Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Fluffy and Gorgeous, but is it Good?
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is this super effective wave of nostalgia for fans that have followed Pikachu's shenanigans since the first video games dropped in Japan in early 1996, but it seems to lack challenging content for both its cast and its story elements. It’s mind boggling to think that Pokémon is a franchise that is more than 20 years old. While its original fans were growing up, making families, and obtaining their desired careers, Pokémon was quietly still occurring in the background while adding another 657 Pokémon to its original lineup. Why Ash Ketchum is still ten years old after all this time is another issue entirely.
Whether it’s the special effects that make these Pokémon seem realistic in the film or that crazy fluorescent city lighting that ignite the streets of Ryme City once the sun goes down, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is basically a wet dream for your eyeballs. This is the same visual effects team that was involved with Blade Runner 2049, The Jungle Book, Edge of Tomorrow, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers Endgame. Pikachu looks so damn fluffy in this with these glossy eyes that only seem to reflect cuteness. Cinematographer John Mathieson (Logan) shot Detective Pikachu on traditional film, a method he uses for all of his work, in an effort to make the film, “look more realistic.”
Meanwhile, the film probably could have been completely silent with no dialogue whatsoever with only a detective hat-clad Pikachu walking Ryme City’s streets at night and it would have been a gorgeous achievement in filmmaking. The night sequences in this are breathtaking with serious Blade Runner vibes. With that said though, what the hell did they do to Gengar? This thing looks like Slimer and Grimace spent a shameful night together and if forbidden hate-fornicating flatulence was somehow a thing, this version of Gengar would emerge from its fart-infested birth canal.
Maybe expectations for Detective Pikachu were too high because the film leaves you feeling underwhelmed once the adventure climaxes. We could also have too much of a good thing with Ryan Reynolds basically just being himself in all of his recent roles, which seem far more common after the success of Deadpool. The performances are better than ordinary. Justice Smith is at least easier to tolerate here than he was in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Ryan Reynolds is essentially a neutered Deadpool as the voice of Pikachu. The story smashes elements of several genres including mystery, adventure, and fantasy and you get to see a ton of recognizable Pokémon (Psyduck may be the MVP here). Nothing in Detective Pikachu feels permanent to the audience though as potential deaths in the film are littered with doubts or conspiracies while the ending, which feels like this wedged sliced of unwanted happiness forced down the gullet of the audience, leaves you questioning how potential sequels could progress moving forward. And, by the way, a Detective Pikachu sequel is already being developed.
This isn’t meant to be a venomous tirade that does nothing but bash the film since there is a lot of enjoyment in Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. 99% of the Pokémon look fantastic as they leapfrog into a more realistic environment almost effortlessly and it seems like a good portion of the film's $150 million budget went toward making the film vibrantly sublime to look at. Ryan Reynolds manages to squeeze in a few pee and fart jokes for the kiddos as the film’s mild content, silly dialogue, and relatively easy to follow storyline will allow viewers of all ages to enjoy the film. It’s understandable why Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros went this route since the film is likely to make a killing due to how accessible it is.
Detective Pikachu seems to tease a lot of things without following all the way through with them. The film is loaded with humor, but never really makes you laugh out loud. Pokémon battles are few and far between while life-altering daddy issues suddenly dissolve after an overblown Scooby Doo mystery reveal. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu has introduced this new world where humans and Pokémon co-exist, but it fails to fully explore that concept. The argument can be made that future sequels can better explore what's been introduced in this first film, but you can't help but shake the feeling that there's undiscovered gold that no one has tapped into yet.
The film thrives on being simple popcorn entertainment when it could easily be the next big cinematic universe. While Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is easily the best video game adaptation to date, its triumph is squashed before it can celebrate. Being the best in a film category overflowing with turds is like finding a dollar at the bottom of a port-a-potty; you know it's there but why on earth would you want to be up to your elbows in literal and figurative fecal matter? Or better yet, why would you willingly want to be the king of the turds?