Let’s talk about Detective Pikachu.
This, of course, is not the first Pokemon movie. There have been masses of the things, 25 at the last count. But they were the anime and to be honest, they are mostly rubbish. Yes, the anime is nostalgic to many and I can still watch many of the episodes and have some fun but it was a bit naff. And the movies were even worse, though again, nostalgia means I have a soft spot for the original and not just because it got me a Mewtwo trading card. But Detective Pikachu is something entirely different because it’s live action. Pokemon in real life. So for all of us Pokemon fans who have been playing since they were mis-shaped pixels on a Game Boy screen, this is a dream come true.
Our first visit to the world of Pokemon may not be many expected though. As while it involves the famous mascot Pikachu, instead of having Ash Ketchum, Team Rocket and battles, instead we have something based on the fairly obscure spin-off Detective Pikachu. It sees Tim go to Rime City after the mysterious death of his father and team up with an amnesiac Pikachu, whose also a detective, to find out what happened to his dad.
And if you are a Pokemon fan, you are going to be delighted. Just going around Rime City, seeing the mass of Pokemon milling about is a delight. It’s so fun to see Aipoms swing from signs, Growlithes patrol with police and Golurks marshall traffic. And I like the fact they try to spread the love between the generations as equally as possible. Because the majority of people know Generation 1 the most, especially after we all got re-introduced to them in Pokemon Go a few years back when that was the biggest craze on the planet, it would have been very easy to pander to that demographic. But no matter what generation you are a fan of, you’ll see your favourites represented. Then there’s all the fan service. From the video game music which is reworked into the soundtrack, the dark Pokedex entries getting called out to even the manga style credits, you’ll see something in the background that appeals to you.
And this world is just one that you just want to move to. Admittedly as a child I desperately wanted Pokemon to be real so I’m biased for this but this movie makes such a good case for us all to move to Rime City. It is admittedly different from the rest of the Pokemon world, an exposition video explains this city has banned pokemon battles and balls so people can bond with their Pokemon more easily, but it’s such a beautiful place and it feels so real. The best description of Rime City is that it is a Japanified London, with the Gherkin basically being there and there also being their version of the Shard. But you also have Japanese writing all over the place which does give it a unique feeling. This movie will spawn a lot of sequels, possibly even a Pokemon world, and because of the world building and the setting being great it feels ready for it.
Of course, the movie cannot ride on just having real Pokemon forever. With me it can ride on that for far longer than it should but that’s something else entirely. It needs good characters and it has that in our two leads. Neither Tim or Pikachu are particularly original characters, you’ve seen both in other movies, but they are good fun to watch and Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds share a lot of chemistry. Smith is the straight man to Pikachu’s wisecracks and to the movie’s credit, the wisecracks are funny. The jokes are well written, Reynolds is a great performer and the CGI on Pikachu is very impressive to make him adorably hilarious. Some of the other performances in the movie can be a bit weird though, especially Lucy Stevens as journalist Kathryn. I’m not sure if it’s deliberate or just poor acting at times but her early appearances are definitely odd and distracting.
In terms of the plot, it’s nothing to write home about. It’s a fairly standard play at a noir but Pokemon-ified. Yes that makes it far more fun that a standard retelling of the most basic story you can have in this genre but if you are in anyway familiar with this sort of movie, you can call what’s going to happen. You do have to give it some leeway on this because as it’s obviously aimed at a younger audience, Pokemon is for kids after all, but as it also wants a more mature audience too with its secretly dirty jokes and fan service, it does deserve criticism for not doing more than just ‘Noir but with Pokemon!’.
And yes other than that, the movie does have a number of flaws which would probably be more glaring if I wasn’t the most biased critic in the world. Firstly, the pacing. For the first half of the movie, the films goes way too quick and never takes a chance to breathe. The movie has fun characters and an interesting world, it could afford to take a few seconds and just enjoy its time in it. It’s not a long movie either, we could take an extra ten minutes. Instead we are flung from the death reveal to meeting Pikachu to interrogating Mr. Mine and then ending up in the underground battle ring. The movie does breathe later on but it needs a bit more time early on. Also, you definitely need some grounding in Pokemon before going to see this. The plot revolves around Pokemon evolution and it never explains what it is which is likely going to be confusing for those who aren’t fans.
Despite that, Detective Pikachu is a very fun movie which delivers on what we wanted. A vibrant, energetic story in a real Pokemon world that feels like you can live in it. While it is obviously not as good, this is Who Framed Roger Rabbit for an era that were raised on these video games and seeing these characters in real life is such a joy that fans will be able to overlook some of the flaws it has. Anyway even though it makes so sense and I have to put it, Gotta Catch ’Em All. There, that’s your catchphrase.