Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a 2019 film adaptation of the Nintendo videogame of the same name, by Warner Bros. With a whole new take and setting to establish, the animators are left with cramming so many “introductions” and “explanations” in the movie, that they skimp on the plot. This is not to say Pokemon doesn’t do well as a traditional whodunnit story, it has all the elements: a missing father, a brewing undercover plot, the main male lead and his “girlfriday” sidekick (in this case a wise-cracking yellow pokémon) running into life threatening situations.
The reaction to the film varied based on the expectations, understandably built on a franchise more than two decades old.
Unlike previous attempts like animated Pokémon film franchise, Detective Pikachu begins with a world (set in Ryme City) where humans and pokémon co-exist together, with each being allowed only one pokémon partner. The screen is full of pokémon sleeping at intersections, helping in firefighting or directing traffic. Poké-battles are banned, poké-balls cannot be used, and overall harmony prevails. Outside Ryme City, pokémon exist in the wild and must be caught (as demonstrated by Tim’s failed attempt to catch a Cubone).
Tim Goodman, played by Justice Smith, is an insurance agent, who does NOT have a pokémon partner and does NOT want to be a pokémon trainer (he vehemently declares), despite the efforts of his good friend Jack (played by Karan Soni who doesn’t look the supposed age in his get-up) to get him initiated. Things take a turn for the worse when Tim gets a phone call from the Ryme City Police Department informing him of his father’s death (disappearance?).
The entrance to Ryme city itself is breathtaking and the arguably the best CGI in the movie. Complete with neon lights, towering glass scrappers and bathed in blue and red diffusion, the 35mm cinematography even when shooting mundane scenes always borders between the real and fantasy. Ryme City is remarkable in that, here Pokémon aren’t an asset for their trainee but rather individual characters all in themselves and they are the main characters of the film. Justice Smith’s Tim isn’t the male lead, it is actually Reynold‘s Pikachu. Detective Pikachu, for the first time, creates a Pokéworld where the emphasis isn’t on humans and their pokébattles and supporting cast of venusaur. This movie has pokémon with their own will and ideas. The film doesn’t introduce the Pokémon, instead it starts off with an understanding that the audience know what they are, and hence prevents bench-lining them as sidekicks.
Flashbacks tell us Tim and his father didn’t exactly have a smooth relationship. While visiting his apartment, Tim runs into Kathryn Newton as Lucy Stevens, a wide-eyed cartoony journalism intern on the scoop for a story. A psyduck tags along and threatens their peace. Once inside, Tim meets an amnesiac Pikachu (a talking one, whom only Tim can understand), with whom he gets off to a rocky start , later redeemed (It’s in the rules, sorry). Other hilarious cameos include a Ludicolo as a bar tender, an angry (and furry) Jigglypuff, a police officer Snubbull, an inappropriate Likitung on the train, and many more (maybe we’ll come up a separate cameo list?) The film also has nods to some legendary Pokémon like Dialga, Palkia, and Arceus.
The mystery begins immediately with the search for the origin of the serum R that leads them to discover a Gen I Metwo and also a secret facility called the CPL (a direct nod to the video game). There are certain obvious question which never get answered and you learn to just move along and not think too much.
Ryme City does not allow Pokébattles, which means they exist, but only as underground rings. For people expecting to see atleast one Pokébattle in a huge stadium, this comes as a let down, but it is still an interesting take fitting into the world created. The ring also features two DJs including Diplo playing as Critial Hit (video game reference?).]
Warner Bros. had the mammoth task of creating a likable film for a wide range of audience – from the nostalgic adult to the younger fans. And in that attempt, it falls somewhere in between. The plot isn’t complicated enough to draw in non-fan adults and it might get too confusing for younger fans. As such, they get lazy and use a holographic imagery technique to transport he characters (and the audience) into the time and place and show them exactly what happened in real-time!
One of the best sequences in the movie is a dialogue-less three minutes of trying to crack Mr. Mime. One has to see to experience the hilarity of those minutes and it almost makes the rest of the movie unimportant. The second half is undoubtedly stolen by Newton’s Psyduck and the attempts to avoid his earth-shattering (literally) headache. There is a hilarious escape sequence where amidst all the running, the subtitles only read as, “Psyduck! Psyduck! Psyduck! Psyduck! Psyduck!”.
It is without doubt, that the Ryan Reynold voiced Pikachu is the driving force of the movie, Justice Smith also does an excellent job. Newton’s performance feels like a caricature as first, but she does fit in as the ball gets rolling. Bill Nighy, as the founder of Ryme City, Howard Clifford works just as well as the script allowed. A prop-like Ken Wantabe (with a Snubbull) plays Lieutenant Hide Yoshida who won’t believe the group of kids, until he sees it for himself. Rita Ora appears as Dr. Ann Laurent, a scientist who reads out experiments in a tacky way, meant to serve the purpose of holograms later.
Detective Pikachu wasn’t meant to be the film with stellar screenwriting or thought-provoking. It was meant to be a hallucinated ride of a world filled with pokémon and dreams and possibilities, and in that – it succeeds extremely well. The story takes much from the game franchise but then branches off into its own extension and acts as a very good stand alone film.
The CGI is top-notch, if the trailer didn’t already tell you that. But the heavy reliance on CGI comes with a film that spends most of its time playing background sounds of explosions and whooshes. There exists a specific scene in a moving garden (pokémon?) from where on the special effects seem to start getting plain ridiculous!
All-in-all, Detective Pikachu succeeds at most of what it set out to do, pushed back slightly only by the feat of the work in itself. A sequel is in the works and hopefully, with the ground rules established and credit proved, I’ll be holding out hope that they’ll be what this world needs.
The soundtrack’s best moment is a dejected Pikachu singing the theme song on a empty road. Released under license to Sony Music Entertainment, Henry Jackman has created a list of instrumentals that do well with the cinematography. You can check the entire album here.
Metacritic has given it 53%.
Foxy Turnips rates it a 9 turnips out of 10 because all Pokémon is amazing!
If you live under a rock or Antarctica, and haven’t seen the trailer yet, check it out here:
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