- Directed by Rob Letterman
- May 3, 2019 (Japan) / May 10, 2019 (US)
- Based on the Pokémon franchise and loosely on the 2016 Detective Pikachu video game
A young man investigates the death of his estranged father and uncovers a dangerous conspiracy.
As video game movies go, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is significantly better than most. What helps is the film treats this as the first thing presented in this fictional universe and begins introducing you to the basic concepts and rules that govern the story. You do not need to be versed in Pokémon mythology to understand what occurs because it is presented with accompanying in story information.
This was good for me since I’m unfamiliar with the Detective Pikachu game upon which this is based on or anything Pokémon really. My total knowledge of Pokémon comes from watching a handful the first episodes to hit American television. Beyond that I’m fairly ignorant.
Another strong point this movie has going for it is that the story is an actual detective story. Everything is not quite as it seems. You think you know and then it drops in that you don’t actually know. There are clues and misdirection. There’s a trail of evidence and information that our main characters in this follow from beginning to end in order to understand what is going on. And there’s stuff dropped along the way that if you don’t pay attention, you won’t realize is important until they place a lantern on it and point out that it IS important.
The first clue we get is a weird gas and its effects. We also get some bits about the Mewtwo’s abilities and even some slips of the tongue by characters that turn out to be rather telling bits in hindsight. All in what should be a rather disposable cash grab. When creators take their material seriously no matter what it is, it shows in the end.
And this would not have worked without some quality special effects. The CGI used here is used judiciously. It’s not just for cool stuff but it’s to craft a believable world. They use just enough to make the existence of the Pokémon believable but not so much that the movie itself comes off looking fake. There is only so much fakery the human brain will excuse before it cannot immerse itself in the story.
The story is solid and the special effects are great and blend seamlessly with everything else. You even got a good character arc in the main character as he comes to understand his father better and by the end seeks to repair a relationship that he had been avoiding as well as finding a direction of his own.
And there is plenty of humor both light and dark in Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Perhaps the darkest joke-and one I found more entertaining than I should-is when our main characters of Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) and Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) are interrogating a Mr. Mime Pokémon and in order to get it to communicate they mine along as well. After all is said and done when they get their information Tim accidentally drops his imaginary match with the implication being that he just set Mr. Mime on imaginary fire.
The villainous plot involves a resurrected Mewtwo and a gas. The latter definitely comes off a bit like the plot from the Tim Burton Batman film as in that The Joker plans to gas the city of Gotham during a parade. There the parade was ongoing when release time came but here the gas is released before anything gets moving. Our villain was only gassing whatever people were at the beginning and not a large number as it as it appears to be when it is released.
Tim is dealing with the death of his mother and some resentment towards his father. What did his mom die of? Plot device. I’m really not sure what killed her. I don’t think it was actually stated in the movie. That is very Disney of them.
By now we all know Ryan Reynolds plays Tim’s dad as well Pikachu. They do a great job of teasing that by keeping Tim’s dad in shadow or just never seeing his face in flashbacks. I am impressed by the effort at quality here.
In the story Tim is paired with junior reporter named Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) who is accompanied by a Psyduck. She provides info and helps things move quicker than if Tim would have done it all himself which is fine to expedite the story. Tim and Lucy are supposed to be attracted to each other but have about as much electricity as a romance in Star Wars though. If you pair people they need to click and that does not quite happen here.
The mentioned weak points are relatively minor and do little to harm the story. This is just well done from start to finish and is something both kids and adults can enjoy in different ways. It does not talk down to the audience nor does it present things that are unnecessarily mature or sophisticated.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a better than it should’ve been video game based movie. It’s got excitement and a great story and perfectly executed special effects. For fans of Pokémon or family-friendly films this is something you should check out!