Detective Pikachu introduces new Pokémon world

Pokémon Detective Pikachu was released in North America on May 10, 2019.

photo by Warner Bros.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu was released in North America on May 10, 2019.

In 2016, Pokémon surged back into mainstream popularity with the mobile game Pokémon Go, where players could become real-life Pokémon trainers and travel across the land and search far and wide for the pocket monsters to pit them against other users. Now, three years later, Pokémon is back in American cinemas for the first time since 2003 with a movie about….. a boy and a talking Pikachu solving a mystery?

Directed by Rob Letterman, Pokémon Detective Pikachu follows the story of Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) as he travels to Rhyme City to take care of his father’s belongings when he hears of his passing. However, when his father’s Pokémon partner, a Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) that only Tim can understand, enters his life, he will have to travel across the city to solve the mystery of his father’s death.

One of the movie’s strongest aspects is its set design and CGI work. Rhyme City emits a distinctly noir look that helps complement the mystery in the main plot. However, the visual aspect of the film that is most apparent is the Pokémon. Ever since the first video game released in 1996, the pocket monsters have only been portrayed in 2D. This film marks the first time Pokémon are depicted using 3D photorealistic CGI. Since there were reportedly 54 different Pokémon species shown in the film, it is hard to comment on each Pokémon’s design, but main ones ranged from adorable (Pikachu, Psyduck and Bulbasaur) to understandably realistic (Charizard and Torterra) to strangely endearing (Mr. Mime). There was not a single flop.

This has a side effect of immersing viewers in the movie’s world, and Rhyme City serves as a fine entry point. By showcasing a city whose main mission is to blend the lives of humans and Pokémon, it allows the film to showcase what the pocket monsters are capable of and what role they play in daily life, such as fire types being used to operate grills or water types being used alongside firefighters. Even when the city is not on-screen, the movie shifts focus to show Pokémon behavior in nature that wouldn’t feel out of place in a nature documentary. This gives the film a distinct sense of creativity.

We see this breathtaking world through the eyes of Tim, who Justice Smith does a great job bringing to life. In addition, Ryan Reynolds delivers an on-brand performance, delivering a mix of great one-liners with serious dramatic moments. This makes his performance reminiscent of Deadpool, which could draw viewers to the character more or push them away, depending on their opinion of the Merc with a Mouth.

Supplementing Smith and Reynolds are a supporting cast that does not feel on the same level as the leads. While her Psyduck is adorable, Lucy Steven (Kathryn Newton) does not fit very well into the already intriguing dynamic between Tim and Pikachu. Sebastian (Omar Chaparro) is only in the movie for 15 minutes and his over-the-top performance didn’t mesh well with the film’s tone either. At least that would be the case if didn’t stop changing every 15 minutes.

The tone keeps coming up because the movie isn’t entirely sure of what it is. Sometimes, it’s a mystery film. Other times (mostly due to Ryan Reynolds) it’s a buddy-comedy. At one point, it feels like a horror movie. It’s possible to blend these tones together, but they feel so distinct that the film instead looks like it could not decide on what it wanted to be.

The film’s plot is also mixed bag. On one hand, the film’s main antagonist, which is played off as a mystery at first, could be figured out very quickly, almost like something Scooby-Doo would do. On the other hand, the road that led to the reveal was filled with some interesting twists that could make some surprised. Though, this depends on the individual.

One thing this script does well is using the Pokémon Mewtwo (voiced simultaneously by Rina Hoshino and Kotaro Watanabe) to slyly hint at the larger Pokémon world. If viewers have seen Pokémon: The First Movie, they’ll understand the reference, but it is not so prominent that those who have not seen it will be confused.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu may not have been a great film on its own, but it manages to take advantage of a seemingly bizarre premise and introduce an immersive and visually appealing world while also delivering great performances from the two leads. While it did not live up to all of its potential, it does set up crucial foundations for bigger and better stories in the future.