Movie Review: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

The Pokémon franchise’s first foray into live-action film is a knockout.

By Angela Marrujo Fornaca. Posted 05/12/2019 13:00 1 Comment     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu should've happened a long time ago, because his performance is a gift; nearly all the Pokémon are rendered extremely well and don't look bizarre or terrible; Tim and Lucy are a great pair and really likable; lots of great callbacks to the anime; certain Pokémon like Charizard, Mr. Mime, Jigglypuff, and Psyduck get their own time to shine
Poison Mushroom for...
Antagonist isn't super compelling; mixed feelings about how the movie ends; a couple of Pokémon looked a bit odd at times

Warning: Spoilers and plot details for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu are in this review!

It feels like I’ve been waiting an eternity for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu to finally release. Ever since watching the first trailer last year, I’ve been getting more and more excited as footage, trailers, and details continued to emerge. I carefully avoided any talk about the movie in the weeks leading up to it, and went in with no idea what any reviews had to say about it and only a handful of details about the basic premise of the story. I’ve wanted a live-action Pokémon film for years and didn’t want anyone spoiling such a special experience.

The movie opens up with a scene reminiscent of Pokémon: The First Movie: a team of lab researchers are carefully monitoring Mewtwo, who floats in a locked observation pod. It suddenly opens its eyes and generates a massive surge of power that blows up the pod and the lab; meanwhile, outside, a car is seen speeding down the road away from the lab as fast as possible. Mewtwo flies from the wreckage of the lab, catches up to the car, and attacks it, sending it flying off a bridge and crashing to the ground below.

We’re then introduced to Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a 21-year-old insurance salesman with an aversion to Pokémon. He’s not a trainer, doesn’t have a partner Pokémon, and in general would prefer to avoid them and stick to selling insurance. Unfortunately for Tim, life has different plans for him: he gets a call from the Ryme City police department telling him that his father, Detective Harry Goodman, has been killed while investigating a case.

Ryme City is a metropolis that was created in the vision of Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), founder of Clifford Enterprises, who sought to create a place where humans and Pokémon live harmoniously. Battling isn’t allowed, but humans have companion Pokémon with whom they work and coexist. It’s in his father’s apartment in the city that Tim meets Pikachu, who was Harry’s partner- and somehow, Tim is the only one who can understand him.

I absolutely loved seeing Pokémon interspersed within this bustling city: Machamp directing traffic around a Snorlax that’s fallen asleep in the intersection, Squirtle putting out fires with the fire department, Growlithe working with the police department. While the Pokémon anime has always shown partner Pokémon living alongside humans rather than just the trainer-Pokémon dynamic (i.e. Ash’s mother and her Mr. Mime, Nurse Joy’s Chansey assistants), it was really interesting seeing a place where battling- the heart and soul of the Pokémon franchise- isn’t allowed. Yet, the setup felt totally natural and fit right in with the depictions of the Pokémon world that we’re used to.

It’s probably safe to say that the thing fans were most concerned with when hearing that Pokémon: Detective Pikachu would be live-action was how well the Pokémon would translate to being rendered realistically. I think the artists who worked on this film did a fantastic job finding a good middle ground between realism and maintaining the charm of each creature’s original design. Psyduck and Jigglypuff aren’t ever drawn or animated with any sort of discernible texture, but in this movie Psyduck has realistic down and Jigglypuff is a furball with that distinct swirl of hair over its eye. Yet they both still have the overall look and feel of the Pokémon we know from the anime and games. The only Pokémon that I thought could use some work were Gengar and Mewtwo; Gengar’s face just didn’t look right and didn’t capture its mischievous grin and spirit, and Mewtwo was a little too bulky and had old man face at times.

Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) steals the show in every scene he’s in. Not only is he insanely adorable and just so well animated and expressive, but Reynolds’ smart ass banter that he does so well as Deadpool works perfectly with Pikachu. I’ve read and watched (in video reviews) some complaints saying that Reynolds was basically treating his role as Pikachu the same as Deadpool, but if you’ve played Detective Pikachu on the 3DS you know that’s not too far removed from who Detective Pikachu is in the game. Reynolds is staying faithful to that character (and in my opinion, does it even better than the game’s voice actor). Hearing Pikachu making jokes in Reynolds’ voices makes the moments where Pikachu speaks in his iconic Pokémon voice even more hilarious.

Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), the unpaid TV news intern doing a hush-hush investigation of reports of Pokémon attacking people throughout Ryme City, worked well for me as a character and as Tim’s partner. Unfortunately for her, her Psyduck was stealing the limelight; he was just hilarious and adorable in every way, and has some fantastic moments with Pikachu that were some of my favorite scenes in the movie.

And speaking of favorite scenes, I’ll never be able to see Mr. Mime the same way again without thinking of him in this movie. He had me genuinely laughing out loud. Just so, so good.

The movie’s pacing moves at a good clip. I didn’t feel that it dragged on, but instead moved from one revelation to another without a bunch of fluffy content in between. The importance of paying attention to the dialogue to follow the mystery reminded me of older films that relied less on action and more on what was being said to tell a story. Not that the movie is without action- it’s got plenty, particularly the scenes in the underground battle club (which I could NOT get enough of, especially since my favorite Pokémon, Charizard, gets his moment in the spotlight) and later on when Tim and Lucy explore a particularly unnerving place fraught with danger.

I loved the little details in Pokémon: Detective Pikachu that paid homage not just to the games, but to the anime. Jigglypuff is singing into its mic/pen that it uses to angrily mark up the faces of people it inadvertently puts to sleep with its song. Scenes of Mewtwo in the lab bring back strong visions of similar scenes in Pokémon: The First Movie, and Mewtwo’s escape from the Kanto region 20 years prior is briefly mentioned. The anime’s original theme song makes an appearance more than once. And remember how Ditto had a hard time mimicking faces? That comes up in the movie, too. But I won’t say when and where it happens!

I was expecting there to be at least one significant plot twist by the end of the movie, but was surprised by just how much the plot kept me guessing. (As Detective Pikachu would say, “That’s very twisty.”) While I wasn’t too interested in who turns out to be the final antagonist and felt that they were a bit weak as a super believable enemy, I wasn’t expecting how the story came to a close and didn’t find the story predictable. And without giving too much away, I left the theater with mixed feelings about the end of the movie.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a really wonderful movie for longtime fans of the series and families alike. This isn’t a “kid’s movie”- it strikes a balance between feeding into some serious Pokémon fan service while also making it easy for non-Pokémon diehards to follow along without being lost or needing the premise of the world of Pokémon explained to them. It had a number of touching moments that got me choked up, and great examples of the importance of the bond between human and Pokémon and even Pokémon and Pokémon. This really is a childhood dream come true for me, and it was a really special experience seeing Pikachu, Psyduck, Jigglypuff, and the Pokémon I’ve grown up watching and loving brought to life so brilliantly on screen.

Highly recommended!

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