Little more than fluff?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been dreaming of what a live-action Pokémon movie would look like, especially more so after the release of the iconic 1998 animated classic Pokémon the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back. If you think that Detective Pikachu is the equivalent of that movie (or reflective of any of the mainline Pokémon games), I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.
That said, Detective Pikachu is very much a movie made for hardcore Pokémon fans, although there’s a still a lot of fun to be had by casual viewers as well. It’s a movie that almost everyone can enjoy mostly thanks to Ryan Reynold’s charming performance as Pikachu but the finer details of which will confuse a lot of them.
A Feast For The Fans
First of all, keep in mind that the movie is actually a direct adaptation of the 2016 spinoff Pokémon game of the same name for the Nintendo 3DS. Therefore, just like the game, the main focus of the movie isn’t Pokémon trainers or Pokémon battles, but the appeal of working together with a talking Pikachu who solves mysteries.
I repeat: don’t expect to see any Pokémon trainers or Pokémon battles, and you’ll be less disappointed as a fan. Consider it an almost two-hour-long version of “Who’s That Pokémon?” (Pokémon anime fans will know what I mean), and you’ll have fun recognizing the many different species of Pokémon sprinkled throughout the movie.
I was impressed with how amazingly-realized the Pokémon are. The visual effects teams for Detective Pikachu have outdone themselves.
The Pokémon look alive and almost exactly as they should be if they were real, with the exception of Gengar. Gengar just looks hideous.
Most of the context and meaning behind scenes and interactions in Detective Pikachu requires existing Pokémon knowledge, so fans will definitely appreciate all the fan service. A lot of things aren’t explained, and it seems like the movie want casual viewers to go along with everything despite it all.
Mewtwo has already been teased in the trailers, so it’s not exactly a spoiler anymore. Fans will appreciate how similar the origins for Detective Pikachu‘s version of Mewtwo is compared to the one in Pokémon the Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back.
However, casual fans will simply wonder why this humanoid-looking Pokémon is such a big deal, which is reminiscent of the rest of the movie.
What I mean by that is how much you can appreciate the little details in Detective Pikachu depends on how familiar you already are with the Pokémon franchise. Unfortunately, this movie will likely not convert casual viewers who aren’t already fans of the franchise, other than successfully selling more Pikachu merchandise (which is probably what the movie is going for all along).
Ryan Reynolds Breaking His Back
That meme of an actor or actress breaking his or her back just by ‘carrying’ a movie definitely applies to Ryans Reynolds’ voice performance as Detective Pikachu. Regardless of whether you’re a fan or not, the titular talking yellow Pokémon in question is the highlight of the movie.
Ryan Reynolds manages to be smart, witty, and snarky as Pikachu, delivering punchline after punchline, joke after joke relentlessly. I’m sure a lot of those were even thinly-veiled adult jokes, which is incredible considering this movie is presumably targeted primarily towards younger viewers.
His back-and-forth banter with Justice Smith’s Tim Goodman forms the emotional crux of the movie, along with the basis for many of the movie’s best jokes (including the Mr. Mime scene from the trailers and others).
Generic Noir Plot
If you’re expecting a deeper plot than just a kid and a Pikachu on a frenetic adventure to find his missing dad, you won’t find it here.
Detective Pikachu wants to be a kid-friendly buddy cop noir but it’s a mix of bizarre tones, with the plot twist at the end seemingly coming out of nowhere. I think even fans will be able to barely take the entire plot into account, and the pacing so frenetic that even older fans will have trouble keeping up.
Ryan Reynolds’ Pikachu and Justice Smith’s Tim Goodman basically carried the entire movie themselves, since none of the other cast members end up making much of an impression. Even the usually campy and fun Bill Nighy (of Pirates of The Caribbean‘s Davey Jones fame) puts out a by-the-numbers lackluster performance here.
The others are there just to push the story along, but adding nothing much to the overall plot. Kathryn Newton is there as the plucky love interest and Ken Watanabe plays a gruff police lieutenant, while the others are simply forgettable, to say the least.
Fans will certainly love the world in Detective Pikachu, specifically the lively Ryme City in which humans and Pokémon live together in harmony. It’s a sight to behold, and it’s great to see an actual established live-action world with Pokémon in it.
Too bad we couldn’t see more of the franchise’s signature Pokémon trainers and battles since there’s a pretty convenient story reason why there aren’t any. Only a single Poké Ball can be glimpsed in the whole movie, and that’s during the very beginning.
I Wanna Be The Very Best…
Detective Pikachu could have been a much better Pokémon movie than it turned out to be.
I think the biggest problem with the movie is that it doesn’t know whether to cater to fans of the franchise or the general audience, instead of becoming a weird mix of trying to pander to both.
If nothing else, at least I can say that almost everyone will be enthralled with how cute Ryan Reynolds’ Pikachu is. Oh, and although there’s no post-credits scene for Detective Pikachu, stay behind as the credits roll for a special animated sequence with the franchise’s iconic opening theme (the one that plays at the main menu every time you boot up a new Pokémon game).
FINAL SCORE: 60/100
Detective Pikachu opens in Malaysian cinemas on 9 May 2019. We caught the movie via press screening, courtesy of Warner Bros Malaysia Sdn Bhd.