Detective Pikachu (2019)

A cyberpunk feel, buddy-cop dynamism, magnificent CGI, fandom service, mystery, & *perfect* Reynolds-Pikachu comedy effectively-introduce (despite woefully-bad Tim & bizarre-choice for opening-film) to the Next Big Cinematic Universe. 7.6/10.

Plot Synopsis: Ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son, Tim, to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth Detective Pikachu. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to work together, as Tim is the only human who can talk with Pikachu, they join forces to unravel the tangled mystery.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Review

A World Like No Other

The Biggest Media Franchise Of All-Time Finally Getting Its Live-Action Cinematic Debut

Pocket Monsters. First introduced to the world back in 1996, the Japanese Game Boy-fueled revolution (sparked) the beginning of what would eventually become the Biggest Media Franchise of All-Time – worth an estimated $90,000,000,000+ and counting (likely to be the first to hit 12-digits and $100B after this film & merchandise make their rounds). The Biology-based fantasy franchise was able to supersize itself by making smart and boundary-pushing investment decisions expanding from its core (legendary) video game series – 2nd in units sold only to Nintendo-family Super Mario – to a childhood-staple anime TV series still running today, manga, mega-merchandising, card games, 7+ game generations, and 18+ animated films. However, what was missing from the canvas – and what I and billions of super-fans have been begging for years for – is a live-action Cinematic Universe akin to Marvel/DC or any number of other franchises giving fans blockbuster entertainment while raking in billions for a happy symbiosis on a canvas only mountains of money can buy. Det. Pikachu is the proverbial rock upon which a new cinematic empire can be built. A cyberpunk feel, buddy cop dynamism, majestic CGI, huge fandom service, and a surprisingly-effective (albeit blockbusterified) mystery make for, despite a miscast human lead and problematic first act, a strong introduction to the Pokémon Cinematic Universe.

The Cyberpunk Feel, Buddy Cop Flair, & Reynolds’ Electrifying Det. Pikachu

The cyberpunk feel, buddy cop flair, & Reynolds’ electrifying Det. Pikachu. We’re taken a bit off the beaten path with subverted expectations of a Kanto mountainous backdrop for this adventure, in opt for a new, yet equally-spectacular city setting: Ryme City. It has a cyberpunk, almost Blade Runner-esque Tokyo-swanky future feel to it that makes for a stunning locational setting large enough in scale to cleverly work in these iconic creatures by the masses (yet alternating it with natural preserves and a classic grassland intro for optimal nostalgia-high). Amongst this dazzling display of pure childhood memory-tripping on the big screen is the one character who we all came to see and delivers a SPECTACULAR, timeless performance perfect in every way: Ryan Reynolds’ Pikachu. Bringing his signature blend of charm, Deadpool-ish comedic delivery, vivacity, and stark irreverency/lighthearted airiness to probably the most iconic creature in fictional history, he does our yellow mouse flawlessly with a legendary turn that singlehandedly elevates the film into entertainment glory. His buddy-cop shenanigans and chemistry-full interplay with Tim make for a classic detective/noir feel that carries the film, paralleling the film’s resplendent visuals and location setting. The voice work and acting is overall pretty good (despite a miscast lead actor as I’ll address later, and *blockbuster standards of course*), but nothing beats Pika-Time lending for breezy, brisk-paced and smooth 1hr50 min runtime you might even wish had gone on an hour more for how good it is across the adventure.

Majestic CGI & Fandom Service

Majestic CGI and fandom service. Obviously the most important thing to get right and a make-or-break in a Pokémon movie: the monsters themselves, the animative wizardry and VFX are absolutely sensational and groundbreaking for video game, and blockbuster, films in general. Mixing textural gradients and testing new out-of-the-box visual approaches in breathing life into childhood icons like Psyduck, Charizard, and Jigglypuff – while also maintaining that indescribable feel and spirit of Pokémon that captured our hearts as kids – the work displayed gives an overwhelming sense that the team responsible packed pure love and equal geek-dom over the concept in every frame.

The Soundtrack & Surprisingly-Effective Mystery Arc/Characterization

The fan service is out-of-this-world, delivering an experience that captured my (and many other Trainer’s) heart working in countless Easter Eggs mega-fans will be to-the-brim about – from callbacks to the first film and S1 anime arc with Mewtwo/Lab to Mr. Mime (MVP in my book with a side-splitting/show-stealing interrogation comedy sequence mid-film) to Snubbell’s staredown to classic sprite balloons to Pika humming the original theme song to back-alley Blastoise vs. Gengar and Pikachu vs. Charizard Pokémon fights to Torterra Kaiju to Greninja Alien-ic throwing stars to the R Serum (possible Team Rocket intro there??). Whether a Pokémon-diehard or casual introductee, I don’t think it’s possible not to gush over how they delivered fans pretty much everything they wanted to see if you’re at all amorous about the concept.

A Pokémon Fan’s Dream; Filled To The Brim With Easter Eggs & Careful Loving Touches

The score and surprisingly-effective mystery arc/characterization. Paralleling its impressive visuals is an equally-strong cinematic score with everything from soaring orchestral themes to a reworked Pokémon theme to pop/EDM by the likes of superstar cameos Diplo, Lil Uzi Vert, Rita Ora, & Kygo to mysterious emotive pads placed at critical strategic points throughout the screenplay. The mystery is fine and pretty decent deliberation too – surprisingly so as I thought would be too watered-down for mass audiences ala a child-friendly version of a hard-boiled detective mystery. While, of course, it’s still no Dick Tracy or film noir and deserves some leeway being a blockbuster and having over 721+ species of Pokémon to try to work in too, it deserves praise for being able to incorporate such a difficult, high-brow genre steeped in film history into the mix – for many the first introduction they will have to the filmic genre and a palatable-mass version such. The film also uses the mystery as a crux for some impressive humanization/character development – the heart-felt character piece and family homage/life-value themes at the film’s center serve as an emotively-stirring addition that adds some airy charm and another dimension for – finally – a good video game movie that actually feels (*gasp*) cinematic.

Flaws: A Miscast (Human) Lead & Tonally-Bizarre First Act

Flaws in Detective Pikachu include a miscast main actor and slow/tonally-bizarre first act. Justice Smith is awful and a way out-of-his-league, inexplicable choice for this *massive* a role as the lead in the first-ever live-action movie of the world’s biggest media franchise. Wildly undeserving of such a star-making place in movie history, you can sense his inexperience like a piranha – with often-wooden delivery of lines most other actors (including his costar Kathryn Newton’s Lucy who outshines him every. scene.) would be able to nail without problem. He’s robotic, monotonous, and way too-awkward going critical-overload 404 Error beyond the characterization’s leeway allotted for an empathy-required lead who is absolutely painful to watch unless he’s juxtaposed against Reynold’s saving-grace Pikachu or Lucy. It’s simply inexplicable why he was chosen, especially with Tim being fine as a character writing-wise and TPC already having a trio of some of the most iconic and beloved characters in childhood fiction history in Ash-Misty-Brock to learn from or use. The first act is slow and mistoned as well, being borderline-boring and overly-dark/bleak wholly dissonant & confusingly mismatched with its core foundational childhood-transportive concept.. until Pikachu shows up and – electrifies – the whole joint from that point out.

Conclusion

The Birth Of The Next Big Cinematic Universe

A Bold, Nostalgic Thrillride & Cyberpunk Mystery Thriller Any Poké-fan Needs To See

Overall, Detective Pikachu is a home-run and serves its purpose in effectively and entertainingly (+ subvertively going a ballsy route not just doing the expected Red/Blue/Yellow film and Gen 1 -> Gen 2 -> Gen 3 -> etc. route) introducing us to the many possibilities for a Pokémon Cinematic Universe. A cyberpunk feel, buddy cop dynamism, majestic CGI, huge fandom service, and surprisingly-effective mystery with good characterization and a perfect Reynolds-Pikachu make for an intensely-watchable jolt of a summer blockbuster. Despite a miscast human lead and slow/mistoned first act until it finds its footing and stabilizes mid-film, Det. Pikachu is an incredible Pocket Monster experience that delivered almost everything mega-fans wanted on the big screen, while leaving infinite possibilities for future stories and franchise expansion as large as the Kaiju-ic Torterra Gardens. We finally got a good video game movie.

Official CLC Score: 7.6/10