When the trailer for Pokémon Detective Pikachu came out, many people groaned. “What is this?”, I could hear them say, as they saw not only live-action Pokémon but also a talking Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds.
Whether you knew about the 2016 game on which the movie is based, just loved Pokémon in general, or were clueless about the franchise, the trailer seems like a ridiculous concept. At best, it would be an amusing cult classic; at worst, it would be another weak attempt to create a live-action version of a video game.
Detective Pikachu falls somewhere in between the two: with lots of Pokémon references and some good humor, but also some questionable actors, an inconsistent theme, and a ridiculous (and predictable) plot.
The movie follows some of the video game’s plot, where Tim Goodman investigates the mystery of what happened to his detective father. Along the way, he discovers a Pikachu that he can understand and the two solve the case together.
A few differences to the video game are notable, including the fact that Tim is a young man in his 20’s, his father worked with the police, and the reason the Pikachu can be understood (which is a spoiler I won’t reveal).
Another significant change is that the film is set in Ryme City, where a philanthropist has created a utopia where Pokémon and people live (and work) together. This metropolis has no “wild” Pokémon, nobody uses Pokéballs, and battles are forbidden; everybody is equal in this setting.
The movie itself focuses on the primary mystery of what happened to Tim’s father, assisted by his amnesiac Pikachu partner, as they end up in the middle of a conspiracy. The game’s plot of a rage-inducing drug called “R” and the source of it remains the same, although the reasons for the drug and the motivations of the villain are changed.
Where the movie primarily fails is in maintaining a consistent theme and pacing. Detective Pikachu starts as an amusing comedy, as we watch real people in the real world encounter realistically-rendered (and somewhat disturbing) Pokémon, with all the expected humor and strangeness.
It changes into a heart-wrenching drama of a young man who lacked a relationship with his distant father; he is plagued by emotions and memories, as well as questioning his own path in life. The movie flips back and forth between silliness and melancholy far too much, making the experience a rollercoaster of emotions in all the worst ways.
Similarly, the plot is all over the place, jumping from mystery to action to tragedy, while remaining overall predictable. About halfway through the movie, I had an M. Night Shyamalan moment where I realized what the final twist was long before the significant clues.
On top of this discrepancy in theme and plot, there’s also the acting which ranges from excellent to awful.
Justice Smith does an excellent job as Tim Goodman and plays well opposite just about everybody. When the scene is funny, he sells it, and when it’s dramatic, you feel for him.
Ryan Reynolds is his usual self; even toned down to a PG-rated movie, he throws in jokes and innuendos that make you laugh. He’s what you’d precisely expect, no matter how bad the film.
In contrast, Kathryn Newton, who plays the up & coming reporter (similar to the game’s Emilia), overacts every scene and her hamminess grates whenever she’s with Smith’s more smooth performance. Given she’s done quite well in other media, I wonder if the directors forced her to overact.
Even among the supporting cast, you have good performances, like Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy, versus exaggerated individuals that seem cheesy, like Omar Chaparro and Chris Geere. If they’d stuck to a single type of acting, whether it was balanced or overdone, the movie might have felt more steady.
The best aspect of the movie is being transported into the world of Pokémon on a “live-action” level. Detective Pikachu has so many Easter eggs and references, even the most die-hard fan would have to watch it multiple times.
As disturbing as the realistically-rendered creatures are at times, they’re also amusing and give an accurate feel for how they would interact with our world. From a DJ booth with Loudred acting as speakers to a Machamp directing traffic, the film is pure eye candy.
This aspect may be why the movie appeals to children and Pokémon fans alike. My 7-year-old followed the convoluted plot, and when asked his favorite moments it was the reveals and twists, in addition to cheering for various favorite Pokémon.
Although this movie might not rate high in writing or acting, it certainly knew what it was doing for franchise fans and kids.
I wish I could say that Detective Pikachu’s high points outweigh it’s low, but overall I still came out considering the experience a mixed bag. It’s erratic themes and moods, several over-actors, and predictable plot left me a bit disappointed, even as I laughed at Reynolds’ jokes and loved the “live-action” Pokémon.
If you decide to see this movie, lower your expectations, even if you are a fan. Although some of the humor is a bit “adult” (at least through innuendo), this might serve as a good family movie to bring your elementary or middle school kids.
Otherwise, the trailer told you all you need to know about what a ridiculous concept it was, and you’ve been warned.
I give Pokémon Detective Pikachu a disturbing 3 Mr. Mimes out of 5.
Thanks to Allied for the screening passes.