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Film Review

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Directed by Rob Letterman
From: Warner Bros.
Released: 05.10.19
Review by Julian Lytle | May 7, 2019 at 7:00 PM

Basically: A movie about Pokémon set in the Pokémon world with a Ryan Renolds bonus.

Let’s get this out of the way: Video game movies are terrible. They’ve been terrible for the longest time. Studios constantly try and fail as video games get better and closer to doing what movies do within a playable context. There have only been two legitimately good video game adaptations—Mortal Kombat (1995) and Ace Attorney (2012)—and the latter is a Japanese film that most here in the west probably have no idea about. Which leads us to our subject Pokémon Detective Pikachu, based on an offshoot game of the same name from the mega-franchise. Many people were worried about what we might see, knowing the tumultuous history of adaptations. Once the trailer hit a lot of worries were calmed—the Pokémon not only look right but cool in the film’s more realistic interpretations. They look like the Pokémon you’d imagine in OUR world.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Justice Smith plays Tim Goodman, a former Pokémon trainer who must go to a place called Ryme City after he is notified that his father Harry (Paul Kitson) has died in an accident. While at Harry’s apartment Tim runs into a peculiar Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), his father’s detective partner Pokémon. Only this Pikachu can talk—not just “pika pika” but full on sentences and witty banter. Pikachu, who claims to be a great detective, tells Tim his father isn’t dead and they must find him. The two go on a journey of discovery trying to locate Harry and solve all the other mysteries connected to his disappearance.

Now for the next worry: Is it a good movie or not?

Detective Pikachu is pretty fun throughout. The movie merges a lot of old school noir mystery conventions with the nature of Pokémon—the show and game. A lot of the credit has to be given to Justice Smith as the lead. He does a lot to emote, considering so many of the creatures he interacts with are not there with him on set. He works well with Reynolds’ Det. Pikachu as the young straight man and the butt of a lot of the jokes. Smith really carries the feeling of the human character you play as in the Detective Pikachu game. His role as Tim seems like a stand-in for young adults who grew up loving Pokémon but feel like they have to give up the franchise after childhood. It’s a very smart and meta use of the game character.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ryan Renolds is pretty great at voiceover work, especially post Deadpool. At times he does feel like a PG-version of Deadpool within a Pikachu body but it really isn’t that distracting. The other main human character is Kathryn Newton as Lucy Stevens, a reporter who’s trying to get her first big story. She adds a great opposite dynamic to Tim; while he is a bit reluctant to get involved in the story’s events, Lucy is a spunky full-on go-getter. Newton is not in the movie that much but she shines in the time she’s given. The other actors of weight are Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe (who feels like he’s in it so the movie has a famous Japanese actor that westerners know). The two actors don’t do a lot but it’s still entertaining to see them in this world. There’s also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Rita Ora role where she gets to do more than just be pretty.

In the End: Detective Pikachu is a fun family movie that can be enjoyed by many. It’s a love letter to the world of Pokémon and easily the best video game movie made.

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