What They Say:
When ace detective Harry Goodman goes missing, his son, Tim, and Harry’s former Pokemon partner, Detective Pikachu, join forces to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together on an epic adventure through Ryme City, they uncover a shocking plot that could destroy the whole Pokemon universe.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When this film was announced you could easily see the divide coming. Pokemon has been a part of the culture for several decades now and I still remember when it arrived in North America vividly, both in games and in anime. I’ve never been a big fan but I’ve never been a hater either since that’s just not how I live. So when this film was revealed with its cast and we got a taste of how it was going to be set up, I was excited and in. A property like this transitioning to live-action is rare for the most part and I really just expected a Hollywood version to be a big CG piece aimed squarely at kids and nothing else. But what we got instead is something that reaches a bit higher so that it can engage older fans in a good way and do something different and new, at least since most people had never heard of the Detective Pikachu angle. That freed things up nicely.
Directed by Rob Letterman and starring Justice Smith as Tim and Kathryn Newton as Lucy, the smart casting of Ryan Reynolds as Detective Pikachu gave it exactly what it needed – while still bringing in Ikue Otani for the classic and true Pikachu that everyone else hears. The setup is interesting in that man and Pokemon have co-existed since the beginning of history and been involved with each other, though more in the traditional battles, hunts, etc. Here, Ryme City was built by Howard Clifford (Billy Nighy) as a place where they could co-exist without the battles and action, but rather in a normal kind of way. Part of it is because he was hoping to find a way through them to discover a cure for his illness but over the years he and his son Roger (Chris Geere) ended up with a really great city that works lots of different cultures and styles to feel intriguing down every alleyway. Man and Pokemon, working side by side in harmony.
Outside of there, we’re introduced to Tim, a young man working as an insurance adjuster who wants nothing to do with Pokemon, Ryme City, or anything else even as everyone he went to school with has left his little town. The reasoning is solid in that his father left years ago to work in Ryme City after Tim’s mother died, leaving Tim to be raised by his grandmother. Tim’s resentment is easy to see and a layer of anger. But when word comes from Ryme City that this father has died in a car crash, he ends up being drawn there to close out his father’s business and life. That leads to uncomfortable moments with various people, such as Detective Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) who do nothing but praise the man that Tim definitely doesn’t have any love lost over. Of course, nothing is going to go smoothly as it’s only a couple of minutes into exploring his father’s apartment that he ends up being accosted by some Aipom and discovering Detective Pikachu in there – and that he can understand words coming out of his mouth.
Even with all the promos and trailers, it still feels weird after nearly three decades of this property to hear dialogue coming out of Pikachu’s mouth. The series starts with this as the mystery as Pikachu is dealing with some amnesia but he remembers being Tim’s dad’s partner and has decided to find out what really happened with the accident. This is what really launches things forward and it’s a fairly standard mystery set against a much larger backdrop that I’ll leave for Pokemon aficionados to decide if it really makes sense. I thought it fit well in trying to figure out how to get humanity to evolve alongside Pokemon and that it was a good creative choice. But what I really enjoyed in the film was how Tim ended up connecting with an aspiring reporter in Lucy who is stuck doing fluff pieces for the newspaper blog in the city. She’s got the classic can-do attitude and the hunger to break through which early on provides a really great contrast to Tim’s “I just want to go home” routine.
The dynamic between Tim and Lucy is a lot of fun as she gets him into checking things out more and discovering more mysteries afoot. While there are the moments where he’s more interested in her that comes into it, the forward motion of events comes from the discovery and Detective Pikachu’s intent desire to find out the truth. And that means dealing with some very fun Pokemon like Mewtwo, who has a really good arc here overall, to cameos with Jigglypuff and Snorlax and more. I liked seeing the Ryme City bits where man and Pokemon live and work together and I liked seeing the bond people have with their own Pokemon, especially Lucy and her Psyduck. But we also get Bulbasaur’s out in the wild, some really good scenes with several Greninjas, and even some Torterra which was wonderfully presented even if it was the sequence that felt the most out of place within the movie in terms of Pokemon usage. It just took me out of it too much. Thankfully, with some emotive material out of Reynolds as Detective Pikachu and Smith and Newton handling their roles well, the core trio kept it all very grounded.
The release comes with some decent extras overall but it’s squarely aimed at the younger set. From the main menu, you get a Detective Mode option, which is unexplained but is basically a pop-up track with footage, trivia, facts, easter eggs, and so forth that’s good for second viewings. The extras section itself kicks off with a nice two-minute piece from Justice Smith talking about his own journey playing the game as a kid with his sister and the evolution of it for him. An alternate opening gives us a little more look at his character’s work life and the three-minute audio commentary from Mr. Mime is exactly what you’d expect. I did enjoy the Rita Ora music video that’s included and bringing in the Ryan Reynolds piece which was put out prior to the film about how he got into the role just delighted me once again.
There’s also a section on creating the world which comes in at twenty-one minutes across multiple extras and thankfully has a play-all feature. These are fun if light piece about how the film was put together, showing how the creation process went, and more. It’s not a deep look at the technology or anything but it’ll be tantalizing to plenty of younger viewers and just fun to watch as they see how scenes are setup and some of the “how do they really do that?” aspects with what’s real and what’s not.
While I didn’t make it into the theater for this I did pick it up on the cheap on iTunes and it took me a little bit to sit down and watch it as I definitely needed to be in the right mode. What I got was a really delightful film that made me smile a whole lot. It didn’t overstay its welcome, it built up an interesting world that I wanted to see more of – and more Pokemon of as well, and it put together a cast that made it work. The film doesn’t try to dumb down its overall approach even if it’s a little odd in my book and I can easily imagine little kids enjoying this as much as adults. Pokemon has a wide audience to it and this is a property that I can see people skipping for a lot of reasons, but it’s one I think is definitely worth taking a chance on with an open mind because it delivers the fun in a big way.
English 5.1 Language, French 5.1 Language, Spanish 5.1 Language, Detective Mode, Alternate Opening, My Pokémon Adventure, Creating the World of Detective Pikachu Featurettes, Mr. Mime’s Audio Commentary, Ryan Reynolds – Outside the Actor’s Studio, “Carry On” by Rita Ora & Kygo Music Video.
Content Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: WarnerMedia
Release Date: August 6th, 2019
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.