'Pokemon Detective Pikachu' (2019) Movie Review
My History with Pokémon
There is no real history that I have with Pokémon quite frankly. As a kid growing up in the nineties and early 2000s, I was completely set within the right demographic age bracket for when Pokémon became popular in America, however I never got into anything Pokémon or anime affiliated in any way. Occasionally I may have begrudgingly watched an episode or two of the television show and I’m pretty sure I saw one of the animated movies on VHS, wasn’t a fan. At the time I was aware of the Pokémon playing cards, but I never collected the cards or grew much knowledge about any of the creatures or characters involved. Back in that time, even presently, I was way more into other genres outside of the anime world; such as superheroes, horror, etc. Anime was something that never personally interested me and Pokémon was never a huge component of my childhood, nor my adult life for that matter. To this day I still haven’t bothered attempting to watch anything Pokémon related since I was a kid. I haven’t even played any of the video games, including the popular mobile game, Pokémon Go!.
Why I’m Perfectly Not Perfect
In terms of analyzing if Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a faithful adaptation of any source material that this film is based on, I am not the right critic for that. If anyone has come to article in search of some form of comparison between this film adaptation and the television show or a manga or video game, then they have sadly come to the wrong place. On the other hand though, I do feel that I am somewhat of a perfect critic to review this in the sense that I can determine whether this is more easily accessible to the general audience member that may not be familiar with Pokémon lore or if this is a movie strictly for its devoted fanbase.
I will strictly be critiquing Detective Pikachu on its own merits entirely, nothing outside of what is presented in the film’s writing/direction/technical aspects/etc. Any other extended material will not be incorporated into my opinion of this feature. Sorry if you’re disappointed by that. I don’t care that they got the eye color of a Pokémon wrong or the backstory of a character was supposed to contain information about how they were secretly Jesus Christ. I don’t care. Judge a movie on its own, not what came before it whenever possible. Thank you.
Set within a world where humans and the unique creatures called Pokémon, coexist with one another in total harmony; nearly every human eventually obtains their own personal Pokémon companion where they form an unbreakable bond. Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is a 21-year-old who, so far, has not bonded with a Pokémon yet. Unfortunately, Tim is informed that his father had recently passed away in a horrible accident. Upon arriving to the city his father resided in, Ryme City, Tim stumbles across a mystery involving what led to his father’s death; as well as discovering that he has the ability to speak with one specific Pokémon, Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds). Tim and Pikachu must work together in order to solve what is going on in the mean streets of this city.
From the trailers, I gathered that I would probably enjoy this movie, even though I’m not a fan of the Pokémon franchise. There were numerous possible qualities shining through in the previews to make me believe that Pokémon Detective Pikachu would be straightforward enough for the casual viewer to digest with no real issues. I did not realize that I would love this film quite as much as I ended up doing so. Wow. I mean… Wow. Detective Pikachu reaches the high standards that should be present in more modern kids’ flicks. For the most part, 2019 hasn’t particularly shaped up to be all that great in regards to kids/family pictures. The Lego Movie 2 turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, How to Train Your Dragon 3 wasn’t nearly the strongest note to end on for that series, and don’t get me started on Norm of the North 2! God!! The Kid Who Would Be King was a quaint little surprise, but nothing all that noteworthy. Detective Pikachu is the first family movie I would highly recommend checking out over all else right now, outside of the comic book features.
At No Point Was I Lost
I believe that the most important factor to touch on is about being basically a newcomer viewing Detective Pikachu, whether there was ever a moment that I found myself lost within heavy amounts of Pokémon lore or confused by the narrative or any excessive incomprehensible dialog in some fashion? No. Not once. I actually found everything quite easy to follow, actually I was rather fascinated by the world building of this society and how it all functioned. This easily could have left things unexplained to leave certain aspects to be deciphered by the fanbase who is more familiar with these entities while excluding the rest of the world. On the other hand, it could have also overexplained everything by treating its audience akin to a bunch of incompetent simpletons. Detective Pikachu finds a nice middle ground in explaining what needs to be explained and leaving specific details open ended for the viewer to figure out for themselves.
Blade Runner Pokémon?Click thumbnail to view full-size
Strangely enough, I could create plenty of parallels with something along the lines of Blade Runner when touching upon aspects of the mystery noir tale being told and not to mention the visual aesthetics of the movie; which look straight out of a detective neo-noir film. And I mean all of this in a positive way. The lighting of the sets was an aspect that I absolutely adored as it gave me the impression that it was taking itself seriously as a mystery, not simply some light fluff for children to ignore. There was real thought and effort put into the production of this movie as it pays homage to classic noir detective flicks while retaining its own special flare.
The film takes not only itself seriously, but its audience as well. Just because this was a movie made for kids, that doesn’t mean the writers should try dumbing material down so that it keeps the simpler minded satisfied and sheltered. Detective Pikachu has plenty of lighthearted and humorous material interwoven with the narrative of course, but it never feels cynically insulting to one’s intelligence. Including at one point when there is a fart joke, it’s not played in a manner that is demeaning or idiotic, it’s actually funny and only briefly introduced once. Plus, when scenes start to get dark with its subject matter, it allows that tone to settle in and not shy away from it too fast. The movie knows that children can handle mature themes and respects them enough to permit those themes to develop the story and characters properly.
Another couple of decent comparisons that I can make with Detective Pikachu would also be Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Zootopia, both of which are fantastic mystery-crime thrillers that so happen to be made for kids and are also completely hysterical with their comedy. They respect children to not simply throw in bottom of the barrel jokes or ignore some of the harshness of the real world. Adult material written in small doses inside films like these are healthy for a child to slowly understand what kind of world we truly live in while also being sure to supply enough optimistic entertainment to balance the story out. That is something that all three of these films achieve perfectly in my opinion. There needs to be that balance of optimism and realism to provide the right recipe for a family film; not too much juvenile naivety to where it feels undermining to the individual, nor should it be too cruel to where it is damaging or unappealing. The perfect blend needs to be maintained, Detective Pikachu is one of the few that does exactly that.
If there was something I was extremely worried about going into Detective Pikachu, it was that of Justice Smith. The only other movie that I have seen Justice in was from last year’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, where I found him to be one of the most annoying characters in that entire cast since his personality was comprised of a whiny attitude and a lot of obnoxious screaming. I swear, I wanted to rip that dude’s head off by the end. It also didn’t help that Fallen Kingdom was a terrible movie in general. This time around, in Detective Pikachu, I thought Justice was terrifically charismatic and handled a decent array of emotions flawlessly. Smith proved himself to be the talented actor here and I am curious to see where he goes from this point on. Another benefit Justice had this time around as opposed to Fallen Kingdom was the fact that his character of Tim actually has depth and layers to his character as he progresses through his own personal character arc… that was not the case before and if Smith ever goes back to playing that character from Fallen Kingdom again then I’m gonna smack him!
Detective Pikachu ReynoldsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Let’s see, how do I put this? Oh yeah. Pikachu is God damn adorable. There were times, I swear, my heart was about to melt with how cute little guy was. I’m also happy to report that the fact that he was voiced by Ryan Reynolds never once became distracting or irritating at all. In fact, there turns out to be context as to why he can talk and I greatly appreciated the directions that the movie took with his character. Pikachu is not only cute as a button, but he’s got a lovable personality and is funny as hell when the scene calls for it. There was never any moment where Pikachu came across as a one-liner spewing robot, he felt like a genuinely fleshed out character that I enjoyed the company of as the mystery unfolded.
The EffectsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The special effects on the Pokémon are very solid, the creature designs and the CGI used to bring them to life in this world looked really cool. I was easily able to buy that these were all living and breathing beings that humans lived alongside with. There were a handful of times my eyes would notice that it was obviously all made by a computer and the occasional green screen that was more apparent than in other scenes. Other than that, I was fully invested inside of this world and convinced that this was a real place that I could visit. That is largely thanks to the great CG work and I give my praise to the effects team on this film.
My One Gripe
From the very second Bill Nighy popped on screen, I knew exactly who the villain was. I apologize to anyone who may be somehow surprised by this and find it to be a major spoiler, but it’s so obvious that I don’t even see it as a spoiler honestly. If someone somehow did not figure out that Nighy was the bad guy then they may be drunk… or an infant. I want to make it clear here that I’m not saying Nighy’s performance is by any means bad in any way, he does fine work as usual; my issue was just how ridiculously obvious it was to guess who the real baddie was in the flick. I will say though that even though it was clearly apparent as to who the antagonist was going to be, I did thoroughly still enjoy uncovering the mystery of what diabolical plans were really going down; that was something I didn’t solve within two seconds and I admired that as well.
So far, Detective Pikachu is hands down one of my favorite films of 2019. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s downright adorable from start to finish, it has charming characters, a pretty cool musical score, gorgeous art direction, and even a mime! It’s got it all!! Seriously, I suggest to any family looking for a good time to seek this one out immediately. It has all the heart one could hope for in a kids’ flick while still providing the whole family vast amounts of entertainment to find plenty of enjoyment as well. Pokémon Detective Pikachu is basically the better version of what The Happytime Murders tried doing last year; a comedy revolving around a detective noir mystery inside of a world where humans cohabitate with another set of beings. Only Detective Pikachu is actually clever and funny while looking like a legitimate crime thriller, The Happytime Murders looked like a modern day generic comedy without the funny. Sad how the PG rated kids flick was capable of achieving far more maturity and hilarity than the R rated puppet crime-comedy.
That’s All Folks!
Pokémon Detective Pikachu, what did you think? Did you like or dislike my review? Agree or disagree? Wish that a mime would set me on fire? Comment down below and let me know! If you so happened to have enjoyed my review, please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a Pika-Pika good day? Is that a thing? Sure. Why not.
© 2019 John Plocar