In the 24 years I have lived on this planet, there are three things whose contribution to me growing up and becoming the man I am now, places them above everything else. The first is friends & family, the second is films, and the third is Pokémon. The imagination of this media franchise is impeccable and as someone who is still invested in every media platform this franchise has made its mark upon, Pokémon is very near and dear to my heart. Now that Pokémon finally has a live action film, the prayers I made as a child are finally answered. I still have a duty to review Pokémon Detective Pikachu so I controlled my inner fanboy just for today (some of it still may leak into this review) and this film is a clear pathway to entertainment if you’re not looking for that special something.
In a way, Detective Pikachu has the entertainment value in the same way that The Lego Movie had entertainment value, it’s a film which you can tell in which baskets the filmmakers have placed most of their creative eggs into and which baskets are left emptier. One such basket is the world itself. The world of Pokémon is remarkably designed, like a mix of contemporary London and the Neon of Tokyo, for fans it is a world where you feel like you’re on Pokémon safari as you can see all different species of Pokémon in the background going about their business with their human partners, and it’s done in a way that makes it feel so natural. For others, it is a world wherein every shot, something is always going on, there are always people and Pokémon co-operating on some form. It’s a very active world that you can easily absorb yourself into.
It’s going to be said in every review so I may as well say it here, the Detective Pikachu characters is an adorable, yellow puffball of fun thanks to how comedically talented Ryan Reynolds is. Granted, because of his now instantly recognizable voice, you can’t shake off that this is Deadpool without the swearing. Nevertheless, the voice and cuteness go hand in hand, and he leads the way in a fun, wholesome adventure.
Let’s say that Pokémon and parents have had a rocky road in the past. I remember my uncle taking me to see Pokémon: The First Movie and in his own words “It was the first time I felt completely lost by a film, I had no idea”. Maybe because the importance of the animated Pokémon films, the key to enjoyment if you will, was knowing the franchise inside and out. In Detective Pikachu, that importance is taken away, so no longer will parents be feeling like Psyduck’s, they’ll be able to enjoy a Pokémon film not needing to know their Charizards from their Greninjas, which is an underrated but fantastic achievement from Detective Pikachu.
The mystery at the heart of Detective Pikachu is a little generic, again bringing back the point that this film doesn’t take any huge steps in inventing new things for the adventure, mystery genre. However, what becomes clear is how the filmmakers have carefully slotted the Pokémon property into this narrative. I think I should say at this point that this film is quite possibly the best video game adaptation if you can see it that way. “Based on the characters of…” would be a more fitting description because it never feels like an adaptation. Almost every time a video game adaptation has disappointed the silver screen audience is because the filmmakers behind it see it as part of a bigger, commercial conglomerate which eliminates respect for what they’re making. Detective Pikachu, on the other hand, is completely respectful. The filmmakers know the enormity of the franchise, it knows what the franchise promotes, and they make this the central theme with the utmost clarity. So, what needs to be said from me, as a fan, is thank you to the filmmakers of Detective Pikachu for not falling into that trap.
Now by no means is this a perfect film, even as a fan I found some moments where I felt it could have been done better. The final acts of the film for instance show signs of a rushed story. It feels as though at some point during development, time was working against the writers and so rushed the film’s finale to meet deadlines. The evidence is clear as there is a tonne of exposition dialogue implemented to wrap up the mystery, done through various flashbacks and the existence of holographic technology in the film, which isn’t given any kind of indication earlier in the story, it suddenly just appears and we have to accept it. I think the writers went with this option to simplify what would have been a possible overcomplicated mystery, but surely a better compromise exists. It feels odd to feel like you’ve been transported from a contemporary setting to a futuristic one in the blink of an eye.
Next is the unfortunate over the top or cheesy performances from most of the cast. While the performance of Justice Smith as Tim Goodman is at least tolerable (much more tolerable than his Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom performance), some characters are way too over the top like Sebastian (Omar Chaparro) who when you get right down to it is just a typical gangster, that’s it. I felt they could have made his character more directed to the Pokémon franchise, maybe he was a member/ex-member of one of the many villainous teams in the Pokémon world, maybe acknowledge their existence in this world.
I did consider writing two separate reviews for Detective Pikachu because, in the beginning, I felt almost certain there would be a fan/non-fan split on opinions. But now after seeing a lifelong speculated vision come to life, the Pokémon world in Detective Pikachu is for everyone. The world of Detective Pikachu is the real star of the show, it is believable, pretty and for Pokémaniacs, a dream come true. Sure, the acting is questionable, and the story loses its drive towards the end, maybe it even should have tugged at the heartstrings a little more, but the delight you’ll get from how imaginative the world is vastly outweighing the negatives. As a critic, I had good honest fun, as a fan, I was overcome with all sorts of wonderous emotions.