Updated: May 4, 2019
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is the first live action Pokémon film to be made since the very first Pokémon game was released 23 years ago. Based on the 2016 game as a spin-off to the main franchise, the film follows Tim Goodman, played by Justice Smith: a 21 year old insurance salesman who doesn’t seem to particularly like the idea of having his own Pokémon. Fast forward to him receiving news of his absent father’s death, Tim makes the journey to the bustling metropolis that is Ryme City to look for closure and answers. Enter stage left Pikachu, voiced by the ever charismatic and hilarious Ryan Reynolds, to assist Tim in his quest for just what occurred with his father. What follows is a jovial journey across Ryme City full of cameos from many Pokémon, some more well known than others, and well delivered quips and punchlines, and while the film does have its good moments, it’s difficult to not notice issues with Warner Bros. Picture’s first attempt at bringing the world of Pokémon to the big screen.
Before digging in to the issues, it’s only right the film is given praise on what it does well. The realism of every Pokémon shown on screen is to be celebrated immensely. None looked disturbingly too CGI or even out of place – from the reptilian skin on Charizard to the fur on Pikachu, each Pokémon was truly brought to life in a way that would excite those who know the franchise well. Ryan Reynolds performance was truly the standout of the film and really made the idea of a talking Pikachu one that didn’t necessarily seem like a bad choice. Punchlines were delivered well, quips were well timed and the on screen back and forth between Pikachu and Tim was certainly entertaining and watching them traverse through Ryme City was a great visual experience. Ryme City is described as a haven for Pokémon and people to coexist, with the tag line “no trainers, no poké-balls, no Pokémon battles” and its fun trying to point out all the different Pokémon you can see on screen in the crowded city while attempting to follow along with the story progression.
Now, when you think Pokémon, one of the first things you think of is Pokémon battles. It’s what has been the driving force for the franchise and what makes it so popular. So to have a Pokémon film that was essentially void of any kind of real Pokémon battle was quite disappointing. Yes, granted, the film wasn’t necessarily about trainers battling but I think even showing one would have added something great to the film. They did show Pokémon using some of their moves but it just didn’t feel like it was enough. And this may be nitpicking, but the sight and use of only one poké-ball in the entire film was a disappointment.Then to add to that, it was the retconning of abilities – in the film it is stated that Mewtwo has the ability to transfer the souls of people into Pokémon, and that ability is the key element that surrounds the film. It was such a bizarre thing to hear and witness and definitely feels like they wedged it in to make the idea of a talking Pikachu make sense, especially when it wasn’t even in the original Detective Pikachu game. A poor decision that is certain to baffle many people who are familiar to the franchise.
The film didn’t feel like a Pokémon film at all to be frank; whether that’s down to the story, Pikachu talking, or the very rushed and weird final act is left to be seen. But what the film does do is show us what is capable with a Pokémon film. The foundations are there for what could easily be numerous releases of Pokémon films within a contained universe. A film based off the original Pokémon series or games would definitely see great success if Warner Bros. use what they’ve learnt from Detective Pikachu to truly establish characters and the world while giving fan service to viewers. It’s better not to expect a lot from the film, just appreciate it for what it is – the studios clearly saw an opportunity to make a Pokémon film but didn’t know if they could pull off certain elements so went with the lesser well known game as a basis.
Overall, Detective Pikachu could be a lot better, but it does leave room for a lot more exciting work to be made. The risk has been taken, now the next step is to create a film worthy of the franchise that will satisfy fans and welcome newcomers to the world of Pokémon.