Pokemon: Detective Pikachu features a solid performance from Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith. The story uses rehashed themes which may seem off putting, but they pay off in the third act.
I recently wrote about 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Star Wars. In that article, I mentioned that George Lucas explicitly wanted his film to follow in Akira Kurosawa’s footsteps. He threw his characters into a foreign environment where we, the audience, need to get our bearings and figure the story out along the way.
In much the same way, Rob Letterman’s (Goosebumps) Pokemon: Detective Pikachu put us into a foreign environment. In this case, 21-year-old Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is the proverbial “fish out of water” in Ryme City. Smith plays the calm, cool and collected individual, except for when it comes to the Pokemon. There’s a backstory to his character that the script by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Letterman, and Derek Connolly (based on the story by Hernandez, Samit, and Nicole Perlman) explains why he keeps his distance from the living, breathing Pokemon that populate this world.
That story is quickly set aside as Tim is called into Ryme City to discover what happened to his father, Harry, following an accident. Here we meet Detective Hideo Yoshida (Ken Watanabe). Yoshida is a minor character in terms of the overall story, but his entrance is certainly the most important moment for this character, as he offers some genuine clues to who Harry was in relation to Tim.
Unfortunately, and just as quickly, those tidbits also go by the wayside. In fact, the Pokemon: Detective Pikachu throws out breadcrumbs so fast, before we know it, we’re meeting Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) as Tim scours Harry’s apartment for clues. There’s a melancholic moment where Tim recognizes “what could have been” as the coffee-loving Pikachu starts to assemble the pieces to what happened with his father.
Reynolds is an absolute charmer as he and Tim get acquainted with one another. They fall in line with one another almost as a matter of convenience for the plot to move forward. I would add that the way they are able to communicate with each other is unique and I’m giving the story points for that.
Pokemon: Detective Pikachu doesn’t pander either. It could have made me, a Pokemon neophyte, feel lost. Reynolds really captures the essence of a lost child, searching for clues to his partner and to his identity while Tim seeks to understand who his father was. Tim’s theme runs throughout the film even if it feels poorly handled. There is a reason for that, something the story does an effective job at hiding. To be honest, I’ve seen our president give better speeches than this story does to hide its true nature and that’s not a compliment.
In Pokemon: Detective Pikachu’s defense, it does save the best reveal for last which I won’t reveal here, but I hope you’re as surprised as I was. Throughout all of this though is a story that shines with its use of technology. From Ryan Reynolds’s mo-cap performance to the bustling metropolis that is Ryme City, that looks a lot like London to Justice’s touching performance, this modernized version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? should fire on all cylinders.
Yet it felt… reheated.
I think in reheating story elements from other films, Letterman and his team overcomplicated what should have been a fairly straightforward adventure. Pokemon: Detective Pikachu needed more and I think because Tim became a more involved character as the story went on, his dynamics and relationship with Pikachu changed, throwing the balance between the characters off. Now, I mentioned a reveal which I thought was effective and, even as I write this review, the reveal still has me jonesing to see the film again.
I took my 12-year-old nephew to see this with me because he is the perfect age for this type of story. I asked him before the film if he had grown up with Pokemon so that I could get a sense of where he was, knowledge-wise. He was more familiar with the characters, but not the environment. I asked him what he thought about the film after the house lights came up and he said that he loved it; that he liked the twists and he liked the characters.
I enjoyed the antics between Pikachu and Tim and I’m still stuck on a reveal that I don’t want to share here, but I would be interested to know from those who see the film (and read this review) what they thought of the film. I will say that it appealed to my inner 12-year-old, so I completely respect where my nephew was coming from.
I think I am just as much of a MacGuffin as much as Tim was in the film. Quite honestly, if Pokemon: Detective Pikachu can make me the MacGuffin, it has my vote. The reheated plot elements detract from the experience, but the 12-year-old me enjoyed the ride, and that’s enough for me.
Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is rated PG and is in theaters, May 10. All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.