Detective Pikachu Early Reviews: The Pokémon Make Up For A Half-Baked Story

Detective Pikachu German poster

The first wave of reviews from Warner Bros.' Detective Pikachu have arrived. Hollywood is currently being dominated by known IPs and huge franchises (just see what Marvel Studios has accomplished with Avengers: Endgame). WB has a DC shared universe in the works and are growing the MonsterVerse with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but there is also potential for Detective Pikachu, the first live-action Pokémon movie, to be the start of another.

Directed by Rob Letterman (Goosebumps), the film features Justice Smith in the lead human role of Tim who meets the electric and iconic Pokémon, Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). As evident in the marketing campaign, Tim and Pikachu share a unique connection, as Tim is the only one who can understand what Pikachu is saying. The duo go on an adventure to solve the mystery of Tim's father's disappearance, and anticipation for the journey has been incredibly high ever since the first trailer showed a fully realized Pokémon world.

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Related: Detective Pikachu Can Break Hollywood's Anime & Video Game Curses

Some early reactions from Detective Pikachu surfaced a few weeks ago and kicked off the positive buzz for it. More reactions made their way online in the days that followed, but now Warner Bros. has lifted the actual review embargo for the movie. So, does Detective Pikachu live up to the hype? Check out some spoiler-free excerpts from the early reviews below:

Ryan Reynolds as Detective Pikachu

Dave Trumbone - Collider

Detective Pikachu is all about the Pokémon, the title star and his fellow catchable critters alike. Every scene has Pokémon in it, with some obvious ones front and center and other more obscure ones tucked away in the background or hiding in the shadows, but they’re there for fans to find and be delighted for discovering them. And they go by quickly! Prepare yourselves for multiple viewings if you, indeed, want to catch them all. Unfortunately, the half-baked mystery story relies heavily on tropes, two-dimensional characters (no pun intended), and too familiar twists and turns, few of which make much sense in reality even though they’re forced to fit the Poké-fied narrative. The long and short of it is this: See Detective Pikachu for the Pokémon, not the plot.

Dan Casey - Nerdist

Eschewing the familiar faces of characters like Ash, Misty, and Brock in favor of Detective Pikachu was a massive gamble, but the film’s outsized charms, rock-solid emotional core, and fantastic world-building paid off in spades. The result is a sweet, family-friendly film that fully realizes what Pokemon fans have dreamed of for more than twenty years. Through meticulous visual effects wizardry, a delightfully dry sense of humor, and an abiding love of pulp and noir, director Rob Letterman and his creative co-conspirators have created a world where Pokemon actually feel like living, breathing creatures. It’s hard not to find oneself caught up in the magic of Ryme City or want to give Detective Pikachu a snuggle when he’s feeling dejected.

Justice Smith in Detective Pikachu

Hoai-Tran Bui - /Film

Detective Pikachu wears its heart on its sleeve, but the emotional core feels somewhat half-baked, despite the constant flashbacks to Tim’s sad childhood. But it’s in the dazzling design of the world and its characters, and when Detective Pikachu shows glimpses of enchanting, Studio Ghibli-esque flairs, that the film balances out its feeble plot and uninteresting protagonist.

Alonso Duralde - The Wrap

If Detective Pikachu had any interest in getting newcomers like me interested in a big-screen world where people and pocket monsters live harmoniously side by side, the screenplay (by a quartet of writers, including director Rob Letterman) makes little effort to explain the rules of this world and the functions of the creatures who inhabit it.

Chris Nashawaty - EW

Narratively incoherent to the point of being almost avant-garde, the film goes down a lot better if you come to it with a finely nuanced understanding of the difference between a Jigglypuff and a Wigglytuff. But for everyone else, it will feel like being forced to watch a Saturday morning cartoon marathon while trapped inside a Japanese Pachinko machine.

Matt Singer - Screen Crush

Detective Pikachu is an incredible setting surrounding a snooze of a story. The mystery, characters, and comedy (or mostly the lack of comedy) are all forgettable. Still, the imaginative city they exist in is never not fun to look at.

Based on these early reviews and the many others that have been posted, it is clear the the Pokémon themselves are true standouts in Detective Pikachu. It sounds like fans of the long-running IP will find the most enjoyment out of them and will have fun spotting each one featured in every scene. That said, they will also serve as an entry point to casual fans or general audiences too, making them the big winners here.

However, even some of the most positive reviews of Detective Pikachu point to the plot of the story being one of the biggest detractors. The main issues appear to be the execution of the mystery and human characters that are formulaic. This can somewhat be expected from a film that has four writers credited for the script, but it is a shame that it wasn't perfected through this collaboration. But, with a mighty opening weekend already projected, these mixed reviews will not stop Pokémon enthusiasts from seeing Detective Pikachu early and often.

MORE: How Pokémon Can Avoid A Nostalgia Backlash Like Star Wars

Sources: Various [see links above]

Key Release Dates
  • Detective Pikachu (2019) release date: May 10, 2019
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