Although ‘Pokémon Detective Pikachu’s’ mystery falls flat, the visual design is a gorgeous treat.
Kernel Rating: 3 (3 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 104 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 8+. This live-action version of the Pokémon world incorporates various creatures from the series, and some of them have frightening powers, including fire-breathing and earth-shaking; the Pokémon are also given a drug that amplifies their aggression and causes them to attack humans. A character lost his mother at a young age and has an estranged relationship with his father; there is a fiery car crash; some bathroom humor and rude jokes and insults; some light romantic banter and two characters develop crushes on each other.
By Roxana Hadadi
The Pokémon world gets the noir treatment in “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” a visually inventive adaptation of a series that has so far existed as a collectible card game, an animated television show, and other media. The central mystery of “Detective Pikachu” is ultimately somewhat lackluster—and sends a slightly problematic message about people with disabilities—but the production design of Pikachu, Psyduck, Charizard, and the other Pokémon featured in this film is an impressive achievement.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” takes some elements from other explorations of this world, and for fans of the series, many of these story components will be familiar, from the Pokémon battles to the setting of Ryme City to the various personalities of certain Pokémon. All of that world-building is what the film does exceptionally well; Ryme City in particular, with its Asian influence, neon lights, and futuristic feel, evokes sci-fi classics like “Blade Runner” that parents might recognize.
The film focuses on 20something Tim Goodman (Justice Smith, of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”), who is working as an insurance agent after putting aside his childhood dream of being a Pokémon trainer. But when his police detective father from whom Tim is estranged dies during an investigation, he is called back to Ryme City, where humans and Pokémon live side by side, to collect his father’s things. It’s in Ryme City—where some Pokémon hold jobs, where some are criminals, and where others are bonded to humans as “partners”—that Tim crosses paths with a Pikachu—whom he can understand.
It is unexpected that Tim and the Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds, of “Self/less”) can understand each other, because to everyone else, all the Pikachu can say is “Pika, pika!” And Tim is even more surprised when the Pikachu, despite experiencing short-term memory loss, seems to have known Tim’s father—and what he was investigating when he was killed. Together, and with the help of the aspiring broadcast journalist Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her Pokémon partner Psyduck, Tim and Pikachu unravel the nefarious plans of a villain intent on upending the delicate balance between humans and Pokémon.
The core four of Tim, Pikachu, Lucy, and Psyduck draw us into and then maintain interest in the narrative of “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” and Smith and Reynolds in particular have great chemistry that sells the relationship between their two characters. A scene where Pikachu has to face off against a fire-breathing Charizard and realizes that he’ll have to take advice from Tim, who is returning to his Pokémon trainer knowledge, is a powerful teamwork moment, as is a scene later in the film when Tim and Lucy have to work together to understand a key component of the villain’s plan. Psyduck is a particular highlight as well, a duck-like Pokémon whose headaches can cause shockwaves, and how Pikachu treats his fellow Pokémon with a mixture of disdain and affection provides consistent humor.
But “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” loses the point a bit with its bad guy, who is presented as someone whose disability drives him toward villainy. That his physical impairment and illness turn his brilliance toward hurting other people isn’t a very nuanced message, and it may be worthwhile to discuss with young viewers afterward how individuals can be differently abled and display different skills and aptitudes. Despite that, “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is an otherwise well-paced film that highlights various Pokémon characters and builds a fun, colorful world around them (one that will certainly push young audiences to wanting more Pokémon-related paraphernalia).
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