I know nothing of the worldwide phenomenon known as “Pokémon.” I have no idea who Pikachu is. Truth is, I’ve never cared. The question is: Will I care after watching 104 minutes of Pokémon Detective Pikachu?
Nope. Judging by the audience’s reaction at a promotional screening, Pokémon fans may appreciate the characters and in-jokes, but for someone heretofore oblivious to Pokémon, there’s little here. Director and co-writer Rob Letterman’s film is set in fictional Ryme City, where humans and Pokémons co-exist. Note: They do not co-exist anywhere else in the world besides Ryme City, due to the scientific efforts of media mogul Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) and his son, Roger (Chris Geere).
What are these Pokémons, anyway? They’re like pets, varying in form from cuddly teddy bears to reptilian to something out of Monsters, Inc. Some are cute, some are scary, some are cute and scary. Pikachu (brought to life by the voice stylings of Ryan Reynolds) is definitely on the cute side. He’s not really a detective despite the title’s implication, though he does wear a Sherlock Holmes-inspired deerstalker hat. I guess that makes him a detective. Pikachu is a cross between a cat and rabbit, with a lightning bolt for a tail, which gives him superpowers.
In Ryme City, a human usually finds their soulmate in a Pokémon. Pikachu’s bond is with Tim (Justice Smith, no relation to Will), as Tim is the only person who can understand what Pikachu is saying. Pikachu’s first owner, Tim’s father, disappeared, and now they’re on a quest to find him. This involves grave danger and many visual effects sequences. Aiding in the search is spunky young reporter Lucy (Kathryn Newton). She’s kind of annoying at first, but she grows on you.
The PG rating makes this rather typical kids’ fare. To its credit, though, it’s not too cloying or insufferable. At its heart, it’s an action movie, and at least three standout sequences in the second half are sure to keep even the youngest audience member’s attention. What’s more, Reynolds delivers lots of amusing one-liners, so the humor’s there if you pay attention.
The rest of it, unfortunately, doesn’t offer much. The story lacks real originality. We’ve seen these beats plenty of times. Sure, there’s impressive and laudable work done with the visual effects, but taking characters from a video game screen to a movie screen isn’t particularly noteworthy—or new.
No doubt there’s a built-in market for Pokémon Detective Pikachu, and those fans will elevate the film to impressive totals at the box office. Good for Warner Bros. I, however, am left to wonder what all the fuss is about.