Pokemon: Detective Pikachu - Review

Video game movies do not have a great track record. So when Pokemon: Detective Pikachu was announced as a live action film, I had hesitations. But the movie provides a fun adventure that does some incredible world building for future installments of the franchise. There will be slight spoilers throughout.

The premise gets resolved at the end, which will make a direct sequel hard to do. But that is actually a good thing. They did what was best for the story being told, and didn't sacrifice anything to save for the future. A sequel can still happen, but it will feel a bit different. Future installments would actually benefit, because they won't just repeat the story of Detective Pikachu.

Justice Smith's character Tim Goodman, is somewhat of a generic archetype, but not so much that he doesn't feel relatable. His character really starts to shine when Pikachu enters his life, but his journey feels uneven and rushed in places.

The entire movie is predictable. From who the villain is, to how Pikachu talks, the movie beats feel familiar. The seeds planted throughout are effective, though not very subtle. That doesn't keep it from being enjoyable however. Ryan Reynolds elevates the already adorable Pikachu to a level way beyond what I thought was possible. There are jokes for adults, as much as there are for kids. Though it feels like some of the edgier material was left on the cutting room floor.

All 3 acts have 3 distinct feels, which muddles the flow a bit. The first act is smartly paced and edited. It builds up and introduces everything it needs to. The second act slows to a crawl, and treads water a bit. The 3rd act is a manic and crazy event that tries to make up for the slow 2nd act. 

Kathryn Newton's Lucy Stevens very first scene is a laughable, farcical stereotype. Luckily, that goes away in subsequent scenes, and she becomes quite a likeable character. At times, however, she is reduced to a love interest to motivate Tim Goodman. I hope she becomes more important in future sequels. Her and her Psyduck are adorable, and fun to watch on screen.

Bill Nighy is the biggest stereotype of the movie, which makes things predictable, but it works for what needed to be done.

The portrayal of the Pokemon themselves are where Detective Pikachu really shines. While there is a heavy focus on the original 150, the fully realized design of all of the Pokemon that get screen time is what makes the movie worth watching. The world building is extraordinary. It doesn't feel like it was forced for the movie. The world feels like it actually exists, and that it has always been there. It feels lived in, like how the first Star Wars movie felt.

While Detective Pikachu might not spawn Detective PikaTwo, it definitely allows for other stories to be told in that world. With such a rich catalog of material to glean from through the anime and the video games, Detective Pikachu could be the Iron Man of a brand new Pokemon Cinematic Universe. Future installments can uses some of the same human characters to tell different stories, and introduce even more of the world we saw in Detective Pikachu.

Fans of the franchise will love the references, callbacks, and teases to the source material Detective Pikachu borrows from. The macguffin in the movie is designed to remind one us of Team Rocket. While they don't have any presence in the film, the world they built lends itself to an easy introduction.

As far as summer movies go, Detective Pikachu has enough going for it that will please children, families, and Pokemon fans. The formulaic nature of the story and broad strokes that the characters fulfill will make it easily accessible for general audiences.

As far as video game movies go, this is far and away the best one. I realize that isn't saying much, since the competition isn't very heavy. However, it shows that video games can be adapted to workable, enjoyable stories on the big screen.

Detective Pikachu was a more interesting premise than a straight up adaptation of the Ash Ketchum story. It allowed more freedom to do what they wanted with certain Pokemon while still staying true to the mythology. At the same time, it allows for them to tap the well of everything that has come before it. In that sense, Detective Pikachu is a good franchise starter, if still only a middling adventure movie.

Detective Pikachu is now playing in theaters.


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