It’s finally here folks, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. A goddamn live-action Pokemon movie where goddamn Ryan Reynolds voices a goddamn Pikachu based off of a goddamn game that didn’t even get goddamn localized until after the announcement of the goddamn movie. There was no way I wasn’t going to go see this thing. And yes, let that double negative be damned. But now that I have seen it, what are my real genuine thoughts? No more speculation, no more memes, just an honest view of what this movie actually is. And don’t worry, this review won’t contain spoilers.
First off, was this movie actually good?
I can easily say that this movie is the best video game adaptation of all time. I know that’s fairly damning praise, but I mean it sincerely. Detective Pikachu adapted the source material accurately, was faithful to the spirit of the franchise, was visually impressive and had a plot that largely made sense even to someone not fully familiar with the franchise.
The premise is this: in the world of Pokemon, a millionaire named Clifford builds Ryme City as a haven for people and Pokemon. Pokemon and people live in peace, and Pokeballs and Pokemon Battles are forbidden. Tim, an insurance agent from outside of Ryme City is called to come to the city when his father is in an accident while investigating a case. Tim and his father had been estranged for years, and Tim has no interest in the details, but when he discovers his father’s partner Pokemon, and more surprisingly, discovers he can understand what the Pikachu is saying, the two go on to investigate what had happened with their only clue being a vial with strange powder labeled ‘R’. And are helped along the way by an ambitious journalist intern Lucy and her partner Psyduck.
Based off of the game, Detective Pikachu, it diverts largely from the game’s plot, but keeps the spirit and the climax, even if certain parts are changed. Tim’s origin story is modified slightly, certain characters are cut out and other new ones are added, but the central mystery from the game and its resolution are almost entirely identical. Only the ending itself is changed as the game ended in a cliffhanger and the movie does not. In other words, if you have played Detective Pikachu, you’ll know what’s happening. But if you’ve never played the game you’ll enjoy the mystery and the investigation as Tim and Pikachu discover what happened to Tim’s dad, and the mystery behind the substance ‘R’ that makes Pokemon go nuts. I thought the villain’s final plan was a bit illogical and sort of fan fiction-y, but it’s easy to forgive in spite of everything, this is still primarily a kid’s movie.
Visually the movie is very impressive. The Pokemon are realistically and naturally animated and incorporated and made me feel like this is what the Pokemon World is really like as you have people casually walking down the street with their partner Pokemon around them, used in signs and advertising and wandering in the alleys and trees. Unfortunately, as beautiful and lush as the world is, the direction often doesn’t linger long enough to let you absorb all the detail, and frames intentionally narrow the field of focus so only the humans are visible and sharp and the rest is not. This is a particular problem in the first act of the movie, though it gets better during the battle scenes and climax. This is definitely a movie I want to get on DVD/Blu-Ray just so I can keep pausing it and catch all the Easter eggs.
And there are quite a few. I won’t spoil them for you because they’re the most delightful if you catch them yourself, but when the ending credits started people in my theater actually started applauding.
As for the humans, Justice Smith is pretty good as Tim. He’s pretty charismatic and plays a very good straight man to Ryan Reynolds while getting in a few good lines himself. His chemistry with the woman who plays Lucy isn’t the best, but Lucy herself is pretty likable. Overall, most of the human characters do a pretty solid job of immersing themselves in the world and taking it seriously and thus the pathos of the movie is fairly convincing. Of course, the hairless monkeys all take a backseat to the titular Pokemon himself, Detective Pikachu. He’s very much Pika-Pool and some of the jokes are a bit sophomoric, but overall he embraces and fits the role perfectly. There is a moment which I cannot spoil, but when Ryan Reynolds does it, I started rolling in the aisles laughing, as did my friend who took me to see the movie.
Now if you know absolutely nothing about Pokemon and go into this 100% uninformed, you might be a bit lost as to why certain things matter. The movie doesn’t bother spoon feeding Pokemon lore, or explain why species A or B acts the way it does. And a lot of jokes work best if you know at least a little bit about the games or anime. On one hand I actually like that it focuses more on show instead of tell and doesn’t waste time with a lot of exposition, but I’ve seen reviews complaining about it. Then again, if you’re reading this on a gaming website, so this probably doesn’t apply to you.
Last cool thing is if you see the movie during opening weekend, you get free Pokemon cards.
While this thing started out as a joke, Pokemon Detective Pikachu is a pretty solid buddy cop movie in an unconventional fantasy world. This isn’t groundbreaking cinema like Into the Spiderverse, but it is groundbreaking in the sense of this is an actual good video game adaptation. Not passable, not not-terrible, actually good. I may even actually end up seeing this a couple more times in theaters and will definitely get it for home release. My only regret is that’s out now and I have nothing more to talk about.
Then again, who knows. Maybe they’ll do a live action Legend of Zelda with an Oscar-winning cast.