In September of 1998, I came across an animated TV show on the Kid’s WB channel that would forever cement a place in my heart. It starred three plucky young kids who were on a quest to capture strange creatures and battle against the forces of evil who would continuously get in their way. That show was called Pokémon and it was the first anime that I fell in love with. My infatuation for the property grew and grew to the point where I wanted to own anything relating to it: video games, T-shirts, card games, toys, etc.
Fast forward a couple of years later and with the introduction of so many new and uninteresting characters, my infatuation waned and I almost completely lost interest in the franchise. It had always remained in the back of my mind while growing up and in 2016, my enthusiasm spiked back up with the release of Pokémon Go on phones. It harkened me back to my youth and made me feel the same warm and tingly feeling that I use to remember. So now my fondness for the franchise is back to eleven which made me excited to check out the first live-action film based on the series which is called Pokémon Detective Pikachu.
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is a young adult working in the insurance industry. One day he gets a call from a police chief asking him to travel to a place called Ryme city to discuss his detective father’s passing. Tim soon departs and when he arrives, he’s informed that his father died in a terrible car accident. After receiving the news, Tim heads to his father’s apartment and comes across a strange girl named Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton). She tells him that his father had uncovered a big mystery and that there might be something more to his death. She quickly runs off and Tim is startled by a Pikachu that he can understand. He refers to himself as “Detective Pikachu” (Ryan Reynolds) and the two decide to team up and find out what really happened to Tim’s father.
Due to my current Pokémon fandom, I went into the film a bit cautiously optimistic. Video game adaptations have a history of being pretty terrible and I was afraid that this might be in the same camp. Luckily this film is one of the few exceptions that break the mold. Not only does it treat the source material with a ton of respect but it also significantly diverts from the storyline of the standard games. Instead of wanting to become a Pokémon Master and going out to “catch em’ all”, the film is able to take the Pokémon world and tell an interesting noir story within it. By doing so, it escapes the standard trappings of the video game to film adaptations and brings something more original to the table.
Visually I feel that the filmmakers truly understand what makes Pokémon so cherished. I thoroughly enjoyed how they altered the designs of the characters to make them fit in the real world while also keeping their true aesthetics. The majority of the time it completely works, but on occasion, the designs can look slightly out of place and jarring. Nevertheless, I was so engrossed in the overall story of the film that it rarely negatively impacted my enjoyment.
The film is far from perfect. The twists in the story are slightly obvious, the overall pacing and editing of the film are somewhat messy, and some of the human characters aren’t well fleshed-out. However, the good elements significantly outweigh the bad and given that the target audience is children, a lot of those things can be easily overlooked. So as the first live-action film for this franchise, I feel that Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a very gratifying adventure for both young and old.
About Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Synopsis: In a world where people collect Pokémon to do battle, a boy comes across an intelligent talking Pikachu who seeks to be a detective.
Director: Rob Letterman
Writers: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly
Stars: Justice Smith, Ryan Reynolds, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy
Runtime: 1 Hour, 44 Minutes