Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) had many things working against it. For one, movies based on video game properties have mostly failed at every turn. Another concern for some was the casting of Ryan Reynolds for a PG family movie after his successful run as the Merc with a Mouth in both Deadpool films, which seemed like an odd choice. The biggest challenge – or at least it seemed to be the biggest challenge when the movie was initially announced – was how the Pokémon would look when paired up with a live action world. Somehow, against the odds, Pokémon Detective Pikachu smashed all of the concerns and made a delightful, family-friendly, neo-noir film.
Detective Pikachu shocks the video game movie with great visuals and a solid story
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) has to travel to Ryme City after his estranged detective father died in a car accident. While returning to a home he’d never really known, he meets a Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who was not only Harry’s Pokémon but is able to speak with Tim. They decide to team up to try and figure out just what exactly happened to Harry.
I always like to put my biases on front-street, thus my readers should know that I am a fan of Pokémon. Though my fan-hood only began a few years ago, it did start before Pokémon Go was released, giving me a little more fan credit. When Pokémon first came out I was already in high school, so I thought it was too cute for someone my age to get into. Apparently, 33-years-old is not too late to start playing old RPGs, and I’ve seen beaten most of the newer games, spent countless hours on Pokémon Go, and finally bought a Switch in preparation for Sword and Shield releasing later this year.
With that out of the way, I do believe being invested in some level to the property of Pokémon makes this film work. There are tons of Pokémon for fans to identify, just roaming around in Ryme City. The change to the normal dynamic of the Pokémon universe where trainers carry Pokémon in Pokéballs and do battle with other trainers or wild Pokémon makes for some cool visuals. The Pokémon all walk side-by-side with their partners, and they live in harmony in this perfect Pokétopia: all a part of Howard Clifford’s (Bill Nye) plan when he created the city. Tim’s dad, Harry, was a detective here, and worked with his Pikachu to solve Pokémon related crimes, presumably. One trail he had been following involved a mysterious gas that gives Tim and Pikachu their first big lead, which gives us probably my favorite sequence in the film.
Because of the dynamic of Ryme City, Pokébattles aren’t featured in the film. Fortunately, outlawing what has always essentially been cartoon dogfights in the world of Pokémon just forces the battles to go underground. Pikachu, who has forgotten everything up to Harry’s disappearance (other than his love of caffeine and that he is a world class detective) discovers that he’s been here before, and scarred a Charizard. The battle that follows – depicted briefly in the trailer – is both cool and very satisfying for fans of Pokémon games and casual moviegoers alike.
Surprisingly, there are several Noir elements in this film that didn’t initially remind me of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), but once that connection was pointed out by Blank Check Podcast, it was so obvious I could have slapped myself. There are parallels between 1988 classic and this modern story. Both pull heavily from the Noir genre, both are fairly revolutionary visually, and the live action protagonists from both films have a reason to be distrusting of their animated counterparts based solely on their backstories. These comparisons should have removed an element of doubt that this film could work, and it truly does do just that.
I really enjoyed this film quite a bit. The performances by Smith and the female counterpart Kathryn Newton are both really strong, especially since they are mostly acting off of nothing. Reynolds works perfectly as Pikachu, especially within the context of the story. While there are some story simplicities and definite parallels to other films, it is competent and enjoyable enough to not get bogged down in a negative way by the issues. Ultimately, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is solid and earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.