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NOC Review: ‘Detective Pikachu’ Falls Short of Being the Very Best

Did I like Pokémon: Detective Pikachu? For the most part, yes. Would I recommend this movie to everyone? I don’t know if I can.

To elaborate, growing up, I played Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, and Silver. Then my mom wouldn’t buy me a Game Boy Advance, so I stopped counting after 251, and never played another console Pokémon game thereafter (at least until I became a grown-ass man, got a job, bought a Switch, and started playing Let’s Go Pikachu!). Then naturally the Pokémon Go phase happened, and I got obsessed again. However, as they began expanding the roster of Pokémon beyond the 251 I knew, I was completely lost about what any of the Pokémon that appeared from the Advance generation and up were, and ultimately stopped playing.

That’s essentially how I think most adult non-fans will feel during this movie. If you’ve never seen Pokémon, engaged with the brand, played the video games, etc. — if you know nothing about it — you will frequently ask yourself “what the hell is going on?” before quitting. But if you’re like me — 32, mentally age 8, and had at least 1 or 2 phases where you were obsessed with the creatures — or if you’re actually a kid, you’ll enjoy the movie enough.

The movie focuses on Tim Goodman (Justice Smith). His father Detective Harry Goodman is seen at the beginning of the movie fleeing a Pokémon laboratory, being chased by none other than Mewtwo himself! After a flash of light, and an explosive sound, the car flies off a bridge, and Tim receives word of his father’s death. Not long after, Tim meets his father’s detective Pokémon partner, Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds). And they team up together to solve the mystery of Harry’s death, which in turn unravels a larger conspiracy involving Mewtwo and a shady company called Clifford Enterprises.

pikapika

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is, if nothing else, probably the cutest movie you’ll see all year. Pikachu is super cute. Psyduck is super cute. Growlithes, Squirtles, Bulbasaurs, etc., are all so freaking adorable! You just want to leap into the screen and catch every single one of them! The VFX team NEEDS a round of applause for actually bringing the world of Pokémon to life! I doubt most of us back in 1999 imagined we’d be seeing a Cubone on a big screen with human actor trying to catch it, and yet we’re treated to that within the first 10 mins. On top of that, the world building is phenomenal; background details and designs are amazing. Ryme City feels like a real world with real Pokémon, and as an audience, we’re fully immersed in this universe from the get-go. Like I said, if you’re even a casual Pokémon fan, you’ll spend the whole time trying to ID every creature in the background and foreground of a shot. Instead of birds, we have Pidgeys. Instead of dogs, we have Snubbles. The filmmakers really cared about doing this world justice, and for the most part they knock that right out of the Pokémon stadium!

Speaking of justice, Justice Smith is great in this. His character, Tim, understandably traumatized by his strained relationship with his father following his mother’s death when he was young, has decided to embrace the normal humdrum life without a Pokémon partner, making a living selling insurance. Smith is incredibly good at playing the reluctant hero thrust into a mystery, and straight-man to Reynolds’s Pikachu, portraying Tim as a very sympathetic character to root for. His backstory is explained in a series of flashbacks, and the script smartly focuses on building his character into something ultimately multi-dimensional. 

Reynolds, on the other hand, is honestly a bit of an odd choice for the role. For the most part, you get used to hearing his voice out of a Pikachu body after an extended period of time. Unfortunately, though energetic and funny, the character gets a wee bit obnoxious here and there, and doesn’t seem to contribute to the central mystery’s resolution too much. You’d think the movie would need to change its title to Detective Tim and his Pokémon Pal Pikachu, since Pikachu’s contributions are rather minimal for 2/3 of the movie, outside of comic relief.

It’s not until Pikachu fights in a well-earned battle with his powers at the end that he really does something useful. That said, Smith and Reynolds still do have electric (get it?) chemistry overall, and Tim and Pikachu’s relationship is entertaining to watch as it develops during the movie. The Pikachu character itself, much like his counterpart in the cartoon, ultimately has a ton of heart. Thus, by the time you get to the final scenes of the movie, you buy into him and his friendship with Tim. Plus, potential spoiler here, you find out at the end that there is a legitimate reason why Pikachu can talk, and why it’s Ryan Reynolds. 

On the less-great side of things, I must admit Kathryn Newton’s Lucy is quite honestly fairly annoying and pointless. Her character also doesn’t contribute much to the film other than exist as a potential romantic interest for Smith, and her “spunky wannabe reporter” attitude/arc really got on my nerves (but that could just be because I’m a cranky old man). But honestly, apart from her Psyduck performing an attack in the movie, if you took her out of it, it’d still be the same movie.

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Furthermore, as far as the story goes, things are mostly entertaining and pleasant until they get really weird at the end. As soon as the big plot twist (which is fairly predictable since they cast Bill Nighy in the film) reveals itself and pandemonium with Mewtwo happens in the film’s climax, none of it really adds up. I’m not sure if the filmmakers decided to make up powers for Mewtwo, but he seems to have the ability to do something so random that it will even have the largest Pokémon-fans in the world scratching their heads, much less anyone unfamiliar with the brand. And the movie seems to stake itself on that idea, which was probably not the smartest thing to do. Being inaccurate to the source material can only serve to annoy fans, and the rest of the world who doesn’t follow Pokémon or know anything about Mewtwo will just go “huh?”

At the end, admittedly I think the reasons I liked the film are pretty contingent on how cute it is and how neat it was seeing Pokémon come to life. That’s not to say it’s bad. As previously stated it’s entertaining enough, and at times funny (not all the jokes land, but still) watching Tim and Pikachu interact with one another. That makes it a solid and fun movie for families, in the same vein as other hits like Jumanji. It’s just ultimately a very odd movie at the same time, and occasionally a bit obnoxious. That being said, if you’re looking for an entertaining way to shut the kids up for about two hours, or you’re just a huge Poké-fan who’s dying to see the world painstakingly brought to life, I would say the movie is moderately worth catching!

Overall Score: B-

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu hits theaters May 10!

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