Detective Pikachu revels in the presence of its adorable creatures and wisely prioritises camaraderie over the use of Pokémon as battle tools.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe and Chris Geere
Detective Pikachu follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a 21-year-old insurance salesman who has given up on his Pokémon trainer aspirations in the wake of a personal tragedy as he journeys to Ryme City due to his father’s sudden and unexpected demise. Once there, he is met with his father’s partner Pokémon, Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), who suffers from amnesia and has a disturbing coffee addiction and believes that if he survived the car accident that killed Tim Goodman’s father, Harry, then Harry must have escaped unscathed also. As they pursue this mystery, they begin to unpick at the beginnings of a conspiracy currently being investigated by wannabe-journalist Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), along with her partner Psyduck.
Rob Letterman creates an interesting and engaging world in which the audience is credited with pre-existing knowledge of Pokémon. Instead of introducing them as new and explaining to the audience their function, Pokémon are shown as being heavily integrated into human existence and cohabiting Ryme City. In a similar vein to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, humans and Pokémon live alongside each other, often to comic effect. The writers and creators clearly have a lot of love for Pokémon as a whole and showing as many of them as possible, both as focal points as well as Easter Eggs in the background clearly filled a lot of the planning. The Pokémon have also been gloriously realised in CGI and interact almost seamlessly with the live-action elements.
The creators of the film clearly know that the audience are not eager to see a rehash of any Pokémon movies that have come before it, following the typical trajectory of Pokémon trainers becoming closer to their companions through battling. Instead, we are treated to a darker exploration of genetic mutation and treatment of animals, as the conspiracy unravels. Coupled with the main character’s issues and trauma surrounding the loss of both of his parents, the film gives adults something to enjoy while also providing a plot basic enough for children to be able to follow easily.
The success of the film rests largely upon Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith’s winning performances. Ryan Reynolds again showcases his ability to play amusing and bizarre premises from a place of complete sincerity. He plays here a somewhat family friendly version of Deadpool and a large portion of the humour derives from the adorable Pikachu defying expectations by being generally sardonic and cutting. This would also be nothing, however, if we did not have a human protagonist to root for. Over the course of the movie, we follow Tim, who is ably portrayed by Justice Smith, as he struggles to deal with his absent father’s demise and then his difficulties to bond with the Pikachu he has been presented with considering his aversion to Pokémon in the past. The dynamic that the two men share is what enables the film to be so successful.
To say that Detective Pikachu has set the bar for video game adaptations would be an empty statement, as this genre has produced exclusively flops. However, Detective Pikachu illustrates the imagination and creativity and enduring appeal of a franchise like Pokémon to be able to produce films that combine film noir concepts with supernatural entities. The film enjoys the journey as much as it does the climax, deriving this in a similar way to a video game passes through levels to achieve the ending point, and for the most part it is just a joy to be witnesses Pokémon interacting in a way that we have not been exposed to before.
It is not the first film to inject thought provoking plotlines, as well as heart to Pokémon (as if anybody could forget Ash turning to stone in Pokémon: The First Movie), but it certainly succeeds on this front. While I hope the studio does not attempt to flog the cash cow and produce a sequel, hopefully this demonstrates the potential to create more films within this universe of Pokémon and human coexistence.