Ryan Reynolds voices Pikachu in "Pokemon Detective Pikachu"

Review: ‘Pokémon Detective Pikachu’

The long-awaited centerpiece of Pokémon and Ryan Reynold memes, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, released earlier this month on May 10 — and the world has simply eaten it up.

The Premise

Detective Pikachu, directed by Rob Letterman, follows the story of Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a 21-year-old insurance salesman. The movie opens with Tim receiving news from the Ryme City police department — his detective father, Harry, died in a car accident while working a case. Tim travels to Ryme City for the first time in a long while, and in the midst of sorting through his late father’s apartment, stumbles upon Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). At great shock to both of them, Tim and the Pikachu can understand each other, which is precisely the point the movie trailers leave views and exactly the point when the duo’s fun-filled adventure begins.

Pikachu introduces himself as Harry’s detective partner and convinces Tim that his father died of highly unnatural causes after making a big break in an investigation, the details of which he could not remember because he’s developed amnesia of everything occurring before the crash. Interpreting their ability to communicate with each other as fate, Detective Pikachu eventually persuades a reluctant Tim to work together to uncover the mystery behind Harry’s death. Along the way, both Tim and Detective Pikachu discover more about each other and about themselves — and about the forces at work behind Ryme City.

The Setting

If this set-up sounds familiar to you, you’ve probably been keeping track of all the Pokémon game releases. Detective Pikachu’s premise is based on the 2016 video game of the same name, following the same storyline but unique in being the first live-action adaptation in the Pokémon franchise — a step up from the animated movies of our childhood past.

The movie itself doesn’t at first strike strong as a dark urban fantasy film, but the elements of nighttime city skylines and underground fight scenes is clear use of the trope. There’s a futuristic vibe to Ryme City and an ever-lingering feeling like something just isn’t right. This all works well with the mystery genre of the story — subtle enough to notice but not overbearing to precede its lighthearted nature.

The Pokémon

The Pokémon aren’t real, of course, but the integration and design of them may as well make them seem incredibly lifelike. The movie incorporates over 50 Pokémon (in my count), adding many extra layers of interpretation and expanding our imaginations. We see Joltiks living wild off power lines, a sleeping Snorlax causing inopportune rush hour traffic, a Ludicolo working as a bartender, and even Loudreds stepping in as club subwoofers (this is a cameo scene with IRL DJ Diplo) — among of variety of different ways Pokémon have been folded into the futuristic Ryme City, known throughout the land for its groundbreaking Pokémon-and-human symbiotic policies.

Maybe most controversial however, is the movie’s depiction of Jiggypuffs; who knew they were furry and not just… something between balloon and naked mole rat skin? And maybe also questionable is the level of sentience among the Pokémon. Some Pokémon were able to hold jobs of their own (Machamp serves as a officer cross guard), while other types of Pokémon were essentially treated as pets or livestock. Perhaps not all Pokémon have self-awareness and an ability to hold responsibility, but that may also be a philosophical musing to save for later.

The Characters

Throughout the movie, we see our protagonist Tim becoming more comfortable accepting his childhood passions and dreams before he began resenting his father’s absenteeism. Tim also learns to trust and work together with Detective Pikachu, at the same time unpacking his relationship with his father as the two of them retrace Harry’s steps before his death. This is a great time to highlight Justice Smith, who really shined in Detective Pikachu. Smith is a truly magnificent actor, portraying palpable emotions on screen and helping take us down Tim’s road of self-realization.

The overall theme of father-son issues not only surfaces in the relationship that Tim and Harry have, but also between Howard Clifford (played by Bill Nighy), founder of Ryme City and president of Clifford Enterprises, and Richard Clifford (played by Chris Geere), his son and heir to the responsibilities and powers of his father’s empire.

One of my favorite characters was Lucy Stevens (played by Kathryn Newton), a junior journalist with a Psyduck partner who eventually joins Tim in his mystery-solving. Lucy is a spunky counterpart to Tim, driving a lot of the plot forward in lieu of Tim’s hesitations. I found Lucy’s first appearance in the movie particularly humorous. Lucy walked into the scene dramatically, with big quotes that reminded me a lot of when enemy trainers in Pokémon games would suddenly hop into playing field and with a challenge to a Pokémon battle (that they lost, obviously).

Other actors and characters to spot? Ken Watanabe as Detective Hideo Yoshido, Ryme City police lieutenant, and Rita Ora as Dr. Ann Laurent, scientist for Clifford Enterprises.

The Final Verdict

The story is fast-paced, and while there are many plot holes and questions lingering in the story, the movie ultimately was aiming for being a cute and funny movie, and for this, Pokémon Detective Pikachu absolutely delivered. I was incredibly entertained to see which Pokémon and how the Pokémon were integrated into believable real-life situations, which also created a fun I-spy atmosphere in the theater.

What was your favorite Pokémon appearance? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us! (And for those of us that have watched the movie through… what do we think about that ending?)

Featured image credit: Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures, The Pokemon Company

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