Every kid who loved Pokémon growing up (and every adult who loves it still) has dreamed about what life would be like if Pokémon were real. The Detective Pikachu movie’s greatest strength is in showing that possibility–albeit not always in the ways you might personally have imagined it.
Detective Pikachu transports viewers to Ryme City, a bustling NYC-like metropolis teeming with human and Pokémon life. The setting comes with an odd conceit: The city was founded by Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), a successful CEO who envisioned a utopia in which Pokémon and people live in harmony, with no Poké Balls, battles, gym leaders, or any of the other series mainstays fans might hope to see.
Tim Goodman’s (Justice Smith) detective father Harry has been distant most of his life (yes, much like that of the protagonists of every Pokémon game). When he’s killed in a car crash, Tim heads to Ryme City to get his father’s affairs in order. There, he meets Harry’s former Pokémon partner, an amnesiac Pikachu in a detective cap with whom Tim can somehow, miraculously, talk (and who is voiced, hilariously, by Ryan Reynolds). Nobody else understands the Pikachu, and Tim can’t talk to any other Pokémon, the rest of which mostly grunt, squeak, or recite their own names like we’ve come to expect. Together, Tim and Pikachu unravel the mystery of what happened to Detective Harry Goodman.
As a longtime Pokémon fan, I think the very specific quirks central to Ryme City as a setting are an unnecessary wrinkle. The goal seems to be to have a setting where every shot can be filled with Pokémon. But they could have simply done all that without the need for an info-dump explaining how Ryme City is special; previous Pokémon games, anime, and movies are filled with examples of the little pocket monsters hanging around outside their Poké Balls in everyday life.
Regardless of how they choose to frame it, Ryme City is a place in which any Pokémon fan would be thrilled to live. Sleeping Snorlaxes block broad avenues filled with cars, while Machamps direct traffic with their quadruple arms. Aipoms hang from street signs, and Golurks stand sentinel outside the doors of police stations, where officers and detectives come and go with their sidekick Growlithes and Snubbuls. Through the course of Tim and Pikachu’s investigation, they encounter dozens of different types of Pokémon: Greninjas attack them with aquatic throwing stars, Charizards bear down on them breathing fire, Ludicolos serve them drinks, Mr. Mimes need interrogating (probably the movie’s best scene)–and these Pokémon all look and act true to the source material, cute or disgusting or terrifying as needed. Seeing these Pokémon in this live-action setting probably shouldn’t work, but it somehow does.
Along the way, Tim and Pikachu also meet Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), a young reporter (read: unpaid blogging intern) with a hapless Psyduck at her side. If you never watched the original Pokémon anime, you might be unaware that this unassuming yellow duckling is a bomb waiting to go off–if Psyduck gets too stressed out, he might unleash a wave of destructive psychic energy, as Reynolds-voiced Pikachu constantly reminds his friends. It’s a good example of the ways Detective Pikachu pulls in elements from throughout Pokémon history, while also adding to the Pokémon mythology.
The mystery unfolds in unexpected directions. It takes a meandering route to get to its climax, including one particularly expensive-looking, CG-heavy, completely pointless detour that would have fit better in a disaster movie than one about a reluctant detective and his cute, furry sidekick trying to find his father. The movie’s pacing sometimes feels a little off, and every time it goes down a narrative cul-de-sac like that, you’ll wish that it instead was spending time somewhere else, exploring another corner of Ryme City and introducing an even wider variety of Pokémon.
Smith makes a sympathetic and believable reluctant hero, as Goodman’s distance from his father plays into how the story takes shape. Reynolds was a great choice for Pikachu, although you may at times struggle to hear a yellow mouse and not a certain red-spandex-clad superhero when he talks. You’re The Worst’s Chris Geere is extremely good at playing a douchebag CEO’s sociopathic son, while Ken Watanabe is somewhat wasted as a police lieutenant we only meet a couple of times. And there are still more characters whose true identities and purposes will surprise you.
I give this movie a lot of credit for expanding beyond the original 151 Pokémon to include monsters from throughout the game generations. With the recent introduction of Meltan and Melmetal in Pokémon Go, there are 809 Pokémon total, and that’s not even including the new ones revealed for the upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield. This movie relies on a general knowledge of Pokémon–even if it’s just nostalgia for the original Red, Blue, and Yellow games–to be enjoyed, and it could have easily played it safe by sticking to the originals. Ryme City feels much more expansive as a result of this great choice.
Detective Pikachu even comes up with new capabilities for some of the most well-known and beloved Pokémon–although the one most crucial to the plot is likely to leave you scratching your head, as it’s hard to see exactly how it works. If you’ve played the Detective Pikachu game, you may know what I’m referring to, as the movie does take several plot elements from the 2018 3DS title.
Detective Pikachu should prove enjoyable for any and all Pokémon fans, young or old. It presents fun answers to the fantasy of what life would be like if Pokémon were real. It introduces new wrinkles to the world of Pokémon, although not all of them completely work. Still, as the first official live-action trip to the world of Pokémon, Detective Pikachu presents characters I want to see again and a setting I’d like to return to.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Live-action Pokémon look great and act true||Pacing sometimes feels off, with unfortunate story detours|
|Likable characters, from protagonists to villains||Adds some new wrinkles to Pokémon that don’t completely work|
|Expands beyond the original 151 Pokémon|
|An inventive portrayal of a city where humans and Pokémon coexist|
|Some unexpected twists in the story|