Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu has an utterly absurd premise that makes me think we might finally be running out of ideas for original films. That being said, it’s far better than it has any right being, even to a Pokéignorant person like myself.
A lot of that credit goes to the fact that Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is more than just fan-service. While it has nods to the theme song and there must be heaps of other references to the games and cartoons that went gracefully whizzing over my head, the fact that my experience with the film was not interrupted or hampered from a lack of Pokéknowledge says a lot about the fact that this is a pretty decent movie, Pokémon or not. Along with all the pop culture references (the obvious hat-tips to both Home Alone and Seinfeld were my personal favorites) are also sympathetic characters and an interesting little mystery plot.
Early in Detective Pikachu, we’re thrust into the world of humans that coexist with Pokémon. Tim (Justice Smith) is a young insurance adjuster somewhere outside the city, and he has no personal Pokémon. In this world, people pair with a Pokémon, which is a companion who may or may not offer some form of support and lend a hand with their special Poképowers. Pokémon fighting has been outlawed, but that hasn’t changed the nature of Pokémon and their connection to humans.
Soon after Tim fails in catching another Pokémon (at his friend’s insistence), he’s called to Ryme City to tend to his father’s estate. His dad, a detective, died in the line of duty, and someone needs to clean up his apartment. Just downstairs from the apartment, Tim meets Lucy (Kathryn Newton), a wannabe reporter who thinks the death of Tim’s dad was no accident. After temporarily brushing her off, Tim meets an amnesiac Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who’s anything but normal. This little furry cutie can somehow talk to Tim, and only Tim, and Tim can talk back. After assessing their situation, the unlikely pair head out to get to the bottom of where the Pikachu came from, and how it relates to Tim’s father’s death.
While it’s worth noting that the animation in Detective Pikachu is quite impressive, it’s also of note that these Pokémon are impossibly adorable. Even the citizens of Ryme City discuss how gosh darn cute the little critters are. There’s no hint of trying to make them gritty or threatening unless necessary.
Though the detective story propelling Detective Pikachu forward is nothing we haven’t seen before, complete with major conspiracies and red herrings, the fact that it’s interesting enough to care about the outcome certainly speaks to the fact that this is not just another throwaway novelty movie. Some care and development were put into the gimmick of Pokémon. Tim and Pikachu also have a great rapport and well-established character arcs. They have personal growth in addition to relationship nurturing, if you can believe it.
Somehow, this all comes together into a confoundingly competent detective story. The Pokémon within Pokémon: Detective Pikachu are not the focus of the film, and the film is better for it.