Growing up, I never had much of a fondness for Pokémon. Sure, the anime was on on Saturday mornings, but I never played the original video games or went all that far into the trading card fad. In fact, I remember one summer holiday for getting a black eye from some other kid because I didn’t have any cards to trade, or more likely, to have stolen off me.
My feeling towards the franchise has since softened: while I still think it’s vastly overrated, I gave the Pokémon Go app a try back when it launched (and subsequently became obsessed by it), and I even found myself intrigued by the prospect of a feature-length film based in the series’ universe, including a Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds.
Detective Pikachu, even with the context of the games’ and anime’s setting, is a deeply bizarre film. It’s a brightly coloured adventure movie with cuddly CGI characters, with shades of Raymond Chandler’s work and Chinatown peppered in for good measure. Think Disney’s Zootopia/Zootropolis, but with humans and Pokémon.
The central story focusses on human lead Tim, played by Justice Smith, taking to the streets of Ryme City to solve the mystery of Tim’s missing dad, accompanied by the aforementioned Reynolds-voiced Pikachu, who was Tim’s dad’s Pokémon partner. As is standard with these types of stories, the case takes Tim and Pikachu from the city’s seedy underbelly to the top floor of the mayor’s office, and all sorts of locations in between.
Visually, Detective Pikachu is astonishing. The human/Pokémon city feels authentic and lived-in, and the efforts to render the creatures in 3D CGI deftly avoid the Sonic The Hedgehog trap, and are for the most part not nightmare inducing – though the jury’s out on Mr Mime.
Of course, the lion’s share of the Pokémons’ (Pokémen’s?) screen-time is given to the Ryan Reynolds-voiced Pikachu. Reynolds is on fine form in his voice performance here, and he finds a good balance between the enthusiastic sincerity needed for this kind of film, and his now trademark Deadpool snarkiness. It really works well combined with the character’s agonisingly cute fluffy yellow exterior, and I for one am relieved that the filmmakers dodged the bullet of turning this Pikachu into another Ted.
There are unfortunately some areas that don’t hit cleanly however; Justice Smith’s lead human performance is patchy at best, and the film does end up leaning a little too heavily on Reynolds to keep all things narrative running steadily. Out of the supporting cast, it feels like only Bill Nighy is anywhere near caring about the material (based on his interviews during the press tour, that’s certainly not inaccurate), and while he’s great as always, he’s not featured in the story nearly enough to keep up enthusiasm as the plot descends into its third act madness. Worst of all though, the film’s really rather forgettable for the most part.
Still, as I always say, if it’s good enough for Bill Nighy it’s good enough for me. While Detective Pikachu didn’t quite do enough to make me a Poké-convert, I was surprisingly entertained by the film while it was running and I wouldn’t be averse to catching it again down the line. More involved fans may get more out of it, but for now I’d be confident in saying that this weird Pokémon movie might be the best video-game movie released so far.
That is, until December when this happens:
God help us all.