Reviewby Callum May,
Ace detective Harry Goodman has gone missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry's former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu: a wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth who's a puzzlement even to himself. When they find that they are uniquely equipped to communicate with one another, Tim and Pikachu join forces on a thrilling adventure to unravel the tangled mystery ahead of them. Chasing clues together through the neon-lit streets of Ryme City—a sprawling metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side by side—they encounter a diverse cast of characters and uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe.
It only took me a few minutes to start missing the world of Detective Pikachu. Being the same age as lead actor Justice Smith, Pokémon has been a constant throughout both of our childhoods. I can't tell you how much I used to wish that I'd suddenly wake up in Pallet Town with a trusty Squirtle by my side. But now Pokémon Detective Pikachu is here to fulfill the dreams of millennial Pokémon fans everywhere.
It's a bold choice to create a live-action Pokémon film. We only need to look at reactions to the recent Sonic the Hedgehog trailer to see how this could have alienated its fanbase. But it was bolder still to develop a film that features little of what fans would consider core parts of the franchise. There's no adventure, there's no Pokémon collecting, and to say there's even Pokémon battling would be a stretch. This won't be a surprise to those who played the 3DS title this film is based on, but those expecting something more akin to the anime's journey will have to adjust their expectations.
Whilst many of the plot beats feel predictable, the character performances are excellent. The banter between a much fluffier Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith's Tim Goodman is addictive. Despite Smith's last major role in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom earning him a Golden Raspberry nomination, he makes for a warm and empathetic protagonist alongside Reynolds. After seeing the film, the runaway meme of wanting Danny Devito to take on the role of the caffeine-fueled Pikachu feels like a strange and distant memory. Reynolds' lines as the electric mouse almost feel like improv, with jokes consistently landing and feeling natural (well, as natural as a talking Pikachu can be).
It's the chemistry between the two leads that hold the film together, even when other characters let the material down. It's a good problem to have, but watching Tim and Pikachu become close friends does end up making the rest of the cast feel like awkward third wheels. Since the basis of Detective Pikachu is that only Tim can understand what Pikachu is saying, the film doesn't seem to have any reason to pass the spotlight to anyone else. This includes the female lead Lucy, who ends up feeling more like a taxi driver for the pair than an integral part of the story. Because so much of the plot is delivered through characters that the film isn't interested in developing, it's hard to care about their specific arcs. This even includes the antagonist, who feels more like an obstacle for Tim and Pikachu to team up against, rather than a compelling ideological threat. It's a good thing that the core relationship is so engaging, but it'd have been nice to see it intertwine more gracefully with other characters' stories.
Thankfully, the narrative has a saving grace: its immersive world. Whilst I could've enjoyed watching Tim and Pikachu on-screen in any location, Ryme City makes for the best debut into live-action Pokémon films. (I'm assuming that there will be more.) Now that Pokémon are no longer confined to their Pokeballs, the world is littered with 23 years of creature designs. You couldn't possibly catalogue every Pokémon that made an appearance in just one sitting, with many creatures blending into the background. The creative team behind Pokémon Detective Pikachu have clearly done their research. The film is deeply familiar with the ways that Pokémon move and the abilities that make them unique. Many of these are references that will only be noticed by dedicated fans, but they all work to add depth to the film's world. For example, there's a scene in the movie where Tim is trying to save Pikachu from a dangerous situation, and for those who remember Charmander's Pokédex entry in Pokémon Gold & Silver, his solution makes much more sense.
It's incredible to think that a film that required so many CG artists to make would be able to deliver a consistent level of quality and believability with each Pokémon's animation. Although many fans were initially skeptical about realistic versions of these creatures, the final product will likely assuage those doubts within just a few shots. There was no point in the movie where I wasn't able to easily identify the Pokémon on-screen, and this would be at least partially due to Ken Sugimori being credited for CG Creature Supervision.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu will likely be remembered as a heartening homage to the franchise. Even the synth music of composer Henry Jackman feels inspired by 23 years worth of Pokémon battle music, establishing Ryme City as a real location within the Pokémon world for fans everywhere. I can't help but wish that this film will be successful enough to allow fans to visit this live-action Pokémon world again. The Detective Pikachu story was an effective catalyst for telling a personal story about a father and son, but there's much more that can be achieved in this world.
Overall : A-
Story : B
Animation : A+
Art : A+
Music : A
+ Entertaining comedy duo of Tim and Pikachu, stunning world that needs multiple viewings to fully appreciate, memorable soundtrack
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