POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU 8 out of 10; Directed by Rob Letterman; Written by Dan Hernandez, Benj Samit, Rob Letterman and Derek Connolly; Starring Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, and Bill Nighy; Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements; Running time 104 minutes; In wide release May 10.
Video game movie adaptations have been at best, mediocre. Even the fun ones like the first Mortal Kombat would never be considered high art, but the majority of them have been downright drivel. So when they announced Detective Pikachu, a mix of live action and CGI, the first thought many had was, “why do we need or want this?” Surprisingly, Pikachu is an absolute delight to behold and is full of enough action, charm, heart and humor that people of all ages and familiarities with Pokemon will find something to enjoy.
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) isn’t really into Pokemon. He just doesn’t care enough to find a companion for himself as he is too busy trying to work up the ranks of the insurance company he works for and recover from his estranged father’s absence. Until one day he learns that his father, a detective with Ryme City Police, has been killed in the line of duty. Seeking closure, he goes to his father’s apartment to gather his things only to bump into a Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) that has amnesia and can actually speak to humans. Well Tim, anyway. Realizing that there was more to his father’s death than just an accident, the two of them team up with budding investigative journalist Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) to unravel the conspiracy that is bubbling beneath the surface of Ryme City.
I’ll be the first to say that I had the highest raised eyebrow when this was announced. Then the trailer dropped, and it had me hooked, and after viewing it, I walked out of the theater with the biggest smile on my face. It’s rare to find a movie that is filled with so much joy and wonder that it nearly takes your breath away. While it’s destined to make a ton of money at the box office, Pikachu doesn’t feel like some kind of cash grab. This is a labor of love made by people who have a deep respect and care of the source material, and that love permeates every second of the movie. From the way the Pokemon “talk” and react to things, to all the Easter Eggs hidden in every scene that only Pokemon fanatics will catch, to even the winking nods to some of the absurd parts of the mythos, this was made by fans to appeal to everyone, not just the hardcore geeks.
But what was most surprising was that the Pokemon are just the top layer of what is actually a story about relationships between friends, and fathers and sons. Many kids feel estranged from the parents for a variety of reasons, and while their kids may hate or resent them for that, for some, there is still often a longing to reconnect or at least lay to rest the sins of the past, and that is what Tim is trying to accomplish here by investigating the death of his father. He knows it can’t change the past, but it might help him cope with the future. But the film isn’t heavy handed with this as just when things feel like they might be getting too dark, Pikachu will pop up with some sarcastic thing to say that brings the story back to a lighter side while still making its point.
This shouldn’t have worked, but I’m exceedingly happy it did, because the world is a brighter and lighter place for having Detective Pikachu in it. Everything just wraps up together so nicely, that it’s a lovely little present and palate cleanser from the emotional distress of Endgame that is sorely needed in the movie world. Newcomers, hardcore Pokemon fans, kids, and adults (and yes, there is some risque humor that only they will get, a la Rocky and Bullwinkle) will find plenty to love, so take the whole family and have a blast!
8 out of 10