry dies and his pet Pikachu survives (played by Ryan Reynolds) and starts talking to Tim, they go on a mystery to discover the hidden secrets of Rhyme City.
It sounds simple, but when you watch it, complexity boils up in many unforeseen ways. The film wants multiple things and is afraid to commit to a single approach, and this can mainly be observed by looking at the intended audiences. This film wants to appeal to children, but is not eager to integrate anyone unfamiliar with the concept of Pokémon into the film easily. It also features an adult genre as a basis (Film Noir) and features a tone and pacing more suited to a condensed action film than a typical children’s film. The film wants to appeal to millennials, considering that audience grew up when Pokémon were at their most culturally relevant, yet never goes into a zone particularly entertaining for adults either.
We should discuss the good things, though: this is an amazing videogame film. It’s probably the best videogame film so far, it was able to translate what is special about Pokémon into cinema and maintain most of the unique and memorable designs without clashing too much with the real world. If you have a favorite Pokémon, and they’re one of the iconic ones, there’s a chance they have a moment to shine in this film. That’s magical.
Reynolds as Pikachu seemed like an uninspired choice, but when you watch it he’s the best part of the movie. I say this as a guy that doesn’t even particularly like Reynolds, but his sarcasm and energy is nicely incorporated here as juuuust enough contrast to the cutesy image of Pikachu. This casting, and Pikachu as a character himself, is probably what completely redeems the film from mediocrity. His jokes are a delicate blend of well delivered, tame adult humor. It’s the only time the clash between tone and audience and intention isn’t a detriment, but instead we see those contrasts blend into something great. This movie was sold on this Pikachu, I guess that’s why we got a detective story instead of something more expected like an adaptation of Pokémon Red/Blue. This might be my favorite Ryan Reynolds film. I’m kidding — it’s The Proposal (2009).
The pacing of the film is strong. It starts weak, but the nice thing about the film is when you start to feel a scene’s length it ends, and the movie ends in a brisk manner that makes everything enjoyable.
The setting feels strong and memorable, and the aesthetics are surprisingly strong at certain points. I remember being happy with the variety of visuals and loving the score, which is a nice blend of whimsy and videogame-styled chiptune. When the film is at its best you love the setting, though certain wide shots meant to be impressive land with a whimper, because we can see repeated Pokémon and not all Pokémon have that consistent quality of effects.
But onto the bad… There’s a lot. The film has a convoluted plot even for a noir story. It’s hard to accept, and as it goes on it gets worse. Mewtwo, a character with terrible CGI and an even more awkward voice and design, reminds the viewer every second he’s on screen that the film is actively rotting away. The twists all hit at the expected moments and never feel deserved or belonging to the film you’re watching.
Bill Nighy is a welcome surprise as a major supporting character and his performance is serviceable for an old man that probably knew nothing about this thing, but his role is predictable and lacking grace.
But all the other humans in this film are mediocre, and, unfortunately, this criticism is specifically targeted towards Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton (Smith’s love interest). Their performances are Disney Channel level, and though Smith does a good job acting against things that aren’t there, it’s clear that he’s having difficulty conveying the different emotions the scenes call for. I’m not going to condemn them completely, because the script leaves a lot to be desired and entire lines are just so bad I don’t think anybody could have said them properly. Exposition here feels distracting, and that’s what I think the real issue of the film is: you want to like this film, but there’s a lot of distractions that take you out of a scene you like.
If you like the games, go see the movie. It’s worth it. If you want to see the film because you think Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu is gonna be fun, yeah, you won’t be disappointed. Despite its many flaws, the film is enjoyable and isn’t sacrilege to the immortal institution that is Pokémon.