Pokémon: Detective Pikachu – Ridiculous Fun Done Right

Director: Rob Letterman

Writers: Dan Hernandez, Benji Sait, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly,  and Nicole Perlman

*Based on characters and other Pokémon stories created by Satoshi Tajiri, Ken Sugimori, Junichi Masuda, Atsuko Nishida, Tomokazu Ohara, and Haruka Utsu

Producers: Greg Baxter, Cale Boyter, Joseph M. Caracciolo Jr., Tsunekazu Ishihara, Hidenaga Katakami, Cliff Lanning, Don McGowan, Ali Mendes, Toshio Miyahara, Kenji Okubo, and Mary Parent

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Josette Simon, Rita Ora, and Karan Soni

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Based on the marketing for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, I expected a splendidly goofy, stupid, and humorous romp, helmed by the one-of-a-kind charisma of Ryan Reynolds. After seeing the final product on the big screen, I can safely say that all of my expectations were met, with yet a few more effective layers added to the story and narrative.

Set in an alternate reality where humans and Pokémon peacefully coexist, there is an abundance of wiggle room for unbridled creativity and imagination in the storytelling. The filmmakers took full advantage of this idea, building a richly inventive world with  clever, well-developed depth. It was incredibly entertaining to see the massive cities filled with everyday interactions between humans and Pokémon. Still, with deep stores of untapped potential, it comes as no surprise that Legendary Entertainment reportedly already has plans for a sequel, with the intentions of creating a fleshed-out cinematic universe with multiple films in the coming years.

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Any production with Ryan Reynolds’ name attached to it is sure to draw a crowd based on entertainment factor alone. Detective Pikachu definitely delivers when it comes down to this essential element. Although this was a film with an MPAA rating of PG, Reynolds is still given some free rein with his humor style, voicing and acting as the motion capture template for the title character. Most of the jokes are certainly kid-friendly and appropriate for the younger target audience, but make no mistake, there are a few adult jokes snuck into the fold that will have more mature audience members in stitches. While there is nothing on the level of Reynolds’ dark humor in the Deadpool franchise, he still manages to put his personal stamp on the comedy.

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The chemistry between the adorable puppy-like Pikachu and actor Justice Smith’s character, Tim Goodman, is delightful. In this world, Pokémon are essentially “man’s best friend.” However, Tim Goodman is not exactly a “dog person.” Initially, Tim is very reluctant to team up with Pikachu, but eventually decides that an alliance is the best bet to uncover the truth of the mysterious circumstances surrounding his missing father, Harry Goodman. As the duo encounters various conflicts and obstacles (from humans and Pokémon alike), Tim and Pikachu develop a genuinely heartwarming and touching companionship with one another. The relatively rich and resonant emotion conveyed by this relationship was the biggest surprise for me personally in my viewing. I kept expecting the poignant moments to be interrupted by a gag, but the emotional beats were mostly allowed to naturally progress and play out. While far from Oscar-caliber, deeply-impassioned drama, the drama that is present is effectively incorporated in an otherwise silly adventure.

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Looking to the technical side of things, the team that came together to develop this fantastical world produced an impressive effort. The production design (Nigel Phelps), set decoration (Lisa Chugg), art direction (Ben Collins, Ravi Bansal), and VFX/animation all played a role in creating the immersive, wondrous environment, that still maintained its human qualities in the midst of the Pokémon-filled world. The sound design and energetic, multi-faceted musical score from Henry Jackman complemented the on-screen action perfectly. Director of Photography John Mathieson and editors Mark Sanger and James Thomas served satisfactorily in their foundational roles, ensuring a cohesive overall vision.

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As for the negative aspects of the film, there are unsurprisingly some corny, predictable jokes and dialogue, clichéd narrative occurrences, and a few overly chaotic action sequences which lacked clear direction and focus. The tonal balance of the story was not exactly seamless either, with a few sharp turns (especially in the first half) that might have negated from its overall impact.

Still, Detective Pikachu did almost exactly what it needed to do in order to give its audience an entertaining escape. There is nothing award-winning or astoundingly spectacular about it in general review, but it is a charming distraction for an afternoon matinee. The positives outweigh the negatives, so it is undoubtedly worth a watch. 

Grade: B-

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