Everything about the trailer of ‘Pokémon Detective Pikachu’ made me skeptical. I saw the first season of the anime show back in the late 90s and even played the collectible card game 20 years ago but, at the time, there were very little other players that I remember giving it away or selling my set. I haven’t kept up to date with the Pokemon phenomenon when it found its resurgence recently. I know it became popular again with the new generation but I just never got back into it.
I thought a live action movie would be an interesting idea but seeing the trailer and giving Pikachu a voice — Ryan Reynold’s voice, above all — just didn’t sit right with me. It felt like it was capitalizing on Reynold’s Deadpool character to add a larger audience base that it felt like it was going to be less of a Pokemon movie and more of a Ryan Reynolds’ movie.
So I came in with hesitation. Was I going to be watching a film about Pokemons or was I going to be watching just another vehicle for Ryan Reynolds to offer up his brand of irreverent humor in just another franchise?
I was more than pleasantly surprised that ‘Pokemon Detective Pikachu’ offered up a generous heaping of both. I was reluctant over the “great detective” moniker that Pikachu gives himself in the trailer. But the narrative seems to lend itself well to this rather crazy story about an industrialist, corporate magnate who creates a city where Pokemon and humans live side-by-side and a young man, Tim Goodman, who must partner up with Pikachu to investigate the death of Tim Goodman’s father.
‘Pokemon Detective Pikachu’ plays as a light, comedic noir story — complete with all the noir elements of suspicious characters, gathering clues to solve a mystery, and a complex internal struggle — and then shifts modes into a sci-fi/fantasy adventure in its latter half when the big puzzle is uncovered.
And while Ryan Reynolds is great at bringing Pikachu to life and giving him a personality — albeit, Ryan Reynolds’ personality, the film’s story was tailor-made for him — it is Justice Smith’s Tim Goodman that really serves as an anchor for the story. Smith captures your attention and he makes his complicated relationship with his father believable and gives an emotional core to ‘Pokemon Detective Pikachu’ that is relatable and familiar.
The film gives equal weight to the journey of both Tim Goodman and Pikachu, which is a breath of fresh air, as other films might just completely lean too hard on Ryan Reynolds. The movie is unafraid to share the weight of the film’s narrative with both of its leads and that’s what keeps it from becoming the Ryan Reynolds show.
And there’s a great, huge serving of Pokemon as well, which is a marvel of CGI animation. Each Pokemon have their own distinct quirks and personalities that the movie is never boring but it doesn’t linger too long in the cuteness of its characters, it seems committed to telling this story and it succeeds to delivering an enjoyable time because of this.
Juggling between noir, comedy, and scifi/fantasy adventure means that the film can’t fully embrace any one genre for its full effect but it delivers the thrills and the spills, the laughs and the action. At the end of it all, there is a wonderful story about a young man in search of his father, who he has a strained relationship with, and an amnesiac Pokemon, who is trying to find his place in this big mystery.
It has an uncomfortably huge climax sequence — at times, it feels unnecessarily big and that it feels that it is bombastic just for the effect of it — but it finishes with a gentle and tender heart, keeping the story first and foremost over the dazzle and shine of the cute characters it has in its film.