Pokémon has been a worldwide phenomenon since its beginnings in 1996. From the popular collectible cards to the classic video games, to a nostalgic AF TV show and several beloved animated films, these pocket monsters are everywhere!
Despite that long history and an impressive catalog of animated features, “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” marks the first time ever that the Pokémon have been brought into our reality through CGI technology.
That’s as exciting as it is anxiety-inducing for die-hard fans. Does “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” measure up? Is it a worthy addition to the beloved world of Pokémon?
Let’s unpack that!
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is directed by Rob Letterman, who you may know from such titles as “Shark Tale” and “Monsters vs. Aliens.” Yeesh.
The film stars Bill Nighy, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton and, last but not least, Ryan Reynolds as the voice of the absolutely precious Detective Pikachu.
Check out the official synopsis of “Pokémon Detective Pikachu:”
In a world where people collect Pokémon to do battle, a boy comes across an intelligent talking Pikachu who seeks to be a detective.
Admittedly, I went into “Detective Pikachu” with buckets of hype. I was a member of the Pokémon generation and spent my childhood collecting Pokémon cards and loving the television series. I could not wait to see my favorite creatures as I had never seen them before, in larger-than-life, CGI realism.
Did “Detective Pikachu” meet expectations? Yes and no.
The film is… alright. As a piece for fans, it is on point. Everything about “Detective Pikachu” speaks to the Pokémon generation, and dreams are coming true on that screen. However, as a film, it’s a little meandering and not the best executed.
The highest praise I can offer “Detective Pikachu” is how perfectly the Pokémon were brought to the screen. These weird looking creatures were as terrifying or adorable or bizarre as any fan would imagine for them to be.
This critic, a huge Gyarados stan, felt like she was meeting a celebrity when the sea dragon appeared in all of his glory. Popular characters like the Charmander, Bulbasaur, Psyduck and, of course, Pikachu translated perfectly as adorable members of the world.
Speaking of the world of “Detective Pikachu,” goddamn was it rich! I feel like I could watch “Detective Pikachu” a hundred more times and still find things to watch in the background.
Countless Pokémon. Cleverly hidden references, just for lifelong fans. It’s all there.
Another note on the Pokémon: Anyone familiar with Pokémon has already seen countless instances of the creatures and humans working together; it’s kind of the thing. What “Detective Pikachu” did that was so interesting was show even more creative ways that Pokémon could exist in our modern world (the use of Loudreds for pumping wicked bass in a club being a favorite example).
In case all of my waxing poetic on childhood favorites and the history of Pokémon wasn’t an indication, “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is all about nostalgia. And it knows it.
“Detective Pikachu” knows its audience. It knows all those ’90s babies are showing up in droves and some GENIUS in that writer’s room found the perfect balance for appealing to that ’90s nostalgia without drawing upon tired, overworked and uninspired methods.
The reference game in “Detective Pikachu” is strong, but it’s subtle. We’ve got “Home Alone,” “Batman,” and Pokémon nods that only those who have been there since the beginning will know.
Of course, “Detective Pikachu” would be nothing without the titular lead, and Detective Pikachu would be nothing without the voice talents of Reynolds, Hollywood’s favorite goof and Daddy with a capital D.
Reynolds absolutely, without doubt, MAKES this film. I’m so glad that we collectively decided that Reynolds was the public’s choice for the irreverent take on the great characters of nerdom, because the shit works.
He brings such an edge to a character that is essentially a yellow ball of cuteness and is just a joy to watch. The rest of the cast, with the exception of Nighy, gets a little lost and feels a bit bland against such a fantastical backdrop, but Reynolds keeps pace with the larger-than-life visuals in yet another stellar performance.
To go back to blandness, unfortunately, that is the curse of “Detective Pikachu.” Everything is so predictable, everything unfolds exactly as you expect it to, and there are many moments where it feels like the film is going through the motions. Even for all of his acting chops, you have to admit that when there’s the possibility of a secret bad guy and you’ve got Nighy in your cast, you might as well include a flashing arrow that says “It’s him!”
It was also disappointing to see so many threads lead to nowhere in “Detective Pikachu.” Our awkward leading male Goodman (Smith) wants to be a Pokémon trainer before tragic life circumstances crush that dream. But wait! He finds a Pokémon and… there’s one battle scene where he really does nothing and this lifelong wish is never again revisited.
Things like that. Moments that are set up as if they mean something that are never revisited. Set-ups that don’t pan out. It’s especially disappointing when so many other story elements are falling short.
All of that being said, these flaws do not stop “Detective Pikachu” from being a TON of fun. It is a damn entertaining movie that is made for fans and made for making new fans!
I give it a soft recommendation. Gotta catch ’em all? More like, catch it if you like.
Featured photo credit: Warner Bros.
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Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. She currently serves as the Lead Film Contributor for Shuffle Online; other notable bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.