I must have been in first or second grade when Pokemon caught my eye. I remember the show fondly, cards were freely traded on the bus to school; and I really wanted the video game. So one fateful day, I was standing in the Kmart video game section with my dad who bought me a turquoise Nintendo Gameboy Color and Pokemon Red, starting me on my path to become the very best that no one ever was (in my head, at least). While many other iterations of the game have been released since then, the first generation of Pokemon is what I’ll always remember most fondly. It was a lot of fun getting to see “Detective Pikachu” and see what this world has become since the Gameboy days.
In what seems like a very gutsy move, “Detective Pikachu” really is a detective movie. The plot follows Tim (Justice Smith) on a search for answers after his father’s disappearance. While cleaning out his father’s apartment, Tim comes face to face with a talking Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) with no memory and a tiny detective hat. Together they embark on a quest for answers, a quest soaked in moody neon lights and many cups of coffee.
Justice Smith, who I hadn’t seen much of, does a really good job as the film’s human lead. It’s unfortunate how little he’s being pushed in the marketing, overshadowed by Reynolds’ voice in the titular role. However, without Smith, audiences wouldn’t have a character to attach to. Sure Pikachu is super cute, but he’s still a furry yellow creature that can shoot out lightning bolts — not the most relatable protagonist. Smith slots in nicely to give the audience a viewpoint into this rich world.
The basic formula for Pokemon when I was a kid centered around characters who went out seeking to capture as many Pokemon as they could, train them for battle and become the best trainer in the region. That’s the world I grew up with. “Detective Pikachu” doesn’t care about any of that. As previously mentioned, it really is a detective story — one that I thought worked really well.
As this film is primarily aimed at children, the mystery aspect is engaging enough to propel the film along. It wasn’t trying to be “Memento,” creating a confusing narrative that thinks it’s more than it really is. The mystery serves as a background for Tim and Pikachu to interact and explore a world the audience hasn’t seen before.
Which is why when it takes a breather, it does so amidst such incredible world building. Pokemon is a franchise that has created hundreds of different monsters and, as we all know, kids have an uncanny ability to recall massive amounts of information such as the names of all those monsters. I myself was only able to recognize the ones from my childhood, but my lack of knowledge didn’t detract from my enjoyment. It was amazing to see these creatures incorporated into everyday life, from flying over countrysides to walking the streets of Ryme City.
When things needed to be explained, they were explained. For the most part, the audience is just thrust into this world and is along for the ride. At times, it can be a little jarring seeing Justice Smith interacting with CGI characters that aren’t really there, but the amount of work that went into this film is incredible. Pikachu is probably the cutest character hitting theaters this year, and the animation work put into him really does show. Other Pokemon in the film run the gamut of being cute to being horrifying, but they all work within the world. For a film filled with a heavy CGI cast, it was done remarkably well.
Another bold choice this film makes is having Ryan Reynolds voice the titular detective. Whether it is a complete success will vary from person to person. I didn’t mind the choice, but some of the running jokes and commentary delivered by Reynolds didn’t always land for me. He’s a great Marvel Comics character in Deadpool, but I don’t know how much I can buy Reynolds as a cute little mouse. However, when assessing the film as a detective story, I find Reynolds’ performance a bit more bearable. Every Murtaugh needs a Riggs, and Reynolds’ Pikachu fits the bill quite nicely in that regard.
One of the things that excites me the most about “Detective Pikachu” is the possibilities it has planted. Again, this franchise kicked itself off with a detective story! It is more than capable of leaping in any number of different directions going forward, and that is a really cool prospect. And that’s on top of the inevitable sequel to this noir caper we are bound to see in the near future.
“Detective Pikachu” holds itself as a fun noir adventure nestled in a world rife with possibilities. It may not be a mind-blowing film, but it is definitely enjoyable. If you have no connection to Pokemon, it may not be for you. But if you’ve ever talked to Professor Oak and agonized over which starter to choose, this movie is going to be something you will definitely not forget.
"Detective Pikachu" is rated PG. It is now playing in theatres.
3 out of 5 stars
Oscar Chavez Castaneda is the Montrose Daily Press’ film critic. Find out more about him on his website, oscarchavezcastaneda.com. He will review a movie new to theaters or a new DVD release every other week.