Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is like a high-quality, made-for-TV movie that you watch as a kid on Cartoon Network. It had the perfect blend of adventure, nostalgia, and hokey acting to remind me a lot of the original Pokémon television series that I grew up watching.
Just like the game series it’s based on, Detective Pikachu takes place in a world inhabited by Pokémon (if you didn’t know what a Pokémon is, you wouldn’t be reading this). Our main protagonist Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is an awkward, teenage insurance agent who gave up his dream of Pokémon training long ago for a much more simple and stable life. However, his days of simplicity are quickly changed after his estranged police officer father mysteriously dies in a car crash. Tim is forced to travel to the big city of Ryme, where Pokémon and humans live and thrive together harmoniously, to sort out the matter. There, he befriends a talking Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) that reveals a conspiracy involving Tim’s father, sending them on a fun-filled adventure to solve the mystery.
Detective Pikachu expects a lot from the audience that extends beyond jumped sharks and convoluted villains. Even when they go over and explain certain plot points in a family/adventure flick sort of manner, some things still don’t exactly add up. There’s just a lot of stretching that needs to be done in order to have a concept as unique as this work within a one-hundred-minute time frame.
I often say that what you get out of a film subjectively depends on each individual moviegoer, and nowhere is that more exemplified than in Detective Pikachu. Chances are, those going to see the movie are already deeply in love with the franchise and characters that make up this universe; so fans will likely be willing to suspend their disbelief among the many plot loopholes and recycled material.
Unfortunately, our lead actor was less than fit to helm this story. Smith’s character was supposed to be this awkward straight man, but more times than not his acting comes off as so stiff and wooden that he became actually uncomfortable to watch. His performance was notably bad the first twenty minutes or so, but once Ryan Reynolds entered the picture as Pikachu he was much more charming. The two worked well off each other’s differing personalities and the connection made between them really is sweet.
In fact, most of the supporting cast glued this film together and made it as fun and believable as it was. Especially Kathryn Newton as a junior reporter named Lucy Stevens who, along with her trusty Psyduck, was an energetic character to watch.
Regardless of the presence of human actors in the film, Pikachu and all the other Pokémon really were the stars of the movie. There was an incredible amount of world-building and visual content for fans to gawk at, as well as plenty of little thigns you might miss on the first viewing. Ryme City felt well-inhabited and deeply rooted in the Pokémon lore, so to speak. All your favorite Pokémon fulfill their role in society, working and living among humans in clever and often humorous ways. Charmander was cooking street food, Machamp was directing traffic, and even Jigglypuff was singing in a dive bar. You get this feeling that the Pokémon universe this film takes place in is all-encompassing and expands beyond what’s shown onscreen.
I think my favorite scene was when Pikachu and Tim interrogated a Mr. Mime whose behavior is quite goofy and coy. The whole situation was absolutely ridiculous and had a few nice laugh-out-loud moments.
Again, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu resembles a Saturday morning TV movie with a multi-million-dollar budget. Those who are nostalgic for Pokémon and the impact it had on their childhood will be the ones who gain the most from watching this movie. For me, Detective Pikachu was a reminder of both why I love Pokémon, as well as why I stopped watching it all those years ago.