I was obsessed with Pokémon as a kid. Who am I kidding? I’m still obsessed with it. But it came out when I was exactly the right age. I bought the trading cards, bought as many Gameboy games as I was allowed (my parents being in control of my financials at the time), and watched the TV show. I sang the theme song and tried (and failed) to learn the Pokérap. I put a lot of thought into deciding which Pokémon I’d love to own if they were real: pretty sure I stuck on Growlithe in the end, cause I loved dogs, but it probably changed every day. One thing I did know, however, is that Pikachu wasn’t all that. Something I’ve had heated arguments over the years but that’s a different story for a different time. Pikachu is cute, granted, but he’s not the strongest out there. Still, I was embarrassingly excited about Detective Pikachu. Obviously, Ryan Reynolds meets Pokémon? What more could I want? So, yeah, I was excited but, to be honest, I didn’t think it was going to be good. How could it? It looked shit and it didn’t sound like a real film. It was more like a fake YouTube trailer than a real Hollywood trailer.
Historically, films based on video games don’t do very well. We can all sit here and name a bunch of video game based films and the majority of them would be dreadful. This isn’t the first Pokémon film though. It was the first “live action” Pokémon, of course. After Pokémon Go brought Pokémon into our world, Detective Pikachu fought to really bring us in the Pokémon world. To Ryme City to be specific. A city where humans and Pokémon live harmoniously side by side. Instead of the normal Trainer/Pokémon relationship, the two live as equals. Humans don’t own Pokémon but work with them.
Tim Goodman makes his way to Ryme City after he is informed of his father’s death. Harry, Tim’s father, left his wife and son to work as a detective. After his mother died, Tim chose to stay with his Grandmother instead of living with his dad. So, he hadn’t seen Harry before his death. When collecting his belongings, Tim finds and accidentally inhales a strange purple gas. He stumbles across a Pikachu in a deerstalker hat and who, for some reason, has the ability to talk. Pikachu convinces Tim that his father isn’t dead and the pair start to investigate. With the help of a young reporter, Lucy, and her Psyduck. Lucy has been investigating the gas and, eventually, puts them in the direction of the town’s benefactor Howard Clifford. Howard tells Tim that his father is alive but has been taken by an escaped Mewtwo. Howards warns them that he suspects his son, Roger, is behind all of this. Can this dynamic duo work out what Roger is up to and save Harry?
This film is what happens when you put a copy of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in a blender with some Pokémon trading cards, the corner of a Blade Runner poster, and the arm from a Deadpool action figure. It’s weird but kind of wonderful thing. It has the feel of a film noir but it’s less Billy Wilder and more Blade Runner 2049. You ask me, it looks pretty great. Except for the Pokémon themselves that is. Yeah, Pikachu looks great but considering the whole thing is based on him that’s the least they could do. In an effort to bring the monsters to the real world, some of them end up looking a bit dull and lifeless. Charizard has always been a favourite of fans but his appearance here is just sad. Put a picture of the anime Charizard next to this one and you’ve got a “Meth not even once” meme waiting to happen.
But it could be worse I guess. At least they’re still recognisably Pokémon and you get to see all of your faves. The filmmakers have cleverly picked all of the big hitters to appear and the most recognisable. Quite frankly, in a film like this fan-service is to be expected and celebrated. Yeah, the moment when Pikachu starts singing the Pokémon theme tune might be a bit too meta but as if it didn’t fill you with joy. Detective Pikachu is a film for people who know these characters and it knows how to make them happy. Although, that’s not to say that this couldn’t be your first experience. I guess you get enough of an overview of this world to be able to figure it out but you probably won’t appreciate it as much.
Although, maybe it’s a good thing because this is a very different Pokémon film than we’re used to. It’s a film that tries to do so much at once but feels kind of afraid of it. There’s emotion, comedy, and action but they all seem very separate. You have a time for comedy followed by a time for sadness and then some action to mix things up. Then you just repeat that until you’re done. It’s not that it’s not enjoyable but it could flow better. There’s a lot going on in this film, and I applaud that, but it’s all very frenzied. The narrative is crazy and gets so wound up around itself that it needs so many speeches full of exposition. There are moments when it kind of feels like this is a film of Pokémon and people talking about the plot. Like the way it introduces Ryme City. A handy video starts playing on the screen to tell us all about its history. It’s all just very clunky.
And there are so many loose ends and wrong turns that, by the time we reach the big twist, it’s hard to work out if it makes sense. It’s hard to work out how we got there and why. I mean, as endings go, it’s not up there with Bran on the Iron Iron for upsetting people but it’s certainly messy. Messy and busy. Busy and formulaic. Formulaic and safe. Because, despite all of the over-the-top nonsense, it feels like this film holds back quite a bit. I think the concept of a live-action Pokémon film is great but somebody was obviously a bit afraid to push it too far. This film could have been fantastic if it had run a little bit wilder with this world. Had just a little bit more fun with it and not worried about isolating certain audiences.
It’s a weird thing to watch because I went through so many contrasting emotions. Part of me thought it was great but then another thought it was a letdown. There were moments when it seemed too crazy to keep up with and other times felt a bit too slow. Sometimes it felt like it was trying too much and others ass if it wasn’t trying enough. It all kind of comes together in the end and it’s mostly thanks to Ryan Reynolds. The decision to cast him as the Pikachu was a genius one. He has the same wit and charm that worked so well for both Deadpool films but in a family-friendly way. You can tell that this film wouldn’t have been the same with another actor in that role. But with Reynolds in the driving seat, this film just about works out as more of a success than a failure. The bottom line? Yes, it could have been better but, for a live-action film based on a ridiculous Japanese video game, it does the job it needed to.