I consider myself to be a fan of Pokemon. I remember having some of the cards and watching some of the original anime films when they first came out and I’ve played Pokemon White and Pokemon Sapphire. There is a history of video game movies being bad, and even ones I’ve enjoyed, like Warcraft, were not well received. With Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, I was excited for it, initially because of the involvement of Alex Hirsch (the creator of Gravity Falls), although he is no longer credited as writing the film, and the trailers did build my excitement up more. The film itself, I found to be a good bit of fun, although being fairly generic as a noir mystery.
The film concerns Tim, an insurance salesman who used to be a Pokemon trainer, but gave it up following the death of his mum and estrangement from his dad, Harry. After finding out that Harry has supposedly died, Tim travels to Ryme City, a city that has outlawed Pokemon battles and promotes a harmonious relationship between human and Pokemon, in order to collect Harry’s belongings. Whilst at Harry’s flat, Tim comes across a Pikachu who he can fully understand, although he is the only one who can, with amnesia who reveals that he was Harry’s partner and a detective in his own right. Together, Tim and Pikachu team up to find out what happened to Harry and recover Pikachu’s memories, with this involving a gas named R which turns Pokemon wild, with the two also teaming up with aspiring reporter Lucy and her Psyduck, who have been following the story themselves. Now the film takes on the tone of a noir and as a noir, it does feel fairly generic. Most of the character arcs are very obviously telegraphed and there’s nothing in this film that isn’t done in other films. However, as a noir for kids, this works well, being the right tone for a younger audience and there is a lot of fun to be had with the film. Whilst there are a few darker moments in the film, the general tone is light enough for a younger audience. It also helps that the central element regarding Tim coming to terms with his loneliness, whilst given all the subtlety of a brick to the face, is well handled through the interactions between Tim and Pikachu. Through their interaction, we see Tim come to terms with the relationship with his dad and with Pokemon in general and this does a good job at building the world of Pokemon.
For the performances, Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu does a good job at giving this dry, sardonic humour to the film, allowing for a bit of a reference point to the Pokemon world, whilst also doing a good job in the dramatic moments of the film. Justice Smith as Tim meanwhile does a good job at showing his disconnect from the world due to his loneliness and his growing friendship with Pikachu making him more open, with the chemistry between Reynolds and Smith doing a good job in this. Kathryn Newton as Lisa is fun as well, showing her intelligence and the thirst she has to get the story, along with her frustration that all the works she’s been doing so far has been clickbait articles on the cuteness of Pokemon, with Newton and Smith having a very charming chemistry with each other. Bill Nighy as Howard Clifford, the founder of Ryme City, is exactly the kind of person you get for this type of film. He’s skilled at making the most ridiculous dialogue sound serious and he is having a lot of fun in the film, the love Nighy developed for Pokemon whist making the film being very apparent. Ken Watanabe gets a few good moments with Smith to establish the noir tone of the film, but I wanted him to be in more of the film, whilst we also get decent work from Karan Soni, Rita Ora and Omar Chapparo.
On a technical level, the film is very impressive. The production design for Ryme City gives this Anglo-Japanese feel to the film, with there being a clear Japanese influence to the general design of the city, whilst specifics, such as the road network and some of the buildings are clearly inspired by London (with keep left signs, an approximation of the sign for the Underground and buildings like The Gherkin showing up). The music is pretty decent as well, having this good noir feel whilst also retaining the music of the games at certain points. The triumph of the film though comes through the design of the Pokemon. As the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer showed, it can very easily be the case that translating the design of video game characters into film can go wrong if there isn’t enough care made by the people making the decisions. For this film, whilst some changes were made to the general designs of each Pokemon, such as having more defined fur and scales where necessary, the film keeps the general principles behind the Pokemon designs, allowing them to be easily recognisable and giving each Pokemon this cute factor that creates an aesthetically pleasing film. The only time when the film does go into the Uncanny Valley for a design is completely intentional and a good example of how to use CG well for creepiness.
Overall, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is a good bit of fun. Sure it’s very predictable and some of the characters could have been better defined, but the film nails the world of Pokemon, showing what things like live action Pokemon battles, wild Pokemon and the relationship between humans and Pokemon would look like. The film knows exactly what it wants to be and succeeds in delivering it.
My Rating: 3.5/5