Seeing a live-action Detective Pikachu movie will probably be for Pokemon fans what seeing the first Transformers was for me, or seeing Dolph Lundgren as He-Man. Pokemon doesn’t mean that much to me but that’s okay. It wasn’t my childhood. From my basic cultural knowledge I can recognize how Detective Pikachu does justice (see what I did there? You will in a minute) to the property.
Tim (Justice Smith, aha!) used to be into Pokemon but he’s outgrown it. His friend Jack tries to set him up with a wild Pokemon, but that doesn’t go well. While settling his estranged fathers affairs, Tim breathes some purple gas and finds his dad’s partner, Pikachu (voice of Ryan Reynolds) and can understand him like he’s speaking English. Together they have to solve the mystery of what happened to Tim’s father.
The opening of Detective Pikachu does a lot of legwork for establishing a live-action world in which Pokemon exist. Jack explains to parents in the audience that you have to throw the ball to catch one, and it has to choose you back. It’s just accepted that grown adults should all have their own Pokemon.
Pokemon also ride trains and interact with the human world. Everything else is summed up in a promotional video by Clifford Industries on the train to Ryme City. Really, for anyone who missed the Pokemon craze and is intimidated, it’s not that hard to digest.
Ryme City is very Japanese inspired and the whole movie is film noir, but in color with digital and CGI creatures. The Pokemon are adorable and hold their own against other popular CGI creature movies. In the city there are a lot of practical effects in concert with the visual effects, like a dumpster will tip over after a chase. It gets more green screeny the further along they go, but I feel comfortable that’s what you sign up for when you go to a CGI creature movie, so it fits the aesthetic and keeps things moving.
There are Pokemon battles in Detective Pikachu. Every time a Pokemon uses their power I trust that those are the powers established by decades of games. As someone discovering them for the first time, yeah, a lot of these Pokemon have cool powers. I bet a lot of the background ones are Easter eggs too.
It’s also a mystery so Tim and Pikachu uncover a bigger plot they have to foil. Despite my headline, it’s no Chinatown. It’s not even a general Alex Cross, but it’s a solid Hard To Kill or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers when the heroes uncover the villains’ plots.
I believe Smith interacting with this CGI Pikachu talking like Reynolds. They commit, as does Kathryn Newton as a reporter with whom they team up. Detective Pikachu didn’t turn me into a Pokemon fan but I think the Pokeman crowd will like it.