Sometimes you just have to enjoy the ride…
While Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is obviously leaning towards the younger set of audiences there’s an entertaining and insidiously bent sense of humor and style to it that really translates beyond being something just for the age demographic that can be measured in single digits.
The first-ever live-action Pokémon adventure begins when ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim (Justice Smith) to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds): a hilariously wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth who can’t seem to remember a thing. 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.
Full disclosure; I have never played a second of any of these games or have any familiarity with any of the characters in this broad universe…but that being said Pokémon: Detective Pikachu seems to play well enough for fans of the material but on top of that it’s an near masterful ode to a myriad of fantasy movies from the 80’s and plays like a psychedelic trip that may inspire viewings while on some extracurricular party favours for a more adult crowd.
Director Rob Letterman has a solid track record of adapting pop culture properties for the big screen (see Goosebumps) and his writing team which includes Dan Hernandez, Benji Samjit & Derek Connolly all have a solid back ground in not only comedy but action as well as it all comes through in the narrative. It almost feels silly to say, but this is a film that draws inspiration from movies like Blade Runner, Tim Burton’s Batman, The Dark Crystal and Cloak & Dagger to name a few and it straddles a line between kid friendly and inspiringly trippy. It ropes us in as an audience in a truly unexpected way, with a raised eyebrow and a tilted head because we know everything happening around us is really strange…but we just can’t look away either.
Having Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Detective Pikachu was unquestionably inspired as his deadpan delivery of the material is really what makes this gonzo universe that we have to navigate work. Reynolds proves here that he can work in both the PG and the R rated playgrounds. Justice Smith is solid in the lead and the chemistry between these two leads is very solid. Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy & Ken Watanabe round the ensemble reasonably well but the entire thing hinges on the straight man and gonzo comedy between the leads.
When all is said is done, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is about embracing the absurdity of it all. It’s a stylish and entertaining affair and does enough to make the kids delight as we navigate the worlds of the game, but gives older audiences enough inspired weirdness to keep us all engaged.