Superficially, Detective Pikachu is perfect. It’s funny, exciting, heartfelt, and unabashedly faithful to its source material. And that’s it. The movie is exactly what it needs to be and it knows that. Created and popularized in the late 1990s, the Pokemon games and cartoons weren’t known for their depth or profundity. Put a bit too simply, the games encouraged and fostered friendly competitiveness while appealing to a very human need for connection. It is a special property that thrived because it captivated an entire generation. The cartoons, while fun, supplemented the games but didn’t quite nail the charm it so desperately shot for. Surprisingly, Detective Pikachu succeeds without these aspects. Battling and catching Pokemon take a back seat so that the film’s genre-specific elements (the mystery) can shine. Granted, the case at the crux of the story isn’t nearly as compelling as the relationship between Tim and his father. But it is a step above anything the cartoons offered, and that’s something.
The film’s emphasis on togetherness is extremely on-brand. Sure, this isn’t a “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” story, but it encapsulates everything this franchise is better than any of the billion Ash Ketchum-centric animated films. It just conveys it through human relationships rather than friendships between people and Pokemon (although those are emphasized, too). None of those films touch the emotion and rawness on full display here.
From a Lickitung unrolling its massive tongue like a grotesque Fruit Roll-up to a pack of rabid Apoms hungry for destruction, Detective Pikachu features plenty of the critters we’ve caught and traded for years and has a blast integrating them into its world. Some of the CGI translations don’t work; Ludicolos look like shaggy, shrieking Muppets and Mr. Mime resembles a pedophile. So that’s unsettling. But Cubone, Mewtwo, and Pikachu are phenomenally rendered so I guess that reverses the trauma caused by Mr. Mime’s terrifying grin. We’ll see how well I hold up in therapy.
Ryan Reynolds sheds the mask and tights and steps into the recording studio; his quips and one-liners are obviously tailored for children and millennials, but Deadpool’s attitude and blatant disregard for decency are still hilariously present. At times, Reynolds has more fun than we do. That’s not entirely problematic, especially because he seems to thrive when you put a mic in front of him and let him yammer.
As strange and offbeat as it is, Detective Pikachu boasts a reverence it easily could have abandoned. It could have been an enterprise tainted by corporate avarice, but instead it honestly, earnestly wants fans to enjoy themselves. But it sure as shit isn’t going to wait around for you to get behind its premise, either. Classic episodes such as “Bulbasaur’s Mysterious Garden” are spun into propulsive moments that brilliantly mesh fan service with plot progression. Even Pokemon: The First Movie gets a subtle nod here. But as faithful as it is, the film is as much a love letter to Satoshi Tajiri’s creation as it is a foray into bold new territory.
Brimming with energy and alacrity, the film fulfills its promise to engage and entertain its countless fans by spinning its source material in ways no other iteration would dare to do.
Detective Pikachu is the hit nobody expected, the gem that could’ve been opaque but instead shines brightly. It’s worth your time and your money so get your ass off the couch and into a seat surrounded by slushee-slurping strangers. Trust us. It’s worth it.