There are some movies where you go in knowing that if you don’t have prior knowledge of the film’s history, it’s not going to affect you as much as true-blue fans. If you haven’t seen all the Marvel or Star Wars movies, chances are you won’t enjoy a new one that much. So it might be best to take the following review of Pokémon Detective Pikachu with a grain of salt, as it’s being written by a person with only a passing knowledge of the 20-plus year history of the Pokémon brand.
The first live-action Pokémon movie, Detective Pikachu centers on Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a 20-something with a checkered family history. Upon learning that his dad was in a fatal car accident, Tim comes back to Ryme City, the only place in the world where humans and Pokémon co-exist peacefully. While searching through his father’s apartment, he encounters Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), a creature that he can somehow understand even though nobody else can.
They investigate the possibility that Tim’s father might still be alive, aided by Lieutenant Hide Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) and Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an enterprising young reporter. Their search leads them into the orbit of Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), the man who first espoused the idea of human-Pokémon co-existence, and his son Roger (Chris Geere), one of whom may not be exactly the man he proclaims himself to be.
Just as with other massively popular properties, the film offers more pleasure to fans than non-fans. The world of Ryme City is teeming with Pokémon of all sorts, some of which play a part in the story but most of which don’t. Just the sight of certain Pokémon sent my preview audience into squeals of delight, a devotion which goes way beyond the objective cuteness of most of the creatures.
It seems obvious that writer/director Rob Letterman and his writing team made the movie for the already-initiated, as it provides precious few entry points for those of us who don’t already have Pokémon on the brain. The use of Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu is one such point, as anyone who’s had experience with his sarcastic wit in Deadpool and elsewhere will enjoy his performance.
It’s also difficult to resist the inherent weirdness of the various creatures, including the panicky Psyduck and the angry Snubbull, who don’t say a word but entertain with just the threat of outbursts. The relationship between Tim and Pikachu, as well as a hint of a romance between Tim and Lucy, are the best parts of the movie.
But the details of the story, including the hows and whys of relationships between people and their Pokémon and the twisty noir of the main plot, don’t land as much of a punch. The filmmakers assume knowledge of how humans and Pokémon connect instead of actually explaining it, and the central mystery of whether Tim’s dad is still alive is treated more like a red herring than something crucial.
The performances of Reynolds, Smith, and Newton, all of whom are having upswings in their careers, keep things interesting. Watanabe is hardly used, so it’s unclear why he’s even in the movie, and Nighy and Geere have fun chewing the scenery in their various scenes.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu has a purpose — to indulge fans — and it does so with gusto. Anyone else would be better served by choosing almost any other movie.