Detective Pikachu is wholesome, silly fun, with solid world-building and stunning CGI Pokémon that are complemented well enough by its story.
For decades, Hollywood has been trying to crack the code of video game adaptations, attempting to translate the popular medium to the big screen with few successes. The latest video game adaptation is Pokémon Detective Pikachu, the first live-action adaptation of the Pokémon franchise. Though it's specifically based on the 2016 game, Detective Pikachu, the movie is rooted in the franchise that kicked off and rose to popularity in the mid-90s. Because most of the games, TV shows and animated movies follow Pokémon trainers, it's a different story than what fans are used to, but one that's still very much a part of this world. Detective Pikachu is wholesome, silly fun, with solid world-building and stunning CGI Pokémon that are complemented well enough by its story.
Detective Pikachu follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), the son of Ryme City Police Detective Harry Goodman, who's pronounced dead after being in a mysterious car accident. When Tim travels to Ryme City in order to close out his father's affects, he stumbles upon Harry's Pikachu (voice of Ryan Reynolds) and the mystery of what actually happened to his father. With the help of aspiring reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her Psyduck, Tim and Pikachu investigate what really happened to Harry and soon discover Tim's father may still be alive. As they dig deeper, though, Tim and Pikachu unravel a plot that could endanger all of Ryme City's human and Pokémon residents.
Detective Pikachu was directed by Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) from a script he co-wrote with Dan Hernandez (One Day At A Time), Benji Samit (The Tick) and Derek Connolly (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) - with a story by Hernandez, Samit and Nicole Perlman (Captain Marvel). The story of Detective Pikachu is a little overly simple, with certain twists and turns that are very obviously set up throughout the film and are largely predictable as a result. Some of the choices the movie makes, too, are wonderfully wild, and Detective Pikachu fully leans into even the weirdest turns it takes. But with a PG rating and its relatively simple story, the movie is clearly meant to be enjoyed by all ages, particularly young children - which makes sense since the Pokémon franchise as a whole has been largely targeted at younger audiences, at least in the U.S.
In a movie about Pokémon, though, the story isn't necessarily the biggest draw. It needs to be solid enough to carry viewers through this larger world and, in that regard, Detective Pikachu is a success. The story may not be Detective Pikachu's biggest strength, but it does complement the world well, giving the movie an avenue through which its viewers can explore Ryme City and the larger universe. It's in the world-building that Detective Pikachu truly shines, depicting Pokémon both in the wild and living amongst humans in Ryme City. Though the movie isn't about a Pokémon trainer, that aspect is still very much part of this world, but never overly explained. Detective Pikachu deftly develops this complex world in a way that compellingly establishes it, but leaves further exploration for a potential sequel or spinoff - though without any cheap teases or setup.
But the core of the film are Tim and Pikachu, leaving Smith and Reynolds to carry on the buddy cop dynamic despite one voicing a CGI creature. Their relationship works well as the heart of the movie, especially given Smith's performance and the CGI rendering of Pikachu to make him ultra adorable (and so fluffy!). Reynolds, too, is well-fitted to the role of a quipping, caffeine addicted Pokémon detective, using a mostly family-friendly brand of his humor to bring personality to the character (something the story certainly needs). However, the rest of the cast is left with little to do, though Newton is solid as Tim's human sidekick and Bill Nighy has an entertaining turn as Howard Clifford, the founder of Ryme City. Altogether, the real stars of Detective Pikachu are the Pokémon - Pikachu in particular, of course - then Smith as Tim, and then the rest of the human cast. But in a live-action movie about Pokémon, that sounds about right.
Ultimately, Detective Pikachu is a fun family-friendly movie that will be entertaining for Pokémon fans of all ages, especially young kids and those who grew up playing the video games and watching the animated movies and TV series. Pokémon is such a beloved franchise and given the supposed video game movie curse, Detective Pikachu could have gone very wrong. But though viewers may scratch their heads at certain stylistic choices made during the casting and creation of Detective Pikachu, it all miraculously works well together. Reynolds is a distinct style choice for Pikachu, the story takes some twists that are absolutely wild, and yet Detective Pikachu is an dazzling and compelling ride through the world of Pokémon. It's not necessarily the perfect video game adaptation or even the perfect movie, but Detective Pikachu is an extremely solid first live-action Pokémon movie and it paves the way for many more live-action Pokémon films to come.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 104 minutes long and rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.
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- Detective Pikachu (2019) release date: May 10, 2019