Detective Pikachu, directed by Rob Letterman, envisions a world where Pokémon and humans live side by side in a peaceful reimagining of the iconic game series, that welcomes you with open arms and invites you to indulge in your nostalgia. It doesn’t disappoint on cuteness, and will certainly entertain those who might be less knowledgeable about the Pokémon lore. Although it doesn’t have a particularly innovative plot, its heart and passion for bringing the world of Pokémon to life will definitely win you over, even if its sleuthing does not.
Though the exposition, unfortunately, feels a little clunky and forced, we are immediately dropped into the world of Pokémon, where we meet our hero, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), an insurance worker who insists he doesn’t need a Pokémon despite his childhood dreams of becoming a trainer. We are also briefly introduced to his best friend Jack (Karan Soni) who encourages him to get a Pokémon partner of his own, but their average day is quickly interrupted by a phone call informing Tim that his estranged father slash detective has disappeared in an accident, and is assumed dead. In order to tie up the loose ends, Tim heads off to Ryme City, a utopia created by billionaire Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) where Pokémon roam in the streets and there is harmony between the creatures and the humans living and working around them.
It is there, in his father’s office, where Tim meets the titular Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), who was his father’s Pokémon partner. The two discover that they are – surprise! – able to communicate in a way previously unheard of, and strike up an unlikely alliance. Pikachu suggests that Tim’s father is not dead after all, and that it’s their job to figure out what happened to him – though, unfortunately, Pikachu seems to have lost all of his memories from before the accident, and doesn’t remember anything of his past. All they know is that his disappearance seems tied to a mysterious drug that puts Pokémon into a violent, feral state.
The ensuing investigation leads them into the darker side of the apparent paradise of Ryme City, where they unwittingly get dragged into an underground Pokémon fighting ring and begin to unravel the origin of the mystery drug. Along the way, they find an ally in a reporter who is also interested in the disappearance of Tim’s dad, Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), who is accompanied by her Psyduck partner. As the group follows the trail of clues, they get into increasingly dire hijinx and meet many cute and not-so-cute Pokémon along the way.
It is established very quickly into the film that the writers were less concerned with the narrative than they were with the novelty of the existence of Pokémon in the real world. The idea of these lovable creatures existing and interacting with the 80’s noir-esque metropolis of Ryme City is not necessarily a bad one, and the varying species provide many charming gags and bits throughout the film – after all, who can resist the adorable hyper-realistic Bulbasaur? Unfortunately, all the charm in the world can’t save the narrative, and the film gets a little lost in its latter half trying to tie all of its strings together while also including as many Pokémon as they can.
Detective Pikachu redeems its less than perfect story with its genuine heart and charm, especially seen in the lead performances of Smith and Reynolds, who make a wonderfully endearing team. Reynolds, though reined in from his Deadpool persona, maintains the wit he is well known for, while also providing a refreshingly earnest performance, and brings soul to the undeniably adorable Pikachu. Newton too, though suffering a little from two-dimensional writing, brings her own affability and charm to the table.
Although it has its missteps along the way, Detective Pikachu is undeniably a good time for Pokémon lovers and novices alike, and commits itself wholly to the world it builds. Its ultimate message of found family and friendship may be cheesy to some, but it is clear that it comes from a very heartfelt place.