Note: I saw Detective Pikachu on May 4th at a theater in Japan. The showing was in English with Japanese subtitles; this is a review of the English movie.
There are movies that show such a fully realized world that, not only are you drawn in, but that you want to exist as a part of. Movies such as Jurassic Park, Avatar, and Star Wars that create an environment of awe and wonder that you wish you could spend just a little more time in the world you are watching. Detective Pikachu I am happy to say is one of those movies. From the opening moments until the final credits, the movie is filled with detail and fully realized Pokémon that you will believe are the games coming to life. No detail is missed, from the larger than life Pokémon, to the thousands of tiny neon signs that light up Ryme City – this is a movie that people will pour over for the next year trying to find every little detail.
Detective Pikachu exists as a labor of love. You can tell that fans of the series took part in every stage of its creation: the effects, the environment, the script; no detail is left out. It is also apparent from all the detail. that this is not just a single one-off movie. With all the props and digital assets, it’s clear that The Pokémon Company is building towards a larger world with more stories to tell. Potentially we’ll see movies outside of Ryme City, featuring trainers, gyms, battles, and all the other things we have come to love with the series.
Detective Pikachu is a story about Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), an insurance salesman who has very little use for Pokémon. When his detective father dies trying to uncover a large mystery, he travels to Ryme City to collect his father’s belongings. That night, he meets his father’s amnesiac Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) who only he can understand. Together they set off on a mystery to uncover who or what killed Tim’s father, and uncover an even larger mystery that threatens all of Ryme City. They are joined by Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), a budding reporter for the Pokémon version of CNN, and her Psyduck.
Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds are clearly the heart of the movie. Their bond is going to make or break the movie, and I am happy to say that the two have chemistry that carries the story. The film excels when it is just the two of them on the screen, and Ryan Reynolds’ “joke every second” delivery as Pikachu works many more times than it doesn’t. By the second act you truly believe the bond these two have, and when Tim calls Pikachu his partner, it feels earned. It is also worth noting the comedy chops of Justice Smith – while all the trailers and promotional material focused on the comedy from Ryan Reynolds, which undoubtedly make up the bulk of the content. Justice has his own comedic timing that plays really well, especially with a dark interrogation with a Mr. Mime.
As a mystery movie there are some pretty big twists in the plot, some of which I guessed, some of which took me completely by surprise. The jokes in the movie can range from the childish such as fart and urine jokes, to the more adult-like a drug reference that will go completely over the head of younger children.
However, if the movie has one glaring flaw it is in the secondary cast. Kathryn Newton’s Lucy Stevens acts as if she is in a Spy Kids movie, and in the first hour overacts so much that it takes you completely out of the movie. It makes you wonder if she spent an hour watching an early 4Kids episode of Pokémon and decided to base her entire character off the anime. The same can be said for the villains, whose performances are so over the top that it takes you completely out of the movie and makes you wish for just more scenes with Tim and Pikachu.
Despite the secondary cast, the movie is a success. It is something that younger children and adults will enjoy, along with new and old fans of the franchise. There are call backs to Kanto, Team Rocket plots, and the very first Pokémon movie, which seems fitting considering there is a 3D remaster of it also coming out this year.
You will want to see this film multiple times just to spot all the hidden secrets in the background, not to mention the heartwarming story carried on the charisma of Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds. Even in the first few minutes it is hard not to see this movie as a step on the ladder to the larger world of Pokémon movies. The care and love will amaze you, and even in the scenes where the acting can get cheesy, you will spend so much time looking for every little Pokémon hint that you can shut out how bad some of the character performances are.
I can happily say Detective Pikachu is a movie you will want to see on the big screen, and will want to watch again and again when it comes out on digital or Blu-ray.
Detective Pikachu premieres in the U.S. and the UK on May 10th.
Edited by Aldo, bobandbill and Sheep.