By Bradley Lane
Pokémon has been a significant part of American culture since it was first introduced to Americans in 1998 with the joint release of the Pokémon television show and the first Pokémon video games, Pokémon: Red and Blue. The Pokémon card game followed just a year later and since then Pokémon has been engrained in American pop culture. I would bet you’d be hard pressed to find someone who would not recognize Pikachu if you showed them just a picture of one.
In fact, the Pokémon brand has made over $90 billion in total from their video games, films, trading cards and many more projects, making Pokémon the highest grossing media franchise ever. This is why it is almost surprising that this is the first ever live action Pokémon film. The jump to live action from animation is hard (just look at this year’s Dumbo remake) but I am happy to report that in their first live action outing Pokémon gets a lot right.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu introduces us to Tim Goodman as he receives news that his father, a detective with the Ryme City Police Department, has gone missing. When he travels to the big city, he finds his father’s apartment empty, aside from a miraculously articulate Pikachu. However, Pikachu lost all memory of how he gained the ability to speak with the only link to his past being the detective cap on his head with a label addressed to Tim’s father. Together, with the first lead to where Tim’s father might be, Tim and Pikachu search throughout Ryme City to find Tim’s father.
Nothing is more apparent when watching this film than how much effort was put into the character design of the Pokémon, how thoughtfully they were integrated into the world and just how fun it is to explore the world the filmmakers have created. The introduction to Ryme City is sure to leave longtime fans with their jaws dropped. The adherence to the world’s continuity in the anime and games is a very welcome surprise as well.
Unfortunately, Detective Pikachu is not without its flaws. The acting across the board, save for Justice Smith as Tim and Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu, leaves a lot to be desired. Campy dialogue delivery and over-the-top performances add a cartoony quality that is not always flattering. In addition, the script is not awful, but the scene transitions are clunky at best and nonsensical at worst. Which in turn hurts the pacing, making Detective Pikachu feel clunky and like not everything we are seeing matters all that much in the grand scheme of the story.
Ryan Reynold’s Pikachu is surprisingly similar his portrayal of Deadpool, characterized by quippy dialogue, fast wit and very suggestive jokes that may just push the PG rating. Which is a definite strength in a movie otherwise made so children of all ages can understand and enjoy it. It has plenty of impressive action, jokes aimed at children and adults and a story that references other Pokémon stories young and old fans alike can appreciate.