Detective Pikachu is the Pokémon movie fans didn’t know they wanted. If you grew up playing the games, collecting the trading cards, and watching the anime, chances are you always imagined that a live-action Pokémon movie would feature Ash, Misty, Brock, and Team Rocket. This film doesn’t revolve around Pokémon training or battle, however. Actually, it’s based on the lesser known tie-in game where a talking Pikachu solves mysteries. The game itself was already a weird idea and bringing it to the big screen sounded about as appealing as Sonic the Hedgehog with human teeth. In a world where Hollywood’s adaptations of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, and Hitman all fell flat, though, Detective Pikachu is bizarrely the first video game movie to get it right.
Justice Smith goes from singing the Pokémon theme song in Paper Towns to taking center stage in a Pokémon movie. Smith plays Tim Goodman, a young man who gave up his dreams of becoming a Pokémon trainer around the same time he gave up on his estranged father. Tim is no longer able to run from his past upon learning that his father was seemingly killed in a car accident. This tragedy takes Tim to Ryme City where humans and Pokémon coexist in harmony. The plot thickens when Tim encounters a Pikachu wearing a Sherlock Holmes hat who just so happens to have the voice and charisma of Ryan Reynolds. Tim finds that he’s the only one able to understand the Pikachu, who has a hunch that there’s more to his father’s accident that meets the eye. With the assistance of an ambitious journalist named Lucy (Kathryn Newton), Tim and Pikachu set out to catch all the clues.
Reynolds might sound like an odd choice to voice Pikachu. Hell, hearing Pikachu say anything other than his name is rather jarring. Like the film on the whole, however, Reynolds surprisingly works in the role. He brings a genuine passion to his voiceover and facial motion capture performance, giving Pikachu a snarky sensibility that doesn’t feel out of place. While Reynolds may not go full Deadpool, he still scores his fair share of hilarious one-liners that often sound like they were improvised on the spot. Reynolds has a nice chemistry with Smith as well, not only on a comedic level, but an emotional one as well. The film takes its time to flesh out the relationship between Tim and Pikachu, delivering a touching story about the bonds of family, friendship, and of course Pokémon.
The parallels between Detective Pikachu and Who Framed Roger Rabbit are evident, right down to the fact that it’s about an animated character and his live-action partner trying to unravel a conspiracy. Aside from the similar plots, though, both films have a sense of awe that magically merges two mediums together. Director Rob Letterman has brought an entire world to life where Pokémon casually roam the streets. While the Pokémon all maintain their signature cartoony appearances, the textures on their skin, scales, and fur create a layer of realism that allows them to seamlessly blend in with this three-dimensional environment. Like Rocket Raccoon, it’s obvious that they’re CGI, but their designs possess so much personality and detail that you never question their existence.
Ironically, the weakest link in Detective Pikachu is its mystery, which manages to be straight-forward while also being overly complicated. It’s fairly obvious who the villain is, but their motives are nonsensical even by Pokémon standards. While not every twist works, the film still delivers more creativity than one would anticipate. Like Zootopia, this movie is packed to the brim this mesmerizing worldbuilding, wonderful character designs, and engaging performances. Over 25 years after the Super Mario Bros. movie bombed at the box office, Detective Pikachu finally figured out how to make a good video game movie.