Review: Pokemon Detective Pikachu


I’ll be honest, I have no faith when it comes to adaptations and spin-offs of established media. So walking into Pokemon Detective Pikachu for review, I was ready for cliches, tropes, and lazy slapdash world building.

I can’t believe how much I enjoyed the first 90% of the movie. It felt impassioned and real, it resonated with childhood nostalgia while managing to tell a personal story that went beyond most if not all video game adaptations. Then the finale destroyed everything that the movie built up and it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

POKÉMON Detective Pikachu - Official Trailer #1

Pokemon Detective Pikachu
Director: Rob Letterman
Rating: PG
Release Date: May 10, 2019

Pokemon Detective Pikachu takes place in the world of Pokemon, so already they have avoided a terrible trope of video game adaptations. They manage to bring the two worlds together by setting most of the movie in Ryme City, a city where pokemon and humans coexist thanks to the philanthropic and humanitarian (and pokemonarian) work of Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy). Clifford envisions a world where pokemon and humans can coexist together without barbaric battles.

After failing to catch a Cubone to be his partner, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) receives news that his father, a police detective in Ryme City has died. With the intent to wrap up his father’s affairs and quickly come back home Tim heads to Ryme City, only to be thrown into something much bigger. Together with his father’s old partner Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) that only he can understand, and unpaid journalist intern Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her Psyduck, Tim sets off to see why his father died, or even if he died.

The world feels vibrant and lived in, so right from the start it’s easy to sink into a world inhabited by CGI monsters. Ryme City shows off a world where Squirtles are firefighters and Machamps are crossing guards. It’s all fleshed out nicely that it feels like a lot of love and care went into making sure the world was right. There’s also a ton of little easter eggs hidden here so fans of the series will have a fun time on rewatches catching all the little things added in.

Aesthetically, everything looks great. The CGI will age like warm milk I’m sure, but in the theater, on a big screen, everything looked great. It helps that a lot of the movie uses a darker palette of colors which helps when blending CGI and real life. There is a bit of a noir feel to the world as there’s a ton of neon that overlays the night scenes. The soundtrack also strikes a harmonious chord of mixing chiptune with an orchestral score that feels just like what you’d like for a video game world.

The young cast of sleuths was surprisingly well played by Smith and Newton. There was some romantic subplot thrown in because no movie can go without having the two young leads being interested in each other, but thankfully it’s mostly on the backburner. Despite my dislike of Reynolds as a voice actor, his portrayal of the titular character was endearing enough to believe that this was an actual electric rat that could solve crimes. It was a tad jarring to see world-renowned actor Bill Nighy talking about pokemon but for younger viewers this shouldn’t be an issue, just old fogies such as myself.

Story-wise, this video game adaptation manages to weave in themes of family, finding time for the ones you love, being true to yourself, and never forgetting what it’s like to have childlike fun. The themes really were helped along with the fact that the series has been around for 20+ years so it will resonate among young children and old fans of the series alike. While there are some hard to avoid tropes, they aren’t so egregious to take away from the enjoyment of the movie. That is until the finale.

I won’t spoil the ending but for as happy as I was that the movie avoided cliches and tropes throughout the first hour and 20 minutes, the final 20 minutes was awash in them. The hits just kept on coming and coming and it was like watching something beautiful burn. It wasn’t enough to ruin my enjoyment of the path that led me to the ending, but damn did it feel like the writers phoned it in for the end.

Granted I know not to expect some high art ending to what amounts to a family movie, but the ending was everything I expected the rest of the movie to be and in contrast to how well they did everything else the negatives were more glaring. One thing that was nice and refreshing was that there was no end credits sequence where they tried to set up some overarching cinematic universe or set up a sequel. Everything wrapped up in a nice if not somewhat smelly bow.

Ultimately I would recommend Detective Pikachu on the grounds that you are taking your family with you, or you have some attachment to the game series. The ending is god awful and tropey as hell, but the journey there was enjoyable all the same.

Anthony Marzano
Anthony Marzano likes long talks in naturally-lit diners and science fiction movies about what it means to be human.