The way Detective Pikachu goes about that, however, defies expectations by way of Detective Pikachu, who Tim teams up with to solve the mystery of what happened to his missing father. But this isn’t the cheerfully obedient Pikachu from the anime. It’s a precocious, obsessive-compulsive Pikachu who drives Tim up a wall. Yet what’s annoying for Tim is hilarious for us, and it’s the dynamic between Reynolds and Smith’s characters that wins you over with charm.
But let’s talk about the number one reason you’d buy a ticket to this movie: the Pokémon. The first trip to Ryme City’s metropolis, which is teeming with Pokémon, evokes a level of wonder, excitement, and awe not felt since Harry Potter first journeyed to Hogwarts. Traditionally, Pokémon are housed in Pokeballs where they remain out of sight, but this film lets them out so we can enjoy the thrill of playing “Who’s That Pokémon?” as we try to spot every last one in any given frame.
The various Pokémon are brought into the realm of live-action with impressive authenticity that inspires all manner of reactions. There are little cuties like Jigglypuff and Psyduck, strange wonders like Loudred and Greninja, and the awe-inspiring Charizard and Mewtwo. Then there’s the disturbing creature that is Mr. Mime, which is uncanny enough to vaguely resemble a human while still weird enough to be recognizable as a Pokémon. The movie embraces them all while still emphasizing that they are first and foremost pocket monsters, which might result in a few nightmares.
Most impressive is how the Pokémon feel like a natural part of the world, whether it’s a Treecko lazily sticking to a clerk’s window or a Ludicolo casually working as a barista. This extends to the Pokémon out in the wild, as well. One scene in particular features a pack of Bulbasaurs trotting through the forest as bioluminescent Morelull float overheard, creating a quiet moment of beauty not unlike you’d find in a Miyazaki film. It’s these small touches that make these cartoon creatures truly come alive.
While the Pokémon are the biggest joy of the movie, the storytelling isn’t entirely up to par. The plot proves to be incredibly predictable and easy to follow… until it’s not. But the point at which things get a tad complicated is also when Detective Pikachu kicks into high gear for the big finale. That is, perhaps, by design, as the numerous dazzling stunts provide just enough adrenaline to make you forget about that last twist that didn’t quite make sense. Still, Detective Pikachu makes some bold choices to subvert the expectations of even the most tried and true Pokémon devotee, and they’re largely enjoyable, which helps smooth over these quibbles.
Detective Pikachu plays with the tropes of detective stories and noir films, turning Pikachu into a fuzzy Sherlock Holmes complete with lightning-fast quips and almost nonexistent attention span. Tim is irritated by this yellow critter and questions his own sanity because, as anyone who knows the rules of Pokémon, the little guys aren’t supposed to talk. This creates a fun and fresh dynamic where Tim can get intel from humans while Pikachu communicates with Pokémon, allowing them to combine their talents to get to the bottom of the case… if they can get along first. The way Detective Pikachu shows these two evolving from being at odds to finding common ground helps give the antics a solid emotional core.
Rounding out the cast is Kathryn Newton’s Lucy, an intern at the local news station who assists Tim and Pikachu on the case with the help of her trusty Psyduck. While Newton does what she can with the material, the character of Lucy feels like it’s trying to be too many things at once. Is she a clever subversion of the femme fatale? A high-energy aspiring reporter? Detective Pikachu never quite decides.
The special ingredient that makes Detective Pikachu work is its layered sense of humor. There are plenty of silly gags, but with Reynolds in the lead role, it shouldn’t shock anyone that there are some jokes that tiptoe the line of risque and others that blow right past it. It’s that winking, more adult-oriented fare that keeps both the kids and adults laughing, although for entirely different reasons. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear Pikachu make a joke about cocaine?
Detective Pikachu impresses not only with its ballsy humor but with how it’s not overly precious with the usually family-friendly Pokémon brand. Detective Pikachu is very willing to make fun of itself while also showing a reverence for the source material, which allows for some deep cut references that only the most dedicated of Pokemaniacs would catch.