On May 10th, the Detective Pikachu movie starring Ryan Reynolds was released to theaters, much to the delight of Pokemon fans across the glob. After tons of trailer hype and trolling by Reynolds himself, we were finally able to appreciate the finished product. And boy, was it worth the wait.
Let me preface this review by stating that I am a huge Pokemon fan. I started playing when I was about five years old, and I have kept up with the series for my whole life. I’ve played all the games, watched the tv series until Diamond & Pearl (although I still check in occasionally), collected the cards, and even joined the local Pokemon Club on my college campus.
Thus, I will be splitting this review into two parts: Part One will be as a movie, and Part Two will be as a Pokemon superfan.
Part One: As a Movie Fan
In all honesty, Detective Pikachu is a pretty decent film in its own right. The lighting, cinematography, and acting are well done, with no particular scene standing out as poorly made or spectacular.
The plot follows protagonist Tim Goodman following the death of his estranged father. When searching through his dad’s abandoned apartment, Tim runs into Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), who claims that certain clues don’t add up and that Tim’s father must be alive. Along with the help of a junior reporter named Lucy Stevens and her Psyduck companion, Tim and Pikachu try to find the missing dad. In the meantime, the team unravels a potentially nefarious scheme involving the legendary Pokemon, Mewtwo, and a mysterious toxin named “R” that causes Pokemon to rampage.
As a whole, the story is solid with its tone and humor; it is able to land some solid laughs and allows for genuine emotional beats to unfold without making the overall movie too carefree or solemn. The twists are rather predictable, and the main villain’s motivations can be stretched a little thin when closely examined, but neither of those aspects take you out of the movie. Also, if you played the spinoff Detective Pikachu game, then you will know the plot, as the movie lifts the majority of its plot points from the game.
If one has absolutely no knowledge of the Pokemon universe, then Detective Pikachu is a passable detective movie with weird animals peppering the scenery in most shots. When I asked my movie-going partner (who has no interest in Pokemon in general) what he thought about the movie, he said that it “kept him engaged” but that it was clearly made for fans of the series.
However, if you enjoy the Pokemon franchise and went into Detective Pikachu as a fan, then the viewing experience is entirely different.
Part Two: As a PokeFan
Alright, so Detective Pikachu was an absolute home run of a Pokemon movie. This film was a life-altering, cinematic masterpiece that made all my poke-fantasies come true with every scene. Each shot was a banquet of references and homages to the series both big and small. Everything was perfectly tailored to keeping fans of the series engaged and delighted, like a kid being set loose in a candy store if the kid had obsessed about candy in video games and tv shows for their whole life.
There were so many details that just brought a smile to my face whenever I caught them. From the instrumental version of the original Pokemon theme being played during a scene to Pikachu exclaiming “Oh my Arceus” after being scratched under his chin, the creators of Detective Pikachu have done their research, and love for the Pokemon franchise shines through each and every scene.
The world introduced within the film feels alive and teeming with the life of people and Pokemon living together. The director, Rob Letterman, was able to seamlessly mesh the world of Pokemon found in fiction with real life. It has some of the relentless kindness and optimism found within the original games, as the harmonious and bustling Ryme City is reminiscent of Castelia or Lumiose City (of Pokemon Black & White and Pokemon X & Y, respectively). That being said, Detective Pikachu also added gritty, yet realistic twists to be found in the daily life of living with Pokemon, such as an underground Pokemon battle arena, or Mr. Mimes being detective informants.
The first few scenes of Ryme City is like a dynamic “Where’s Waldo” of Pokemon, where your attention is straining to catch glimpses of every possible adorable monster on screen. Admittedly, most of the city Pokemon end up repeating often (I’ve never would’ve thought Sneasel would be such a popular Pokemon partner), but one cannot blame the movie. Only so many models would be feasible to feature within the constraints of money, time, and manpower.
One scene that caught my interest, in particular, was Tim’s first meeting with Ryme City’s founder, Howard Clifford, in the latter’s penthouse office. There were statues of the legendary origin Pokemon: Dialga, Palkia, and Arceus featured in the office (#SinnohConfirmed) as well as countless trinkets littered on the man’s desk. On my first viewing, I caught a few in-game items such as the Lustrous Orb and Old Amber (or perhaps a Fire Stone), although I’m sure a second viewing would allow for a more in-depth search. It was a quick amalgamation of Pokemon references that also gave insight into the obsessive character of Howard Clifford.
A small detail that providing intense enjoyment from my end was the existence of beat-boxing Loudred within the Pokemon fighting arena. Loudred, also known as the “Big Voice Pokemon,” is a normal-type that strongly resembles a living loudspeaker. It was incredibly entertaining to see a group of them methodically beatboxing with the announcers, only to transition into full-on dubstep when they were exposed to the aggressive R toxin. It wasn’t a big part of the plot or anything, but it was just one of the countless instances that the movie used Pokemon to create a more vibrant environment.
It’s almost difficult to describe what makes this movie so special. It’s hard to pin down exactly what elicited such vibrant joy when watching Detective Pikachu when truly every shot brought something special to the world woven within the movie.
Overall, Detective Pikachu was a delightful film that really catered to and honored its target demographic. If one views the movie through the lens of a Pokemon fan, then the final product truly delivers on a delightful romp through the fictional Pokemon world integrated with our own. If you don’t like Pokemon, maybe skip this one. It’s a passable movie, but nothing more appealing than your average noir mystery movie.
I think we can say that Detective Pikachu is a fantastic homage to the franchise, and has appeared to break the infamous video game movie curse. You can look forward to the next one, as a sequel has been greenlit by Legendary Entertainment already.
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