Director: Rob Letterman
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe
Runtime: 1 hr 45 mins
Rating: PG (Some Intense Sequences)
Released By: Warner Bros
Opening Day: 9 May 2019
Synopsis: The story begins when ace private eye Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu: a hilariously wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth who is a puzzlement even to himself. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to communicate with one another, Tim and Pikachu join forces on a thrilling adventure to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together through the neon-lit streets of Ryme City—a sprawling, modern metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side by side in a hyper-realistic live-action world—they encounter a diverse cast of Pokémon characters and uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe.
After the colossal success of the Pokemon Go game, it was always sort of inevitable that Hollywood would come knocking on the doors of the Pokemon franchise. And yet, it wasn’t without a certain degree of scepticism that we greeted news of this live-action/ animated feature; after all, it’s not as if the video game with its big-eyed, super-powered creatures that humans go around catching in red-and-white metal orbs had a particularly rich story arc to begin with.
So instead of basing off that, director Rob Letterman has chosen to lean onto the 2016 spin-off ‘Detective Pikachu’, which had the titular yellow cuddly creature team up with a young boy able to understand what he is saying to solve a series of mysteries in the fictitious Ryme City related to a drug that has been turning them Pokemons into rampaging monsters. Oh yes, if you’re familiar with that game, much of the story here will come as no surprise, including just who the ultimate villain is and the nefarious nature of his rampage-inducing ‘R’ drug.
But for the uninitiated, just like any good detective mystery, the less said about it the better. That said, we’ll let in that it isn’t by coincidence Pikachu (who sports a deerstalker hat here) meets the boy named Tim Goodman (played by Justice Smith in the movie) – Tim’s dad Harry, who is believed to have died in a fiery car crash, was Pikachu’s partner, and Tim had only journeyed to Ryme City after receiving the news to have some sort of closure with the parent he had been estranged from since his mother’s death many years before.
As ripe as the premise is for a neo-noir, the film never dwells too heavily on darker themes; rather, this is kept strictly in family-friendly territory, so don’t expect it to explore say Tim’s resentment of his father’s absence. In fact, even though there is a darker underbelly to Ryme City, it doesn’t get more seedy than say underground Pokemon battles run by humans, where even then the two species operate in harmonious co-existence (than say one being exploited by the other); probably the only exception in this regard is a clandestine Pokemon experimentation facility located at the outskirts of town, where the aforementioned villain has been conducting research on manipulating Pokemon behaviour.
Yet even though the material is tailored for kids, the world-building is undoubtedly impressive, especially for Pokemon aficionados. There is much effort to squeeze in as many Pokemons from the Pokedex as is possible without overwhelming the film, including glowing Flareons, fire-breathing Charizards, singing Jigglypuffs, water-breathing Gyaradoses, and even continent-shifting Torterras. While many get only a passing reference, the movie milks wacky fun out of some; in particular, you’ll probably remember the sequences with a jester-looking Mr Mime who can only communicate via mime, or those with the large passive-aggressive Psyduck who needs to be kept calm with relaxing music and foot massages.
Then of course there is Pikachu himself, who is endowed here with the voice and trademark cynical wisecracks of Ryan Reynolds. Pikachu is only one of the two Pokemons who can talk in the film, but there is a neat narrative twist at the end which smartly explains this small but significant plot detail. While obviously toned down from his ‘Deadpool’ act to suit the material, Reynolds still brings much irreverent snap and coolness here, injecting both dry humour and sweet sentimentality to make Pikachu cute, cool and heartwarming. His banter with Smith keeps the pace lively and energetic, especially given how this is still a fairly typical kids’ yarn.
Still, once you consider how much could have gone wrong with a Hollywood-based Pokemon movie, you’ll be thankful that ‘Pokemon Detective Pikachu’ is a perfectly acceptable blend of action, comedy and spectacle. Sure, the story could have been a lot more twisty and the whole human-Pokemon conceit a lot more complex, but the elements that make it a buddy detective comedy largely work. You’ll also marvel at the blend of live-action and CGI that went into the realisation of Ryme City and the symbiosis of humans and their Pokemon partners, even more so if you’re familiar with the whole Pokemon menagerie. But fan or not, it’s a fun and wacky ride through and through; indeed, what’s there not to like about spending one and a half hours with Reynolds behind the furry yellow Pikachu?
(What's there not to like about the irreverent Ryan Reynolds voicing a wise-cracking Detective Pikachu? Oh, and there are plenty of weird and wacky Pokemons for you to catch too)
Review by Gabriel Chong