OnScreen Review: "Detective Pikachu"

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  • Ken Jones, Chief Film Critic

Pokémon was a phenomenon of the 90s that came in just as I was ageing out of the target demo it was aimed at. Because of that, I’ve never fully understood the craze or the appeal of them, but I know it is a beloved thing of many a person’s childhood, even if I was largely dismissive of it for the more than 20 years it’s been around now. I openly made fun of my friends who lost their minds over Pokémon Go a few years ago.

With all of that working against it, I was completely in the bag for seeing Detective Pikachu from the moment I first saw the trailer on YouTube. This movie had me at Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Detective Pikachu. It was so out of left field and unlikely that it either had to be inspired or a weird disaster, and I found myself leaning more and more toward the inspired end of the spectrum. So, I was more than happy to go along with a friend who wanted to check it out on a Thursday advance screening to see if it was a movie he could bring his two young boys to on the weekend.

Being a film largely geared toward kids, it was easy to follow despite having hardly any prior exposure to Pokémon and or the video game it is based on. The main character is Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a 21-year-old who is estranged from his dad, Harry, who works as a detective in Ryme City, a metropolis where Pokémon and humans live together in harmony. Tim finds out that his father has disappeared and possibly been killed in the middle of an investigation. While searching his apartment, Tim crosses paths with his father’s partner, a Pikachu that somehow only Tim can understand. Together, and with the help of an aspiring reporter named Lucy (Kathyn Newton), they set out to figure out what happened to Tim dad and uncover a potentially dark secret in Ryme City.

Ryme City, is probably the highlight of the film. It reminded me of Zootopia in terms of it being a city that is fully fleshed out as a backdrop to the action and how Pokemon-type elements are seamlessly integrated into an otherwise normal-looking city. Whereas the city of Zootopia was composed of boroughs based on the various animal inhabitants, Ryme City is something that has the look and feel of a Pokémon-infused, PG version of Blade Runner-style neo-noir.

Actually, the comparison to Zootopia hits a little too close to home, as, now that I think of it, it’s basically a live-action Zootopia with Pokemon creatures. There are more than a few shared plot elements and twists. Not that these elements are proprietary to only Zootopia, of course; some of them are right out of classic detective stories. In that way, I could see Detective Pikachu being an early entry point into detective movies and maybe, eventually, the hardboiled crime classics of the Chinatown or a Phillip Marlowe film. That’s probably too hopeful on my part, but I know Who Framed Roger Rabbit was like that for me in some ways, so it’s possible.

There are plenty of laughs to be had in this movie, and it is sure to be entertaining for the kids. The twists and turns and villains and misdirection employed by the script are very familiar and telegraphed. And Ryan Reynolds really works as the voice of Detective Pikachu. It’s a modulated version of the kind of character he plays so well; it’s definitely not unfiltered and amped up to 11 like Deadpool, and that’s a good thing. I need to see more of him, but Justice Smith might be someone worth keeping an eye on as an actor long-term.

Detective Pikachu is a movie that will likely be adored by its hardcore, built-in audience. And there are some aspects of the film that are creative and inspired, particularly in visual department. Ryan Reynolds is also a definite draw as the voice of Pikachu. It’s likely to be a fun time for the kids, but it also feels very familiar and seems to borrow heavily from other sources that have done this kind of story a lot better. Ryan Reynolds and Pikachu are a weird combo. Detective Pikachu is at its best when it leans into that weirdness.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars