As mentioned in my review of Pokémon Blue, I haven’t played a lot of Pokémon games, but being a big Nintendo fan (and especially a Smash fan!) I have more than enough familiarity with the series to review this film as a game-less “Bonus” review in the marathon. So what’s Detective Pikachu like? Is it really the first game adaptation that’s actually really good? Could I finally go above a 3/5 in this long marathon?! Let’s find out!
Ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son, Tim, to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth Detective Pikachu. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to work together, as Tim is the only human who can talk with Pikachu, they join forces to unravel the tangled mystery.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Awwww, ain’t he cute?
I guess the best place to start with is how faithful it is to the Pokémon lore, even when it doesn’t need to be. There are wild Pokémon everywhere, our lead character Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) dreamed of becoming a Pokémon trainer and even has posters of some of the league competitions from the games on his wall, and hell, when Mewtwo is revealed in the film as being in a lab I thought they just borrowed some of the plot from the first Pokémon movie, but instead it had been recaptured and was mentioned as having “been created in Kanto 20 years ago”. The best thing is this refreshing fan lip-service in no way negatively impacts the film, if you’re unfamiliar with the original stuff it would just go over your head, so it’s nice to see the producers understand that serving both the causal audience and the hardcore fan at the same time does no harm.
As for the core of the film? Perfectly fine kids film, complete with plenty of “in jokes aimed at the older audience” thrown in. Tim gave up his dream when his mother died and he became estranged from his father, but when he hears his father is missing presumed dead he soon finds out that his Dad DID care for him, his moving to Ryme city and burying himself in his work was his way of coping with the loss. Along for this emotional journey is his father’s Pikachu, who is not only wearing a deerstalker hat but can speak English, though only to Tim. Ryan Reynolds provides the voice of the Pikachu, and does a great joke of wise-cracking and / or panicking, though maybe just falls short of the emotional moments. The Pikachu used to belong to Tim’s Dad, but has amnesia, so the two make a sort-of perfect couple. Extra points for the scenes of non-Tim people only hearing the original Pikachu voice from the games/anime!
This leads to some great scenes you’ve seen in the trailers, including a funny interrogation of a Mr. Mime and a fight with a Charizard where Pikachu finds out he can’t use his attacks any more before luckily evolving a Magikarp into a Gyarados to escape his predicament (now there’s a Pokémon-y sentence if I’ve ever read one!) Eventually Tim is joined by wannabe journalist Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and the three, four if you include her Psyduck, explore the abandoned lab that Harry Goodman was last seen at. We see some lore that puts questions in the head of both Pikachu and Tim, and an exciting escape sequence with both Graninjas and super-massive Torterras that sees Pikachu get hurt.
Mewtwo returns to cinema screens, but in Live Action! … Well, CG within a live action world, I guess…
Tim manages to find Mewtwo, the enhanced Pokémon apparently responsible for the whole mess, who then heals the titular Detective but is captured before it can explain anything. Pikachu thinks its at fault so, of course, our two heroes have a falling out just before the big finale, which sees the reveal that the friendly CEO of a company seen throughout the film is actually the bad guy (played by Bill Nighy, weirdly enough…), and he soon transfers his mind into that of Mewtwo and uses the Pokémon’s power to… transfer everyone’s minds into the bodies of their Pokémon… More on that later…
Anyway, Pikachu returns and battles Mewtwo while Tim does battle with an enhanced Ditto that can mimic humans as well as other Pokémon, which was a funny idea. The villain’s plans are soon undone and Mewtwo reveals what had been obvious for quite some time now, that being Tim’s father Harry was inside his own Pikachu all this time, and the son and father had been getting along all this time without knowing it. Everyone, including Harry (who is played in person by Ryan Reynolds for full effect), is freed from the inside of their Pokémon and we get the sappy but earned ending of Tim deciding to stay with his Dad and start a new life with him. It’s honestly a perfectly fun kids film that I, as a 35 (still… just!) year old man had no issues watching either. It is, indeed, the first GOOD video game adaptation…
Oh and just to cap things off, the end credits “Pokémon-ises” the lead cast in the artstyle of the games/cartoons to a remix of the classic Red and Blue game theme. Brilliant!
I’d mention “her Psyduck displayed more personality than her” but that seems too… predictable. … What? “too harsh?” … Nah.
I know the age of the audience it’s aimed at, so I’m going to not be too harsh here, but man the final plot made no sense. So Howard Clifford, the aforementioned CEO and man who came up with the idea of Ryme City, a place where people and Pokémon can live together in peace, takes over Mewtwo’s mind so he can merge people with their own Pokémon? Why? He had already created the perfect place where both people and Pokémon can live in harmony without Pokémon being hunted, captured and forced to fight each other (Which is what happens in the all the games, if you stop and think about it…) all this plan of his would do is cause panic and chaos. It just seemed like it was written for the big finale and to show Mewtwo’s apparent ability to do this people/Pokémon merge as a thing before the reveal of what happened to Harry. It just didn’t make sense to me compared to the rest of the film, even if I found the Ditto-human… thing hilarious.
Even more confusing is things were being set up to make sense, in a admittedly more generic way. Howard’s son Roger Clifford (Chris Geere) had been using the captured Mewtwo to create a purple gas simply called “R” that turns Pokémom feral and causes them to attack their owners. It was also stated that Roger had disliked Pokémon ever since he was little and felt his father spent more time with them than him, so it all made sense leading into the finale, but instead things were flipped on their head with a swerve for the sake of it. The “R” gas and the Pokémon’s feral state apparently makes the human transfer easier, is what they say at the end, so the whole side-plot isn’t completely abandoned, but it still feels … forced. Still, I should’ve known better than see a British actor, using his natural voice, in an American kids film and think he wasn’t the villain!
Also I mentioned the character of Lucy Stevens briefly back in the good, and only briefly because her character had absolutely ZERO character. Her introduction was the most cringey, “no one would ever say that to a stranger” thing ever, and she never got beyond the most basic “I want the scoop because I want to be a reporter!” girl. While most of the rest of the cast got some sort of arc, even if in the case of the Cliffords it didn’t make all that much sense, she got none beyond “wants to be a reporter” and “Tim’s love interest”.
Damn, he certainly looks more intimidating than “Fisherman” or “School Boy”, that’s for sure!
Detective Pikachu is actually just a straight up good kids movie, which means it both succeeds at entertaining kids and giving them a good life lesson or two while also entertaining any adults who happen to be watching. It also handles being set in the Pokémon world well, most adaptations would’ve renamed the locations to real world ones and had Mewtwo created in the lab seen in the film rather than pay respects to the source material, so top marks on that front as well. It’s not perfect, the final quarter of the film was a bit of a muddled mess, but it is by far the best movie in this marathon up to this point, and with only two left, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the best period. FINALLY, one of these movies gets the silver rating logo!