Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019) Review
The Pokémon franchise has built a thriving empire within its vast collection of “pocket monsters” creatures that have dazzled and enticed its players / viewers for more than two decades. First released back in 1996 as the Game Boy video game Red a Pokémon and Green (which changed to Pokémon Red and Blue for the US & international release), Pokémon instantly became media franchise giant in Japan, which latter expanded into other countries across the world. It’s concept of idea of catching wild creatures (ranging from various sizes, shapes, and traits) and collecting / battling them was the franchise’s “bread and butter” and served as the basis for the many of the conceptual story ideas for the Pokémon universe. With its many releases of video games (most of which were produced Game Freak and produced by Nintendo), Pokémon quickly expanded into other media mediums, including a cartoon television series (spanning over 20 seasons and over 1,000 episodes…and still counting), animated feature films (that play as a counterpart to the TV series), trading cards, books, manga, music, mobile games, and a wide variety of merchandise from clothing apparel to home office supplies. The idea of collecting Pokémon (in all its various media outlets) has been a source fascination within its fanbase and the ever-so expanding of its vast collection of pocket monsters seems quite endless. Even after twenty-year anniversary celebration (circa 2017), the Pokémon franchise still remains incredibly strong and entertaining within its ever-growing fanbase. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures (as well as Legendary Pictures), The Pokémon Company, and director Rob Letterman present the much anticipated live-action film of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. Does this live-action / CGI hybrid film give the popular franchise a cinematic boost to the silver screen or does it “not very effective” within its own inherit hype?
Former Pokémon trainer, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) has left his past behind after the loss of his mother and absence of his father, electing to take a grounded career path as an insurance salesman rather than chasing childhood dreams of catching pocket monster out in the wild. After receiving world that his father, Harry Goodman, has died, Tim travels to Ryme City, a utopian metropolis home to humans and Pokémon community created by visionary billionaire, Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy); seeking out the council from his dad’s police lieutenant, Detective Yoshida (Ken Watanabe). Soon after entering his father’s apartment (and reflecting upon his situation), Tim meets Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), with the young man able to hear the electric Pokémon’s speech, making him a vital associate as the small, yellow detective (who as a case of amnesia) turns out to be his father’s partner Pokémon. Soon joined by young novice reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her Psyduck Pokémon partner, Tim and Pikachu begin to hunt for clues and chase leads, following the clues as to what became of Harry Goodman, the special gas that turns Pokémon into rabid killers, and the ominous connection to a legendary Pokémon.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Yes, I’ll admit. I was (and still am) a Pokémon fan. Of course, I was first introduced to Pokémon back when I was in either 7th or 8th grade (can’t remember exactly), but it was roughly around that time. I was first introduced to the Pokémon cartoon TV series way back when (yes, Indigo League / Kanto region and first 151 Pokémon) and really liked it, especially all the variety of Pokémon that the show presented within its syndicated presentation. From there, I explored more into the Pokémon franchise with the collection of its trading cards (my prized one was getting the Venusaur card) and the plethora of video games for Nintendo gaming systems. As I headed towards my more latter years in being a teenager, I sort of grew out of Pokémon (just a bit), but I nostalgia quickly pull me back when after a while. I occasionally watch some cartoon TV episodes (every now and again) as well as the animated feature films, and always reminiscent by playing some of the video games (I still love playing Pokemon: Soul Silver the most). Thus, it’s very clear to see why Pokemon has survived its longevity, expanding upon its vast empire of pocket monster and transferring its interest from one generation age group to the next. Given its popularity (both here in the US and overseas) Pokemon doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
Naturally, this comes back around to talking about Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, the first ever live-action Pokémon feature film. Of course (like many out there), I was super excited to hear about this movie’s announcement several years back; finally getting the chance to see some of my favorite Pokémon creatures finally imagined in more realistic illustrations (CGI) and not just in Japanese 2D anime style. I remember hearing a few casting announcements here and there, but I really didn’t hear much about Detective Pikachu until the studio released the film’s movie trailers for the feature. I’ll admit that I was one of the people that was quite skeptical about the feature’s release. Of course, I’ve been wanting a live-action / CGI hybrid endeavor for Pokémon for quite some time, but I kind of wanted to see a more traditional Pokémon adventure. Plus, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of having actor Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu. Totally a head scratcher for me. The movie definitely had that feeling of where it could go either way (be it vey good or a box office bomb). Regardless, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was still a much-anticipated movie for me as I went to go see it with the classic expression of “hoping for the best and expecting the worst”. So, what did think of it? Well, despite a few problems, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is quite a fun (and humorous) joyride to a visually impressive Pokémon world. The movie has a few issues, but the positives definitely outweigh the negative in this first live-action endeavor.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is directed by Rob Letterman, whose previous directorial works such projects like Shark Tale, Monster vs. Aliens, and Goosebumps. Given his past affinity towards kids’ movies (whether animated or live-action), Letterman seems like a sensible (and smart) choice in directing Detective Pikachu. He certainly makes the feature quite approachable when helming this project; finding the director’s effort quite capable of encompassing the basic of this Pokémon world to its viewers as well as being a fine nostalgia feeling of walking down “memory lane” for the older fans out there (even if you don’t admit to anyone out there). Plus, Letterman infuses the film with a lot of lighthearted humor throughout. Much like several DreamWorks project of the past, Detective Pikachu jokes are mostly family friendly, but there are a few minor risqué ones thrown into the mix. Don’t worry, parents. Those particular jokes are the type that will most likely go over the “juice box” head, but adults might catch them a few times. Still, I find the humor in Detective Pikachu to be quite fun as I found myself laughing out loud…. more so than what I was expecting to.
Of course, the reason why many will go see Detective Pikachu (and perhaps the only main reason) is to finally see all the various types of Pokémon rendered in a realistic manner for live-action feature films. I’m mean…seriously…it was quite a “geeked out” moments for me throughout the film. Seeing Pokémon like Charizard, Bulbasaur, Gyarados, Cubone, Arcanine, Greninja, Flareon and several others was quite amazing to see, seeing how both adorably cute and monstrously scare some are in the realistic photogenic manner. There are so many other Pokémon throughout the film and its quite a treat to see how they all look like. Plus, there a few fan service moments in the feature, including showing Poke balls (capturing a Pokemon), a few classic attack moves, and a couple of legendary Pokémon make cameo appearances (look at the statues in Howard Clifford’s office). Lastly, the film throws in a few Pokémon jokes (the classic Magikarp one made me laugh) as well as one hearing one character partly singing the classic US opening song to the original Pokémon TV series.
The film’s script, which was penned by Letterman as well as Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Derek Connelly (with a story by Hernandez, Samit, and Nicole Perlman, doesn’t go the usual way of presenting a traditional Pokemon adventure of trainers, gym badge challenges, and collecting Pokemon across a region, but rather takes a different approach by a simplistic story (more on that below) that surrounds the classic “buddy cop” mantra of storytelling. It’s a well-used one, but its clearly well-represented in the movie by showcasing the atypical personas of a buddy cop team up (i.e. the straight man character vs. the humorous one). In addition, the film’s story infuses a lot of the classic detective crime / noir nuances throughout the feature, which plays a part of the make-up of this Pokémon capper adventure. Plus, with Detective Pikachu running only 104 minutes long (roughly one hour and forty-four minutes), Letterman keeps the film light and breezy; never getting bogged down in unwanted subplots / distraction side-stories. Collectively, the film feels very much a fun endeavor that’s quite charming and imaginative from start to finish.
As a whole, Detective Pikachu looks great and feels vey much like a well-put together feature film endeavor (visually and technically speaking). Given its fictitious world of where Pokémon and humans co-exist and live in harmony each other within a vast urban city, the setting of the feature needed to be both familiar and unfamiliar (i.e. one foot in reality, while the other in something more fantastical). That’s definitely what Detective Pikachu is and the background setting of it all elevates that idea within its colorful / lighthearted presentation. Ryme City is a perfect example, which has that large-than-life cityscape that feels very much like urban city of today, but has more of Japanese skyline influence (with a mixture of anime). Thus, the “behind the scene” talents of Nigel Phelps (production designs), Lisa Chugg (set decorations), Suzie Harman (costume designs), and the entire art department team are well-represented in the movie and do help us (the viewer) believe in this movie world.
That being said, the visual effects teams on Detective Pikachu are probably the “MVP” of the filmmaking crew for this feature…. for their sheer talent design for rendering the various Pokémon in such a realistic fashion. The film’s visuals don’t push the boundaries in CGI creations, but the visual designs of the Pokémon are quite compelling and endearing to see that it’s quite hard not to fall in love and / or marvel over how these imaginative creatures come to life in a believable way (be it body movement or facial expressions) and to interact within its live-action environment. Additionally, cinematographer John Mathieson does a good job and provides a lot of “cinematic” sequences that have plenty of eye-catching moments that even non-Pokémon fans will enjoy. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Henry Jackman, is pretty good and definitely offers enough melodic moments throughout the movie (a lot of musical pieces have a sort techno / video game motifs and nuances). Plus, it’s great to hear a few classic songs / melodies from both classic video games and anime cartoon show reimagined and play a part in the movie. For any fan out there…you’ll know them when you hear it.
Detective Pikachu does a have few problems within the film and, while they don’t necessarily derail or lose the colorful and charming appeal that the feature holds, it certainly doesn’t break any new ground or push this cinematic endeavor to incredible heights. Perhaps the main problem that the movie has is in its story or rather the storyline progression of it all. As I mentioned above, there were a lot of hands in shaping Detective Pikachu’s story / plot….and that might be part of the problem. For all its winks and nods to the Pokémon franchise and its classic detective noir nuances, the film’s story is actually the weakest. This is not because it is bad or anything, but rather because of how simplistic and transparent it is. From the get-go, its quite easy to see where the movie is going with the setup of its setting and characters. Even its various twists and turns can be seeing miles away before they arrived with “not-so surprised” revelations. It’s super easy to follow (even for the causal moviegoer viewers out there), but some of the narratives in the animated Pokémon feature films were more in-depth and were more sophisticated than plot in Detective Pikachu.
Coinciding with that, the movie’s narrative borrows heavily from recycled plot points ideas from a multitude of various storytelling motifs, especially ones concerning detective noir pieces and big conspiracy cover ups. Personally, there’s always gonna be a small part of me (not matter how silly or inane it is) who truly wanted to see a more classic Pokémon adventure in the first live-action Pokémon film. You know what I mean…. a Pokémon trainer’s journey across a vast region of battles random people, collecting Pokémon, battling gym leaders, and making friends / enemies along the way. It’s definitely the “bread and butter” narrative arc for most of the Pokémon franchise and something I really wanted to see come alive on-screen. Certain nuances aspects do appear in the film, but not fully. Again, the movie’s story being told is fine (and works), but is completely transparent (from start to finish) and not quite as cleaver as Letterman (and the several hands that shaped the story / screenplay) wanted it to be. As an extension of those criticisms, Detective Pikachu is, more or less, meant for all ages, especially towards younger children, which is probably why the film’s story is quite easy to follow. This, of course, plays very much “in-line” with the rest of the Pokémon franchise, which (by and large) has always found a large targeted audience with younger viewers.
Another criticism (well, not for me personally, but it is an important one) is in the fanbase of Pokémon and how it is meant for them and not so much for non-Pokémon fans. Much like a lot of video game movies of the past, Detective Pikachu is meant for its fans, which most will probably embrace and relish in seeing this super popular franchise property come together within the first ever live-action / CGI hybrid endeavor. For everyone else, however, they might not get it. As stated, the story is somewhat easy to follow for the uninitiated, but it might come off as a bit convoluted. Thus, a person’s negative criticisms (mine included) have to be taken with a “grain of salt” when examining Detective Pikachu; a film that’s by fans and or fans (not matter the age or generation favorites).
The cast in Detective Pikachu is small, but does have several recognizable acting faces that play the film’s various characters. What’s probably the most perplexing (yet comically endearing) about the movie is in the vocal performance of actor Ryan Reynolds of Tim’s father’s Pokémon partner; a Pikachu. As I mentioned above, it’s definitely quite a “head scratcher” of sorts with the casting choice of not only Reynolds, but as well as deciding to actually give Pikachu a voice beyond just saying his name (a thing that was briefly touched upon in Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!). However, the strange thing is that idea of giving Pikachu a voice definitely works in the movie’s favor. Reynolds, known for his roles in Deadpool, Buried, and Woman in Gold, is certainly equipped to handle the character build for Pikachu, providing the cute electrical Pokémon with a wise-cracking and caffeine addicted personality that’s quite fun to watch. Reynolds has always been known for his fast-talking bravado / banter and certainly plays that up in Detective Pikachu; providing Pikachu with enough zip within his humorous zingers, which are mostly family / friendly brand style of humor. The combination of Reynold’s vocals and the CGI rendering of the character makes Pikachu in the movie irresistibly memorable and hilariously a joy to watch on-screen.
Sharing the spotlight with Reynolds (or rather Reynolds’s vocal performance of Pikachu) is actor Justice Smith as the film’s other main protagonist Tim Goodman. Smith, known for his roles in Paper Towns, Every Day, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, acts as more of the “straight laced” individual of the two; acting as the more level-headed / pragmatic character. Smith is quite a capable actor to make us (the viewers) believe in his surreal plight throughout the story and is quite easy to root for throughout the feature. Tim’s character build definitely isn’t the most original (especially considering the tropes of a buddy cop endeavor), but it certainly does act as a great foil against Reynold’s high energetic persona of Pikachu. Thus, Reynolds and Smith’s on-screen chemistry with each other works; showcasing their witty banter with each other to be hilarious as well as heartwarming in seeing their relationship evolve in the movie.
Behind Reynolds and Smith are several large supporting characters that either interact with both Tim and Pikachu. First is the character of Lucy Stevens, an eager junior investigate reporter who has a Psyduck as a Pokémon partner, who is played by actress Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies and Blockers). While Newton’s performance as Lucy is fine for the movie, the character seems to be a little bit underdeveloped and also a bit all over the place (character-wise). Is she a clever super sleuth (a cut / iteration of the femme fatale variety)? Is she a love interest for Tim? Or is she a high-energy girl who desires to be a news reporter? Unfortunately, the movie (and the film’s script) never really figures out who / what Lucy Steven actually is or what they want her to be; making the character just there and along for the ride…. which is disappointing. Rounding out the large supporting players are actors Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Ken Watanabe (Inception and The Last Samurai) as the disabled visionary behind Ryme City / founder of Clifford Enterprises Howard Clifford and a veteran Ryme City police lieutenant / friend of Harry who is accompanied by a Snubbull Pokémon partner Detective Hideo Yoshida respectfully. Together, both Nighy and Watanabe act as the “seasoned veterans” of the feature and are rather good in their roles and (at the end of the day) it works for Detective Pikachu.
The rest of the cast, including actor Chris Geere (You’re the Worst and Modern Family) as Howard Clifford’s son Roger, actress Suki Waterhouse (The Divergent Series: Insurgent and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Howard Clifford’s assistant Ms. Norman, actress Rita Ora (Southpaw and Fifty Shades of Grey) as Dr. Ann Laurent, actor Karan Soni (Deadpool and Office Christmas Party) as Tim’s friend Jack, and American DJ Diplo makes a small cameo-like appearance in the movie, are minor supporting players Detective Pikachu. While the acting is fine for all parties, some of them definitely could’ve been expanded upon in a few areas…. most notable in the character of Roger Clifford.
Tim Goodman and his father’s Pikachu Partner take to the streets of Ryme City in search of clues, mysteries, and conspiracies in the movie Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. Director Rob Letterman’s latest film endeavor takes the popular Pokémon franchise into the live-action realm; immersing viewers within a colorful and imaginative cinematic world of humans and Pokémon. While the movie’s narrative seems a bit predictably familiar and simplistically basic (as well as a confusing characterization of one particular supporting player), majority of the film ultimately works (which is quite surprising unto itself); resulting in a fun family-friendly movie for all ages, especially for the plethora of fans out there. Personally, I liked this movie. The story could’ve been improved upon, but the end result of the film was impressively fun and enjoyable for its sheer entertainment value. Plus….it was definitely a treat to finally see the vast array of Pokémon creatures finally rendered in a more realistic fashion than ever before. Totally geeked out! It’s not a perfect video game adaptation movie, but its definitely the best one that Hollywood has produced…hands down! Thus, recommendation for this movie is both a “recommended” choice for all the Pokémon fans out there (young and old) as well as an “iffy-choice” for everyone else. Then again…. I really don’t non-Pokémon viewers will probably see this movie anyways. While a sequel film had already been announced (in the pre-planning stages), it will be curious to see what direction this live-action film franchise will go for Pokémon brand. Will the next endeavor be a more traditional Poké-adventure or will it be something new? Regardless of what comes next, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu stands as a wildly fun and extremely solid first live-action Pokémon movie; showcasing the promise for more to come in a world where we “Gotta Catch’ Em All!”.
4.0 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: May 10th, 2019
Reviewed On: May 14th, 2019
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is 104 minutes long and is rated PG for action / peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements