There's something to like for every level of the Pokemon fandom in here
Creating a Pokémon world that is both A) Satisfying for fans of the series, and B) A good entry point for people that just barely grasp the concept of whatever a "Pikachu" is supposed to be, is a difficult task. Lean too far in the first direction and you'll alienate everyone that didn't grow up with a Game Boy (or Nintendo DS or whatever) attached to their hands. Lean too far in the latter direction and you'll get the same complaint that many people make about some of the later entries in the game franchise: They hold your hand too much. So, rather than lean in any particular direction, Detective Pikachu made the wise choice to get some exposition out of the way and then just Volt Tackle right down the middle.
And I respect that.
Taking place in Ryme City, a location invented for the game that Detectuve Pikachu is loosely based off, we're shown a world where Pokémon and humans exist in harmony. I mean, they've always kind of done that. Or at least I think they've done that. Pokémon haven't led a mass rebellion and eaten their masters yet, so it sure seems like a harmony has been reached. But Ryme City goes a step further because all battling has been outlawed. Now, one could say "UMM, BUT WHY? BATTLING IS HOW POKEMON GROW AND EVOLVE!", but again, Detective Pikachu isn't really concerned with filling you in on the intricacies of the world. Pokémon hang out and some perform light tasks and the streets are probably covered in Dodrio feces (Seriously, there are so many Dodrio in this movie,) and you just have to "get it."
As a fan, I get it. But I could also see how some people would drop out in the first few minutes (which are the clunkiest parts of the movie, by the way. Both the film's energy and its structure get on track as soon as the titular detective gets introduced.) We're treated to an explanation of what a Pokeball is, what a Pokémon trainer sort of is, some Pokémon types, and some examples of a Pokémon's attacks. And then, as if the movie itself shrugs and says "Eh, you don't want to see all of this...," the mystery plotline starts and never slows down. Detective Pikachu doesn't really care about anyone sitting with their arms crossed in their theater seats, pouting about not understanding what's so special about Pokémon. But it also doesn't wink at you constantly with references that only appeal to those that have sunk 100 hours into Pokémon White 2 or whatever.
Instead, Detective Pikachu is very, very much its own thing. There are no gym leaders or Elite 4 members or visits by Professor Oak. It's not a story about the overall Pokémon world as much as it's just one that takes place in it. Justice Smith plays Tim Goodman, a young man called back to Ryme City after he learns that his detective father has been killed in a mysterious accident. It's there that he meets Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), a reporter who, while just an "unpaid intern" has a suspicion that there's more to this accident than meets the Decidueye. Get it? That's a Pokémon with the word "eye" in it and, okay, sorry. Anyway, Tim soon finds Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds in a performance that keeps the film afloat even in its most wavering moments) and they all team up to find out the truth about Tim's Dad.
Along the way, they discover a genetic experiment gone wrong and I'll stop there. But you see what I'm talking about? Those hoping to finally get a plot remniscient of the classic games will have to adjust their expectations, and those that are like "Wait, hold on! The Cubone wears the skull of its mom?" will have to realize that this just aint that kind of movie, bro. It lives and dies based on how fun it is, and luckily, it's fun most of the time. And it makes me realize that I hope all Pokémon movies are like this: exciting, sometimes emotional, and obviously having a blast with how many different Pokémon it can cram onscreen.
But now I have to talk about sequel potential, or spinoff potential or prequel potential. No matter what anyone tells you, in the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no studio goes ahead with their major franchise blockbuster without at least thinking of how a sequel would work. And if more does come out of this franchise, I hope it sticks to this formula of taking aspects from the Pokémon universe and crafting an original tale out of them. I'm sorry. I just don't think a kid gaining eight badges and defeating an evil team all in the span of a movie or two sounds that interesting. I've played that story about a dozen times now. But a film that took the Team Rocket idea and explored it, or one about travelling through different Pokémon regions or something like that would be great. I don't need Pokémon Red: The Movie. Detective Pikachu taught me that.
Overall, if you're a Pokémon fan, or if it would be your first introduction to the series, go see Detective Pikachu. With the way the movie works, you'll both be on equal ground and you'll both have a great time.
Okay, I can't do a review without at least mentioning this once, but man, does this movie have a lot in common with Tim Burton's 1989 BATMAN. And skip this part if you're worried about spoilers.
- A loose adaptation of the source material that kind of picks and chooses what it thinks will work best
- A monstrous enemy that is mostly purple
- A blonde news girl as an ally
- A plot structure with a twist about a dead parent that depends heavily on a flashback
- A parade where the balloons are filled with a deadly gas
- Micheal Keaton and Ryan Reynolds both have beautiful eyes
Thank you. I couldn't go to sleep tonight if I didn't bring that all up at least once. Here's the...
+ Pikachu is so, so cute, y'all. I can't stand it
+ The performances are solid and add weight to the heavy CGI use
+ The amount of Pokémon in the background reveal that this was very much a labor of love
- The first few minutes are fairly clumsy
- No Dragonite. It's my favorite. C'mon, guys
Will you be seeing Detective Pikachu? What aspects of the Pokémon franchise would you like to see in a movie? Let us know in the comments!
Daniel Dockery is a writer for Crunchyroll. Be his Pika Pal on Twitter.