I can't, in all good faith, recommend Pokémon Detective Pikachu to average movie-goers.
I recognize my own biases. I grew up during the absolute peak of Pokémon fever in the late '90s, playing Pokémon Blue every moment I wasn't in school, trading cards at lunch, and snuggling my stuffed Pikachu as I fell asleep every evening. Seeing Pokémon: The First Movie in a jam-packed theater on opening night remains one of my fondest memories. And yes, I still play every new game, so I'd consider myself a bit of a Pokémon fan.
How, then, do I approach a movie like Pokémon Detective Pikachu?
Directly based on 2016's Detective Pikachu game for Nintendo 3DS, director Rob Letterman's movie adaptation follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a depressed young man who's given up on his childhood dreams of becoming a Pokémon trainer. After learning of his estranged father's demise, Tim travels to Rhyme City, where he meets a mysterious talking Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) who has amnesia but is convinced that Tim's father is still alive. The pair partner up, along with a young reporter named Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), to solve the mystery of Pikachu's lost memory and Tim's father's whereabouts.
For starters, the plot of Pokémon Detective Pikachu is really, really stupid. It has a decent enough set-up for a fun detective movie, but as the machinations of the mystery unfold, it starts to rely on major logical leaps that border on plot holes. Multiple major revelations are discovered through a poorly explained hologram system that replays past events in full 3D from different angles using...maybe police footage? This massive hologram device is based out of an office building, but after Tim and Pikachu discover it, the holograms continue playing for them wherever they go—like at a crime scene on a rural bridge in the middle of nowhere. No idea how.
Tim Goodman is a bland protagonist and Lucy Stevens feels shoehorned in as a mandatory romantic interest (she wasn't in the video game), rather than as an essential part of the team. The action sequences are lackluster with boring staging and very little tension. Worst of all, the villain's motivations make no sense. I won't ruin the reveal if one could even justify it as such, but his/her master plan is actual lunacy.
And yet, despite all my complaints, I had a great time watching.
I was delighted seeing how the animators interpreted each new Pokémon that came on-screen. Some, like Psyduck, were fuzzy and cute. Others, like Lickitung, were weird and alien. It was basically what I always imagined Pokémon would look like in real life. Visually, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a treat.
Then there's Detective Pikachu himself. Pikachu is beyond adorable. He's furry and huggable and his face is super expressive. Ryan Reynolds' voice acting is electrifying, managing to land every joke and breathe life into an otherwise barren script. I want to buy a stuffed Detective Pikachu, and if it says Ryan Reynolds stuff when I squeeze it, I'm okay with that.
For someone without any affection for Pokémon, I imagine Pokémon Detective Pikachu would be a painful slog. But for Pokémon fans, even with all its many, many flaws, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is still worth your time. After all, this is the first time Pikachu has ever been live on the big screen, and he looks fantastic. Maybe the next one will have a quality story to match.
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