Pokémon is a worldwide phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down. And even though there have been seven generations of Pokémon video games, not to mention the spinoffs, and then the 19 seasons of the anime, and the 19 anime films, plus the manga, and then the Pokémon Go mobile app, there still has not been a live-action film. As crazy as that sounds, that will all change with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu.
Directed by Rob Letterman, who co-wrote the screenplay with Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit and Derek Connolly from a story by Hernandez, Samit and Nicole Perlman. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is based on the video game spinoff of the same name. In it, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) investigates the mystery of his missing partner. During the investigation, he partners up with his missing father’s Pokémon partner, a snarky wise-cracking Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who sports a detective cap. And Tim soon discovers that he is uniquely equipped to work together because he is the only human who can talk with Pikachu.
With the help of a news reporter intern Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), her Pokémon bud Psyduck, they discover that there is a bigger mystery at play.
As far as video game film adaptations go, they are a tough sell, especially when they have a reputation for being so terrible. They have a wide range of problems that stem from having unrefined plots, poor scripts, and terrible performances. Other issues may include staying too true or straying too far from the material. But Detective Pikachu manages to avoid some of these traps.
But Detective Pikachu manages to avoid some of these traps by taking more of an emotional angle to connect and engage with its audience. The mystery noir aspect adds a nice twist. And though it’s not wholly original, it is refreshing to see this video game film adaptation take a different approach to the genre.
See, Detective Pikachu embraces all of the silliness of the game, references the roots of it, and still tells a unique family-friendly story. The noir mystery aspect makes it a one of a kind film for all ages. It’s got all those classic 1920s noir tropes like the vertical blinds, the detective hat, and the good cop/bad cap interrogation. But it is what is beyond Ryme city that gives the franchise the potential to expand into something bigger.
There is plenty of world-building go to ground as the film explains how Ryme City operates as a metropolis where human and Pokémon can co-exist without worrying about Pokémon battles or being captured. Even some of Pokémon, themselves, help out with daily life by taking on certain jobs. We see Machamps directing traffic, Ludicolos serving coffee, and Charmanders heating woks.
But underneath Ryme City, there is darkness where underground battles take place, and dark corners hide terrible secrets. Just like you would see in a noir mystery.
And there is so much more to Detective Pikachu. There’s also an uncharted world where forests come alive, secret labs where nefarious experiments are being conducted, and surrounding islands that have yet to be explored.
While there’s so much to like, some of the narrative shifts can be a bit strange. The film goes from missing person’s mystery to Pokémon fan service. As a result, it loses some of that charm that it worked so hard to build and trades it in for video game action spectacle. Those who aren’t familiar with the game might not like this sort of direction, but those who are fans will absolutely love where the film is going.
The problem with some of these shifts is that there no organic lead up to it. It just happens for the sake of it. So we are at the mercy of these shifts because this takes place in a world of Pokémon. But as strange as the film flows, it’s probably best to accept where it is going and how it is getting there.
And it’s not as though the story complex or has great depth to it. It’s pretty simple, to say the least. And while there are a few unexpected turns, their shocks aren’t everlasting. They are more like fleeting moments as the film is more focused on making the next Pokémon reference whether that is through battles, posters, or any other regalia that can be seen.
It goes without saying that you will be inundated with nods to the video game. But somehow it still manages to be unique because of the relationship between Tim and Pikachu.
During the course of this partnership, we get to see their relationship grow and thrive. The two depend on each other in order to achieve their goals. Tim will be able to find his father. Pikachu will be able to find his missing trainer and recover his lost memories. And soon they soon discover that this partnership was meant to be.
Watching the two trade verbal jabs with each other is hilarious. It’s hard to believe that Reynolds can be this funny even with family-friendly material. Yet, here we are, laughing at all of the jokes Pikachu makes. The quips and energy match everything fans love about Pikachu. So that snarky likability and the overall curtness of Pikachu make for a great combination.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a love letter to those who have been emotionally invested in the Pokémon games and anime. Because it is able to find that of story and fan service, it is a one-of-a-kind video game film adaptation that works. Sure, the story may be a bit simplistic and rather predictable, but a lot of the fun comes through the budding comedic efforts from Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds. Their chemistry is infectious, and their relationship is believable. And that’s because the film plays to the game’s strengths which centers on the relationship between a trainer and his Pokémon. In the end, it may not be the very best film, but you aren’t going to find another one like it, this year.
In theaters May 10 and is rated PG.