While Hollywood finds itself leaning into some of Japan’s most iconic franchises in the hopes of striking gold, it turns out a little ball of yellow might do just as much good. So how does Detective Pikachu fare against all the other heavy-hitters?
Our journey starts with Tim Goodman (played by Justice Smith), a perceivably average guy in a Pokémon-filled world. Preferring the smalltown life over the glam of the big city, it’s only the news of his father’s death that we leave this idyllic countryside behind for the neon London-inspired cityscape of Ryme City. After visiting his father’s apartment with the intention of collecting his old belongings before taking the next train home, he runs into a Ryan Reynolds-voiced amnestic Pikachu wearing a hat belonging to his father. With this, the stage is set, and the two decide to work together to discover what really happened to his father.
World-building is a massive part of what Detective Pikachu does so right; within the first 10-minutes of the film, even the most novice of trainers find themselves accompanied with this world where the Sparrows fly free and Cubone roam the fields. Even before the ritz of Ryme City comes into play, viewers very quickly become engaged with this world where Pokémon are simply a part of everyday life. This is incredibly important for a film such as this which is attempting to broaden its appeal beyond the typical Pokémon audience. Because of this goal, the film has a very difficult task ahead of it in order to keep all audiences happy, with a need to not only get newcomers up to speed but one where they need to avoid veteran fans being left frustrated by watching the visual equivalent of a Pokémon 101 class. On this front, the film again succeeds with flying colors.
It’s through this world-building that Detective Pikachu finds its other strength, comedy. While we’re not saying the Pokémon franchise hasn’t had its moments of humor in the past (just look at the Pokémon anime), Ryan Reynold’s delivery as an absurdly adorable Pikachu really hits it home. On that front, it’s probably the most fun you could have while maintaining that magic PG-13 rating, a new one for Renolds I’m sure.
After the stage has been set for both tone and plot within the first 10 minutes of the film, the directors were free to take this story in any direction they saw fit. It didn’t have long to do so, with the 105-minute runtime not exactly short, but for a big-budget blockbuster in an era where superhero films can top 3 hours, is definitely snappy. This actually works to the movie’s benefit, however, as while films like this, or even the recently-released Alita: Battle Angel, can get bogged down in the need to set up a franchise and more films in the future, this shorter runtime lead to the decision being made to focus entirely on Tim Goodman’s story and character arc. In fact, it was almost refreshing to see such a big budget film remain this focused on its main narrative and finish with such a decisive conclusion without the need to try and drop in a sequel hook or a post-credits scene.
That’s not to say it’s all positive, however. Perhaps as a consequence of the smaller scale of its narrative, in order to keep the film exciting, the directors rely a lot on an almost-constant barrage of plot twists. While at no point does it feel like the film is breaking its own logic simply to evoke the feeling of surprise in its audience, with clues in the environment and dialogue enough to explain every single twist and turn before the film’s conclusion, it does perhaps try one too many times to shock the audience with a plot twist. Without spoiling the film for those who’ve yet to catch it themselves, it’ll become obvious upon viewing that the attempts to surprise the viewer do become a little tired by the end.
Both of us definitely came away from the film satisfied, however, and you can’t ask for more than that, especially in an environment where more times than not Hollywood will fail to do justice to the property its adapting. This isn’t one of those times as the film’s strong and likable cast of characters, interesting world that builds upon its source material and sheer joy combine to create a film that will leave you walking out the cinema with a smile on your face. Can you really ask for much more than that?
Lachlan: In many ways, Detective Pikachu is the perfect culmination of everything that made the long-running Pokémon franchise so great in the first place. Set in a world of fantasy and adventure, the series has always kept itself grounded while remaining accessible to even the newest of trainers. Through the collective efforts of everyone involved, Detective Pikachu is an in-universe addition to the franchise that humbles itself to Pokémon’s original intent while building upon it in new and exciting ways. Is Detective Pikachu without flaw? Definitely not. Is Detective Pikachu going to be a film I’ll remember throughout the years? Absolutely. With a 1-2-Thundershock of fun, comedy, and just the right amount of action, Detective Pikachu is the evolution we didn’t know the Pokémon franchise needed, and it leaves me excited to think about all the new directions we can go from here.
Alicia: This film reminds me of a blockbuster film from a bygone era for all the right reasons. The modern blockbuster can feel bloated and self-important, assuming success is a guarantee and placing the desire to build a universe above the need to tell a good story. In every positive sense of the word, the self-contained story told here is reminiscent of the family blockbusters found in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, with a focus on fun above all else. The film never outstays its welcome and, even if it perhaps tries to pull the wool over the audience’s eyes one too many times, remains a fun, if simple, story with a positive message at the end of it. It has its flaws, sure, but flaws that are easy to look past when the film fills you with sheer joy at every corner. While I was hopeful about the film’s quality before I walked into the cinema to see it, the result managed to exceed my expectations and remain a joy to watch from start to finish. I hope the creative minds behind this film get a chance to tell another story in this world, even if the plot of these characters is concluded, as I want to see what ideas they would explore next.
Screening in theaters across Japan now and with a North American theatrical run set for May 10, you’re definitely not going to want to miss Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds’ incredible work in Detective Pikachu. Those interested in checking out further information on the film, be sure to visit Detective Pikachu’s official website.
Review co-authored by Lachlan Johnston