'Pokémon Detective Pikachu' Is Flashy But Has No Spark Directed by Rob Letterman
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy
Published May 07, 2019Nothing is safe in this age of reboots and remakes, and Pokémon is the latest victim.
Instead of telling the classic story of an intrepid youngster aiming to be the very best, like no one ever was, on their road to be a Pokémon Master (while catching all the eponymous creatures, of course), the franchise's first live-action foray takes a different tack entirely, instead choosing to adapt a spinoff videogame about a kid teaming up with his missing father's Pikachu. It's a bold choice, but with minimal nods to the franchise's lore in the spirit of blazing a new trail, it comes off as just another buddy cop comedy.
Protagonist Tim Goodman (relative newcomer Justice Smith) is too dour and jaded to drive the film's first act, though things spring into action once the coffee-guzzling, wisecracking Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds, channelling as much Deadpool as he can without hampering the film's PG rating) shows up. From there, it's a fast-paced sprint to solve a series of mysteries centring around finding Tim's missing father, Detective Pikachu's amnesia, a mysterious drug that makes Pokémon agitated and a sinister corporate plot.
It hits all the beats of your standard comedic mystery, with shadowy corporations, underground cage matches and even an overzealous journalist (Kathryn Newton) to drive the mystery forward, wildly oscillating between trite, genre-faithful beats and convenient (albeit confusing) plot twists bound to confound the young target audience, but without enough spark to keep their nostalgia-driven parents satisfied.
In stark contrast to the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog movie, the CGI Pokémon actually look pretty great, and fit in with the movie's high-tech metropolis setting. But with the exception of Detective Pikachu, there's not enough face-time with the iconic creatures to justify their inclusion — for the all film's talk of trying to treat Pokémon like equals instead of glorified pitbulls, they're little more than occasional props.
The film's half-hearted attempt to touch on the bonds between people and Pokémon — as told through the character of Mewtwo, the franchise's long-standing avatar for the perils of animal exploitation — pales in comparison to that of Pokémon's first movie, Mewtwo Strikes Back, and they did it with little more than '90s-era 2D animation. (And they'll do it again in an upcoming all-CGI reboot, which makes this live-action instalment feel even less essential.)
While a passable buddy cop comedy, Detective Pikachu nails the look, but misses out on the feel of what's kept the Pokémon franchise a bestseller for over 20 years.