Video game movies are a tough sell, but taking a cartoon and making it into an uber-realistic movie is an even tougher sell. Put the two together and you have something like Sonic the Hedgehog’s creepily human face staring down at you in the cinema. Nobody needs that nightmare fuel in their life.
That doesn’t mean that this style can’t be done well; the Detective Pikachu movie takes the Sonic problem and rock-smashes it out of the park. It’s a brilliant film with a surprisingly high level of attention to detail. Whether you’re fan of the franchise or you just want to see something fun and different, Detective Pikachu has a lot to offer.
First things first — and this is important — you do not need to be a Pokémaniac to enjoy this film, even if it managed to turn Bill Nighy into a Pokéfan. I am an unashamed Pokémaniac myself, having played all the major games, watched the anime and with Pokémon Go running on two phones at the same time. While there is a lot here for people like me (the movie is packed to the rafters with easter eggs and there are more Pokémon species on display than I had hoped for), you don’t need to be able to name them all to enjoy what’s on offer.
It is worth pointing out, however, that the movie does expect you to know what Pokémon are. Unlike most of the older movies in this franchise, Detective Pikachu doesn’t start with the same exposition explaining that we share the world with these pocket monsters. Their ubiquity throughout the world makes that pretty apparent and you’re just expected to go along with it. This isn’t a big ask and, if anything, it’s to the movie’s credit. If you cast your mind back to the 2017 movie Spider-Man Homecoming, it was utterly refreshing not hear about Uncle Ben and see a Spider-Man origin story that’s been done to, well, death. It’s the same thing here; we know what Pokémon are and we don’t need to spend 20 minutes considering the ethical quandaries that Pokéballs throw up. You’re here, Pokémon are here, just go along with it.
So, now that we have the background sorted, what does Detective Pikachu offer? There are two things, primarily: a genuinely engaging story and a glimpse of what life with Pokémon would really be like.
The plot is pretty simple. Tim and Detective Pikachu, a talking Pikachu in a detective hat, team up to solve a mystery. Tim is the only one who can understand Pikachu, which is practically unheard of in the universe (so long as you ignore Meowth from the anime). When Tim hears Pikachu speak, he hears the dulcet tones of Ryan Reynolds. When everyone else hears him, they hear the delightful “Pika” of Ikue Otani, the original voice of Pikachu that we all know and love from the anime.
The movie has a couple of darker points — it’s the only Pokémon movie with a PG rating rather than a U — but Reynolds’s delivery is simply amazing. He’s basically himself as a Pikachu, which is to say that he’s charming, funny, and saying stuff that makes you wonder how The Pokémon Company approved the script. This delivery not only keeps the audience smiling, but it keeps the balance between dramtic tension and comic relief spot on throughout the film. I don’t think that this movie would be what it is without this casting. There was a petition to get Danny DeVito to voice everyone’s favourite electric mouse when the movie was first announced, but simply would not have been the same. Ryan Reynolds fills Pikachu’s proverbial little shoes perfectly.
The second major offering here is that the Pokémon are as realistic as they come. The concept artist, RJ Palmer, is known for his realistic depictions of Pokémon from long before the movie was in production. The Pokémon in this movie are brought to life in a way that is simply perfect. Unlike the nightmare that is the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, the Pokémon here look and act like what you would expect in real life.
Charizard is scaly, Pikachu is furry, neither looking like they’re made of vinyl as the anime would have you believe. Psyduck is as clueless as you’d expect, and the Pokémon doing karaoke at the bar is, of course, a Jigglypuff. A Machamp directs traffic as the Loudred pump out bass at the club. They all look, act and sound genuine. The rendering is astounding too; the eyes on the Bulbasaur may be the pièce de résistance, but it could also be the saliva from the Lickitung or the glowing lights of the Morelull as they float through the forest. The point is that the world looks real, it feels genuine to the universe and it makes you wish you were part of it like no film ever has.
The crux of this now is whether or not it is worth seeing, and if it is, is it worth seeing in the cinema? I would say yes to both of those for these reasons:
- If you are a die-hard Pokémaniac like me, you’re in for a chance to see the world you grew up with mirroring the world around you in such a beautiful fashion that your inner child will Camerupt up out of your seat. The music hits you right in the memories, the plot hits you right in the feels and the main character has Pokémon cards. Yes, the Pokémon cards you and I collected as a kid are now canon in the Pokémon universe.
- If you are simply a Poké Fan, or even just curious about what all the hubbub is about, you have a chance to go and see a delightful movie that suspends your disbelief and gives you a hearty laugh. You won’t recognise all of the Pokémon, but that’s ok — nobody is asking you to tell your Dialga from your Palkia — they’re there for the eagle-eyed fans, but they’re not essential to the movie.