Review: ‘Pokémon: Detective Pikachu’ Starring Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith
If you’ve lived somewhere with internet or tv within the last 25 years, there’s not much of a chance you haven’t heard of the Pokémon phenomenon. If you haven’t, well, you’re not reading this.
Seriously, this franchise is a juggernaut. With over 300 million video games sold, a TV show that’s spanned 20 years and over 1,000 episodes, and a card game that’s sold over 25 billion cards, the series just keeps rolling on, teaching generation after generation to capture wild animals and train them to fight each other.
And now we have our first live-action film. Featuring Ryan Reynolds, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is set to release May 10 three years after it was first announced. I have to admit, it was a little odd watching imaginary monsters that my generation grew up within a theater full of kids who undoubtedly know more about them than I do. Even odder was my fellow reviewer Brad trying to elbow his way through the crowd of children to get the souvenir t-shirts, but whatever.
Set in the fictional metropolis of Ryme City, the film centers around Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), an insurance adjuster who once had dreams of becoming a Pokémon trainer, but gave those ambitions up long ago; he doesn’t even have a Pokémon partner, which is unusual in this fictional world. Upon hearing about the death of his estranged father, a detective with the RCPD, Tim (living in another town) makes the journey to Ryme City to gather his father’s belongings.
His world is soon shaken up, though, when he gets to his father’s apartment and finds his Pokémon partner, the ever-lovable Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds when talking to Tim; to other people who can’t understand him, Pikachu’s actually voiced by Ikue Ōtani, the voice actress from the show). Suffering from amnesia, Pikachu is nonetheless convinced that Tim’s father’s death was staged and recruits his help in discovering what happened to both his father and Pikachu’s amnesia.
Visually, the film is gorgeous. Ryme City encourages cooperation between Pokémon and humans, so fighting is outlawed and we see a population of Pokémon walking alongside people on the streets. And the interaction and effects are flawless. The motion capture of Reynolds’ face for Pikachu is fantastic and we get to see the full emotional range of a creature that we can usually only experience through vocals. When the action picks up in the second half and we really get to see some of the Pokémon use their abilities, the visuals are blended smoothly and in a relatively believable manner (director Rob Letterman and cinematographer John Mathieson opted to shoot on film rather than digitally, and once you see it on screen, I think you’ll agree it was a smart move).
Speaking of Reynolds, he and Smith deserve credit for their chemistry and on-screen interaction. Most people are at least familiar with Reynolds and his ability to deadpan a witty line, and he delivers in full force. Smith does a great job as the co-lead and is given the ability to portray a gamut of emotions unusual for an action-filled PG movie. The less-heralded third star, Kathryn Newton (who plays Lucy, an aspiring reporter looking for her big break), holds her own as well. Her efforts to uncover the truth are key to Tim and Pikachu’s search, and she does well in providing some human chemistry with Tim.
At its core, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a children’s movie, and I think overall, the children in the audience really liked it. There’s quite a bit of action, but none of it overwhelming, and the plot’s easy enough to follow. At the same time, Reynolds and Smith deliver quite a few hilarious moments that had many of the adults laughing, so if your kid’s dying to see this, most adults will find something to enjoy.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu gets a B