When it comes to Pokémon, let’s just say that I was the perfect age to be placed in the thick of the phenomenon. I played the Game Boy games, I collected the cards, I even owned a bunch of those blue pebbles that hardly anyone knew what to do actually do with, it was a hazy crazy time and the animated cartoon on a Saturday morning was something that I was excited to wake for as a nine year old. Of course, as with any childhood fad, the phenomenon faded for me personally, and I can’t profess to have anything more than a distant relationship with the pocket monster crew at this point. Would Detective Pikachu bring me back into the fold?
Based on the plot of a 2016 video game, the film tells the story of Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a young man in something of a life rut who travels to Ryme City upon hearing the news of the death of his detective father. After arriving, Tim soon begins to realise that all is not quite as it seems, and with the help of his dad’s Pokémon partner Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), with whom he can mysteriously communicate, the duo set out unravelling a Poké-mystery that goes all the way to the top.
Being the first live action film to present a human/Pokémon coinhabited universe, the word building is absolutely the most fun and most impressive part of Detective Pikachu. My inner child got a real kick out of seeing the likes of Pikachu, Charmander, Bulbasaur and even some deep cuts likes Ditto, Psyduck and Mr. Mime brought to photo-realistic life. There is a very interesting sort of ‘noir light’ aesthetic and tone to the film, with lots of motifs and tropes associated with more mature genre works being adapted to suit what is at its core a kid’s movie. Aside from the fun visuals of the assorted characters, the film also stands as a more than acceptable beginner’s guide for kids to a much more adult feeling genre. Noir for children, that’s a cool thing to achieve!
When you start to get down to the nitty gritty of the plot, however, things become a little less impressive and interesting. The fact is that the narrative thread of the film is just not as interesting or engaging as the overall design of the world. One might argue that the nature of a children’s film is always going to mean exaggerated levels of exposition to help younger viewers connect the dots and get from A to B, but the likes of Pixar, for example, have always been much more elegant in the ways that they tell stories to their core demographic. The plot is a perfectly serviceable one, but in the eyes of a near thirty year old it just doesn’t feel quite as sharp and constructed as it could do.
It’s also important to say that anyone going in to Detective Pikachu with zero knowledge of the Pokémon universe will probably feel lost and a little out of the loop more often than not. For all the exposition given about the minutia of the detective investigation, very little explanation time is afforded for making the film’s world accessible to those coming in with a completely clean slate.
As Tim Goodman, Justice Smith does a good job without ever really breaking out in to what could be described as a star turn. I give any actor more credit when the bulk of their scenes are opposite something that isn’t actually there during filming, and the chemistry that Smith manages to build with Pikachu is definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of the movie. He evokes a kind of outsider, awkward, finding your own place in the world vibe that always suits a movie for younger kids, and there is a sincerity in his performance that makes him immediately likeable.
Voicing Pikachu, Ryan Reynolds gives a sort of PG version of his now iconic Deadpool schtick. For adults who are familiar with his more R-rated work, this comes across as a little distracting and fourth wall breaking at times, but I can imagine that for kids who have yet to experience the Deadpool films, Pikachu’s sharp talking and witty quips are a lot of fun. Together, Smith on screen and Reynolds off screen combine to create an endearing duo, complimented by Kathryn Newton as Ryme City reporter Lucy Stevens, an enjoyable if not underused female character addition to the adventure. Without her, the film would feel incredibly ‘boyish’, but at the same time, more mature viewers will recognise that Lucy is very underwritten and two dimensional. A shame in the grand scheme of things, but probably better to have her included than not at all?
Overall, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is fun in parts and predictable in others, but when all is added up, it probably falls on the positive side of the spectrum. It’s an impressively visualised adventure that certainly boasts a better aesthetic than a nuts and bolts plot, but this full adult had a good time so I can only imagine that its intended audience will lap it up in an even bigger way.