Pokémon Detective Pikachu is the first foray into live-action filmmaking for the smash hit video game/trading card/anime property. The film follows a boy (Justice Smith) who teams up with the eponymous adorable but fierce Pokémon (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) to investigate the disappearance of his father.
The story of the movie is extremely predictable, but it is worth noting that this is a film aimed at younger audiences, and as such, it can be forgiven for this flaw. However, less forgivable is the movie overwhelming and excessive use of foreshadowing. Every single twist that the film has in store is so heavily foreshadowed that by the time they actually happen, you will have thought that the characters knew all along.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the movie is the acting. Reynolds is great in his voice role, although he does feel a bit underused. All of his best moments in the film were revealed in the trailer. The human cast, on the other hand, is a mess. Smith has good chemistry with Reynolds but is weak on his own, with no ability to convey believable emotion. Bill Nighy looks and sounds like he is reading off of cue cards. Kathryn Newton feels even more wooden. Ken Watanabe plays the token Asian character in a mostly white-washed movie. And of course, you can’t forget about that inexplicable Rita Ora cameo.
That being said, despite the efforts (or lack thereof) of the cast, the characters managed to be surprisingly sympathetic. Sure, their emotional arcs are generic and somewhat contrived, but it is easy to get behind them nonetheless because they are so simple. By the end of the film, you will be left wanting more of the partnership between Tim and Pikachu, and, box office willing, you will likely get to see it.
The movie also has an air of fun that surrounds it. The film is pretty action-packed and manages to keep your interest for the slightly longer than usual runtime for a kids’ movie. It would have been nice to see more actual Pokémon battles, but the movie specifically addresses that in the plot. Perhaps there will be more room in the sequel for these sequences. There is also humor throughout, but most of the laugh-out-loud moments have already been shown.
On a technical level, the film was really great. With the opening credits sequence, it appeared that the movie was going to be trying too hard to replicate Asian culture, but it ultimately found its groove, instead opting for a generic futuristic world. The production design is very impressive, as are the visual effects. The blend of live-action and CGI is great, and the Pokémon look awesome.
This is certainly a film made for fans. People who have played and watched Pokémon for most of their lives are those who are certain to enjoy this movie the most. There are plenty of references throughout, and the ways in which they adapted some of the Pokémon to the big screen is perfect. Some of the best moments in the film are one-offs in which we see a Pokémon doing something from the games. The best example of this is Psyduck, which is undoubtedly the single best part of the movie.
Overall, Pokémon Detective Pikachu has its fair share of flaws, but it delivers exactly what a fan would want and expect. If you aren’t a fan of Pokémon, you may not enjoy this very much, but it’s a must-watch for anyone who grew up with these games.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu opens in theaters on May 10.