The Pokémon franchise has been with us ever since the mid-90s, and has gone on to become a staple of people’s childhoods. Kids everyone, at some point, find themselves in possession of Pokémon cards, or have competed in a Pokémon battle at school. Expanding into the world of video games, which continue to churn out new incarnations every year or so, this franchise has never lost its influence on pop culture. Now, for the first time, the beloved creatures are translated into live action in the new film Pokémon: Detective Pikachu.
Within the Pokémon universe, we are placed into the bustling, beautiful world of Ryme City, a place where humans and Pokémon live in harmony. Here, Pokémon are used to help people in their everyday lives without the threat of violence. There are no battles between Pokémon. There is only peace.
In a far off town, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is called to the city when his father Harry, one of the most respected detectives in the city, has been pronounced dead. Though he barely knew him in life, he is devastated to learn of this. He goes to Harry’s apartment where he soon becomes acquainted with an unexpected ally: a pikachu in a detective’s hat. Even stranger, Tim can understand Pikachu’s speech.
Tim is very reluctant to join this strange, caffeine-addicted Pokémon on his investigation. However, when he learns it involves what happened to his father, Tim starts to believe that Harry may still be alive. With the help of an overworked, yet ambitious reporter named Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), they will work together to uncover a plot that threatens to upset the peace between humans and Pokémon.
We all know the kind of track record that video game movies have had in the past: not good. From the very first attempt with Super Mario Bros., to recent endeavors like Warcraft, these kinds of films have never been a critic’s delight, and have very rarely ever been something other than a dumb fun time at the movies. Nevertheless, they somehow continue to be occasional successes at the box office.
And Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is the latest in this decades-old trend. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen the world of Pokémon in something other than anime. The television series is beloved by most 90s kids, and is still airing new episodes to this day. American studios have never taken a stab at the franchise, and there were so many things that could’ve gone wrong with this movie.
But while it is in no way a perfect film, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is without a doubt the best video game movie ever made. True, there are those that are just dumb fun, or so bad that they’re good, but this one is different. This is the first movie based on a video game that is a genuinely good movie. It looks like the filmmakers actually put effort into making this as good as it could possibility be.
One thing that Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, and Rampage had going against it is that, despite the great talent in front of the camera, the performances were sub-par at best. In this movie, the performances are actually pretty good. One of the highlights is Justice Smith, who improves on his talents from his performance in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. His deadpan delivery of his dialogue is always good for a hardy laugh.
The true standout performance is Ryan Reynolds, who adds another great role to his filmography. His initial addition to the cast was weird at first. It made the whole project seem like a joke from an episode of The Simpsons. However, his portrayal of Pikachu is both hilarious and adorable. He had the best lines of humor in the film, and his delivery is always on point.
The production values and visual effects are also a highlight of the film. Having seen Pokémon in nothing but anime for years, seeing them in a different platform felt very refreshing. The world of Ryme City is beautifully thought out and looks quite expansive. As you watch the film, you feel like you’re living in the world; something you should feel when watching a fantasy film. The Pokémon also fully fit into the world. Their presence never takes you out of the moment. They feel like they truly belong there.
However, this movie gets bonus points for doing two things modern blockbusters don’t do these days. The first is that the movie truly stands on its own. While Warner Bros. is planning to develop this into a full franchise, they could end it if they wanted to. This movie has a beginning, middle, and end, and doesn’t spend its runtime blatantly setting up sequels. It’s its own story with its own personality.
The second is the screenplay, which doesn’t feel the need to explain everything. In 2019 alone, there have been around 6 movies that don’t leave anything to the imagination, spoiling all its twists and having no shocking moments (this includes Captain Marvel and Hellboy). Detective Pikachu, on the other hand, doesn’t waist its time on exposition. It allows the audience to put things together for themselves, and that makes the plot twists even more shocking.
For the first time in the history of video game movies, we got one that proves they can be not just fun movies, but good movies. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu has great performances, a beautifully conceived world, great effects, and is overall so much fun; while earning bonus points for not acting like a franchise starter and not boring the audience with over-bloated exposition. Everything about this movie felt like a breath of fresh air, and it’s a franchise that feels more than welcome. Just as long as they continue to put this kind of effort into its many planned sequels and spin-offs.