Pokémon Detective Pikachu and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros. Pictures, Toho, and The Pokémon Company
Directed by Rob Letterman
I know you all are just on PINS AND NEEDLES waiting to find out if this movie is good… unless you’ve already seen it. Seriously, I need to get somewhere that’ll show these things like two days before release date because APPARENTLY EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD GETS TO DO THAT! Sigh… anyway, so Pokémon is no doubt one of the cornerstones of nineties nostalgia which means that we are officially getting too old, but it’s also one of those franchises that has remained popular in all that time, unlike say Transformers which always had a fan-base but one that certainly waned past the eighties. Because of that this has a chance to appeal to not just the adults in the audience who grew up on Red and Blue, but also the kids who enjoyed whatever the heck those Pokémon Mystery Dungeon things were, and not only that but probably the first video game movie to really capture the spirit of the material outside the rather awesome Resident Evil movies. And the DOOM movie; don’t at me! Is this the greatest movie of all time that will span the generational divide and bring us all together in such turbulent times, or perhaps are we a bit TOO overexcited about seeing the cuddly creatures on the big screen? Let’s find out!!
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is basically the opposite of your average man child in the Pokémon universe. Instead of going out and exploring the world at the age of ten, he went to school and got a real job at an insurance company. I mean say what you will about getting a nine to five, at least you don’t have to survive off fight money and live in a tent! Yes, Tim is happy with his boring life which is free of Pokémon for… reasons, but then his idyllic life in a small town comes crashing down when he gets a letter in the mail informing him that his father died in a mysterious car crash. Not only that, he was a cop in Ryme City which is unique for letting Pokémon just walk around instead of being confined to balls, and I THINK it was founded by Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) who owns Clifford Enterprises which is a… company that does business stuff I guess. Anyway, Tim gets to town, goes to his father’s apartment who rather strangely has a children’s bedroom set up for his twenty-one year old son who hasn’t visited in YEARS, and he tries to figure out the fastest way to deal with all this before he goes back to his normal life. Sadly things are not about to go his way as a rouge Pikachu with amnesia in a Stantler stalker cap (Ryan Reynolds) has broken into his place and is certain that his father is still alive. With much hesitation and after one terrifying Pokémon attack, Tim finally agrees to help Pikachu solve whatever mystery is underway; enlisting the help of investigative journalist slash intern Lucy (Kathryn Newton) and her awesome Psyduck! Will Tim discover the truth behind his father’s disappearance and will he reunite with him once again? Where did this talking Pikachu come from, and what connection does he have to all of this? Is this gonna be the very best that no movie ever was, or should you be… preparing for trouble!?
Okay, I don’t want to sound like I’m wishy washy on this or that I’m overstating the qualities of a movie that’s not very good (it IS very good), BUT I think we need to take a step back, take a breath, and remember that Pokémon IS NOT JUST FOR NINETIES KIDS. In fact, it’s ALMOST refreshing to see a nostalgia property that aims for kids much more than it does adults, and we REALLY need to keep that in mind when judging this movie. Is it good? YES!! Is it phenomenal? Eh… maybe not? Is it the perfect encapsulation of our nostalgia and captures the essence of Pokémon for all generations!? MAYBE, but not quite? I mean look, I have some legitimate things to say about this movie that aren’t entirely flattering, but honestly the majority of my issues with this can be easily explained by THIS IS A KIDS MOVIE FOR ACTUAL CHILDREN AND NOT JUST ADULTS WHO NEVER GREW UP; and before you ask, that’s not me saying that movies aimed at kids should be held to lower standards, and if you pay close enough attention to the movie you can understand why they made certain decisions that rankles me as an adult and a film critic are perfect for someone much younger. So no, this movie is not ENTIRELY for adults and if you ARE an adult watching this movie you’ll probably have a few complaints, but considering how hard this movie hits the mark at points and how well it’ll play to kids, I think it’s a fair trade off. I mean look, Deadpool Pikachu is already in the movie so let the kids have the rest of it, okay!?
What works about this movie is pretty much everything you got excited for in the trailer. The designs look great, the humor is on point, and it has an interesting and unique take on the whole Pokémon mythos that differs from what many of us remember in the original games. I LOVE the noir look to everything and the very modern sensibilities that puts Pokémon in an environment I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. I watched a decent amount of that cartoon and played a fair number of the games, but I don’t recall any of it resembling this world or frankly anything approaching our world as we know it. The world of Pokémon has always been its own little thing that seems to only exist to facilitate people’s relationship to the Pokémon, but here it feels much closer to a real world setting, or at least as real as it can be with such ridiculous elements inhabiting an otherwise normal metropolitan area. The best comparison I can think of is the Marvel Netflix shows only toned down, and yeah that’s a SLIGHT knock against it since the sets look a bit TV-ish at points, but the style is definitely there and it’s greatly compensated by how many fantastic looking Pokémon litter each environment. I want to see MORE of this world! Find out what the Jigglypuff is up to on a daily basis, or even what kind of crimes that Ken Watanabe and his partner Pokémon solve! The first live action Pokémon movie had to overcome a great many challenges in creating a world that not only feels believable but engaging enough in its own way to justify the switch from animation. It’s something that I worry that the CG remake of the first movie is going to fail to overcome (feeling “unnecessary”), but at least in here they come up with enough unique ideas to make it seem like more than just a gimmick and something that will no doubt set the stage for the live action franchise going forward.
Now where things start to falter a bit for me as an adult viewer is the story, but this is also where I think they are intentionally trying to aim at kids and I can definitely see the calculus at play; not to mention that for every single problem I have with the scripting I can probably point to a movie I love that does the exact same thing. The mystery itself is rather simplistic and the conspiracy doesn’t hold up under even the smallest amount of scrutiny; not to mention how Justice Smith is supposed to play into all this. That said, the movie I was most reminded of was The Big Lebowski in that it’s a convoluted plot with an unlikely protagonist, and while that was definitely a SEND UP of noir tropes, indulging in them to this degree is something that I can see working well with kids. They haven’t SEEN all the tropes that this movie is playing into, and frankly a lot of adults haven’t either; they’ve probably just seen references to them and constructed an idea of what it is based on those parodies which I am officially dubbing SIMPSONS LITERACY. Ryan Reynolds honesty works SO much better than even I had hoped as he gets across so much of the movie’s heart despite his blatantly Deadpool inspired dialogue, but he also has a habit of vocalizing every detail and plot element that pops up. It can be a bit annoying seeing him play Captain Obvious at times, but again considering how much is going on in here that it expects the audience to follow, it comes off as rather necessary to keep the kids in the loop and I frankly preferred these little throwaway lines from him than something I’ll be talking about soon enough.
There are a few problems to be sure independent of this being a movie scripted for a younger audience. Even though I think the story does a good job of getting itself across throughout, there are some PAINFULLY bad bouts of exposition that bog things down; particularly in the first act. Now one of the things that in hindsight I didn’t even notice about the trailers when watching them is that no one was using Pokéballs and there were basically no trainers here. It was like if Zootopia merged with a PG Sin City and I thought that was a great aesthetic choice; not even noticing that it runs contrary to basically everything we’ve seen from the Pokémon franchise. Now I can’t speak for everyone, but the fact that there’s an instructional video in the first act of this movie to explain why things are different here than in the games (i.e. why Pokémon roam the streets instead of reside in balls) was unnecessary and it kinda raised questions that I didn’t want to ask, but going down that rabbit hole is a trip I may never escape from, so we’ll leave it at that. Throughout the movie though, there are scenes where characters or recordings stop the film in its tracks to make sure everyone is up to speed which MIGHT have been helpful to younger viewers, I can’t say for sure, but I think they got the hang of it without these scenes being necessary what with Ryan Reynolds more or less keeping tabs on everything. Heck, if the kids in my theater who were naming G1 Pokémon as they showed up are any indication, they probably knew what was going on even before I did! Other than that, I feel the movie is a bit too tightly edited and it feels like a crucial few seconds were lost at the end of a lot of scenes, and I guess they didn’t want to push two hours for a movie aimed at such a young audience, but the end result is a movie that feels a bit janky at points. Oh, and this is more a PERSONAL issue of mine, but I never like the trope about the wet blanket main protagonist which Justice Smith certainly is through a chunk of this movie, and I don’t THINK we got much of an answer as to why he doesn’t like Pokémon? I mean sure, he IS going through a lot considering his dad died and his relationship with him was somewhat complicated, but his hesitance to DO anything slows the first act down a bit too much for my taste.
There’s more to talk about regarding specific moments in this movie that would be fun to talk about (there’s an AMAZING sequence in this movie where a Pokémon more or less acts like one of the greatest horror movie monsters of ALL time) but sadly that would veer towards spoilers and I don’t want to give any away for this. Like with Avengers: Endgame, thee trailers have done a great job of selling you on the IDEA of this movie without telling you much about it, so going in with as little foreknowledge as possible is the best way to experience it and I absolutely recommend you go out to the theaters and see it on the big screen. It’s not the best movie of the year and in certain places it DEFINITELY doesn’t feel like the most polished, but as far as what we could have hoped for from a video game movie, I think it’s one of the best out there and DEFINITELY the best one that everyone can enjoy; not just weirdos like me who actually like Resident Evil and DOOM. This is about as faithful as you can get while still feeling like a well thought out reimagining of the material to work in a live action space, and the few issues I have with this don’t undermine its brilliance in terms of adaptation. Heck, this movie is so good at what it’s trying to be that Sonic should go ahead and just rip it off. I mean they’re basically remaking the movie in six months anyway, so what’s the worst that can happen at this point!?