This shouldn’t exist, at least not like this. I love Pokemon, but I scoffed when they announced Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (starring Ryan Reynolds). It’s a game that wasn’t part of the main series, featured a relatively silly premise, and starred someone I only knew from Jurrasic World: Fallen Kingdom (which I enjoyed, but not because it was good). This concept was silly, it was a world that would be almost impossible to pull off reasonably, and the designs of the Pokemon themselves aren’t exactly an ideal thing to translate to the screen with live-action characters alongside.
At least…all this was what I believed.
This functions far more excellently than it ever should. The world is rich, the story decent enough to follow and use as a through-line, and even the dialogue is entertainingly snappy. Most complaints from those who haven’t seen it yet are aimed at Ryan Reynolds, all of them concerned with hearing Deadpool’s voice coming out of that fluffy chungus. Turns out the fears are unfounded, as he’s adorably charming in the role.
Our story takes place in Ryme City, a new location to the Pokemon mythos, and it’s a different kind of place than we’ve seen before. The games are tied to the idea of battle, bonding with your friends by raising them to dogfight with those of other trainers. Here, that’s illegal and everyone exists alongside each other. Ever wanted to see a Ludicolo as a barista? That’s a thing now. How about a Machamp as a traffic guard? Yup, that’s a thing too. There’s even a Snubble working with the chief of police. People and Pokemon still function as partners, but they also coexist in a city where all work and relax together. They don’t understand each other (in this world it’s impossible to understand a Pokemon), but the creatures can read your emotion and intent via pheromones or something. I don’t know the logic behind it, don’t ask. It just works, okay?
When our hero, Tim Grossman (Justice Smith) loses his father to a car crash, he travels to Ryme City to settle the man’s affairs. Instead of a depressing end to his relationship with his parent, he instead winds up partnered with the man’s Pikachu partner. This one speaks, but only Tim can understand him, and together they slowly uncover a conspiracy to do some wild stuff to the city. It’s easy, and it’s fun, and everything comes together in such a satisfying way.
I have to tell you that it would be just as helpful to understand noir films as it would to understand Pokemon before going in. While the world is undeniably steeped in the lore of the games, it has a lot that visually reminds me of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Rain, darkness, and neon signs or advertisements everywhere. Street vendors line the alleys, and everywhere feels so crowded. This, coupled with a detective story, gives it a classic noir feel.
Even with this, it works more as a Pokemon movie than anything else. This isn’t establishing a franchise first, nor is it aiming to cash in on the decades of popularity (remember that this is the most profitable franchise of all time). It drops us in as though this is the 6th or 7th time we’ve visited this franchise and makes no apologies for that. It assumes you know the rules, the world, and the creatures that inhabit it. Pokemon moves are used with wanton abandon, easter eggs appear everywhere, and some of the events may seem unintelligible to the uninitiated. There’s a particularly creepy bit of imagery with a Ditto that, while set up with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, could freak out even those used to unsettling images.
I can’t say I’d recommend this to those who have no idea about anything to do with Pokemon, but your kids will love it. Hell, I loved it. Who knew that Ryan Reynolds, as a weeping Pikachu, could make me feel something whole sadly moaning out the lyrics to “Gotta Catch ‘Em All?” There’s something special in this for Pokemon fans, something I knew each of you has only dreamed of since we first held that brick of a GameBoy and chose our starters (mine was Bulbasaur, and I was delighted with their appearance in this film). It’s a blast, not perfect, but wonderful for fans.