Ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son, Tim (Justice Smith), to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds). Finding that they are uniquely equipped to work together, as Tim is the only human who can talk with Pikachu, they join forces to unravel the tangled mystery.
To say that Pokémon is a cultural phenomenon would be one of the biggest understatements you could possibly make. Even if you have never watched the show, collected the cards, or even if you have no idea who any of the characters are or what their names are, you undoubtedly know that iconic theme song. I would go as far as to say that it’s just as world-famous as something like the McDonald’s golden arches. As soon as people see that classic yellow “M”, they know it’s the McDonald’s logo. And as soon as you hear that theme song or see that Pokéball, you know what it’s from.
You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody that genuinely had no idea what Pokémon is. Growing up as a kid, I wasn’t a major fan of the property but I did enjoy it every once in a while. During my youth, I used to spend my mornings at my nearby babysitter’s house a few hours before school started, and during those few hours, I would either play on my old Nintendo DS (oh, the nostalgia) or watch television shows.
There were plenty of excellent shows that I spent hours watching over the course of my stay at my babysitter’s house, and one of those shows was Pokémon. I didn’t know all of the character’s names and there were sometimes where I would get a little lost in some storylines, but overall, I enjoyed it.
My favorite personal stories with the franchise come from the video games, however. In middle school, there were a bunch of kids in my class and in my grade that would literally bring their Nintendo DS to school just so they could play an hour’s worth of the newest Pokémon game during their lunch break. After I while I did it too and I ended up making a few friends from it.
I haven’t been majorly into Pokémon since then, but I definitely have those fond memories still, and Rob Letterman’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu reminded me why I enjoyed the property in the first place. It is extremely goofy, funny, and exciting all in one and that is exactly what this live-action film is like. It suffers from a slow pace, some storylines don’t get fleshed out as much as they should and certain characters don’t get the development they deserve (I’m looking at you Lucy Stevens. Kathryn Newton deserved better), but even still, this is a hugely enjoyable crowd-pleaser and one that I’m surprised has yet to get a sequel.
Where this film shines the brightest is when Tim and Pikachu are teaming up to go on missions together. You would think that a movie where a real human being talking to a CGI animal would be goofy and jarring, but actually, it works. By the end of the movie, I actually felt a strong connection between these two characters and I was rooting for them the whole way through.
The script is a little bit slow-paced as I said earlier. It takes a good thirty minutes or so until the mystery in Detective Pikachu is fully established, and even then, it takes a little bit longer for this mystery to pick up some steam. Sadly, there are also some scenes in which it felt like the filmmakers were including scenes simply for fan service and nothing else.
This is a movie in which Pikachu and Tim are trying to solve a mystery relating to his parents. So why is there a scene randomly inserted where Pikachu is in a cage-match-style arena fight with Charizard? It didn’t serve any actual purpose to the overall storyline whatsoever. It felt like it was included simply to have a traditional Pokémon battle because the filmmakers were probably worried that there wasn’t enough of that. But this is supposed to be a fun little detective story set in the Pokémon universe. It just felt so out of place for this particular storyline. In any other Pokémon story it would have been perfectly fine, but here? Not so much.
Plus the CGI is a little bit distracting during a few sequences. For the most part, it’s actually quite great. Like I said earlier, you would think that a movie in which a man befriends a talking animal would feel jarring but it never does. Pikachu in particular here looks genuinely amazing and I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been to create this character for this film. And Ryan Reynolds, of course, delivers a hilarious performance as the title character. He clearly is a fan of the source material and he certainly had an absolute blast while voicing the character. After all, if you got hired to voice the Pikachu, wouldn’t you put your heart and soul into it too?
If I were to pick perhaps the most disappointing element of Detective Pikachu though, it would probably have to be character development (or lack thereof) for the side characters. Lead character Tim actually gets an interesting and sympathetic backstory and it was easy to root for him the whole way through because we actually got a good understanding of who he is and why he is doing what he’s doing. Kathryn Newton’s Lucy Stevens on the other hand? Not so much.
We learn early on that she is a reporter for a news station in Ryme City called CNM, but she isn’t thriving in this new job of hers. Every time she tries to pitch a story idea to her boss he instantly shuts it down and dismisses it as nothing but “rumors” and “hearsay”. Obviously, this would be discouraging for anybody with a passion for the industry and it is discouraging for her. So, from that point onward she stops at nothing to find a good story idea for CNM in order for her to finally be respected in her field because it seems like the whole company finds her to be some laughing stock.
So far, it sounds like a fairly interesting setup for a character that will eventually become fairly well fleshed out later on and will become a different person by the end of the story… right? Nope. By the time Detective Pikachu comes to a close, we learn nothing more about her than we did at the start of the film. Sure, throughout the duration of the film she goes through a ton of crazy action sequences but, I mean, that’s about it. In terms of actually fleshing out her character, it quite simply never happens.
But this is absolutely not the fault of actress Kathryn Newton. If you folks have been following my website for quite a while now, then you would know that Newton is easily one of my five favorite actresses of the past ten or twenty years. She is criminally underrated despite her delivering one wonderful performance after the other. If you haven’t seen Freaky yet, a movie in which a high school girl named Millie (portrayed by Newton) swaps bodies with a deranged middle-aged serial killer named the Butcher (portrayed by Vince Vaughn), then you are seriously missing out on one of the funniest movies in years.
Admittedly though, this was before Kathryn Newton became super famous but even still, it’s not an excuse to make such a thinly written character. When she is introduced in the first act of the film, it is made to seem as if she’s going to play a huge part in the story going forward. And while she is involved in a lot of the action, there’s an entire chunk of the movie where she is just missing with no explanation as to where she is.
She just suddenly shows up again a little later on and there’s no explanation as to what exactly she has been up to since the last time we saw her. By watching the film, I think Newton did have fun in this role and she definitely brings her A-game here like she usually does. The character of Lucy Stevens herself isn’t too interesting due to the writing but honestly, if I were in Newton’s shoes and I got offered a role in a brand new live-action Pokémon film, I would probably accept the part too.
The film has a really big issue with character development when it doesn’t focus on Tim and Pikachu and it absolutely suffers from pacing that chugs along too slow. But ultimately, this is a highly enjoyable ride and I think it’s going to please a lot of Pokémon fans out there, so long as you are okay with a story that is not so much focusing on the “Gotta catch ’em all!” aspect of things and is more-or-less a detective comedy set in the wonderfully weird world of Pokémon.
Overall Grade: B
MPAA Rating: PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements
Directed by: Rob Letterman
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures, Toho
Release Date: May 10, 2019
Running Time: 104 minutes