Last night, I got to go see the new Detective Pikachu movie with some friends. This is the first movie I’ve seen opening weekend sine Guardian of the Galaxy 2, which is quite the feat for me if I’m to be honest. Going into this film, I had the vaguest idea of what the story was going to be about, so my expectations were rather low, and my mind was open. What I did expect was that this would be a kid-friendly film, and would provide its fair share of fan service for Pokemon lovers of all ages.
While it certainly has those elements, it’s far from a perfect film, but if you look past some inconsistencies with the plot, it’s still a pretty cute live-action Pokemon movie.
So, with that being said, let’s get into the in-depth review!
*Please note: there WILL BE SPOILERS!
What Didn’t Work
Before going further, there are some key things I want to establish for the sake of transparency and clarity:
- I have’t played the Detective Pikachu game, so I’m not familiar with the story, and thus some things I may criticize may be explained in the game and simply missing from the movie.
- If you haven’t seen the film or just need a refresher, take a look at its Wikipedia page for a brief synopsis of the film’s events. There’s a lot going on.
- I realize this is a kids movie, so I could be nit-picky about some stuff, but kids movies still deserve good stories.
I’m going to go over some of the things that didn’t work (for me, at least), and finish with some of the positives of the film so it’s an even-keeled review.
Inconsistent Plot Points
My initial starting point I’ll mention is that there were quite a few issues with certain plot points which were confusing or weren’t fully explained.
The first one that stuck out to me is why Tim (our main character, played by Justice Smith), Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), Lucy (Kathryn Newton), and Psyduck break into the secret, remote research facility with no regard for security cameras or other set-up precautionary measures. Obviously, it’s so they will be caught on camera and lead the evil Rodger Clifford (Chris Geere) to discovering them in the facility and subsequently release mutated Pokemon upon them. If our heroes maybe tripped an unseen security system to alert to their presence, that would’ve made more sense for their discovery, but them to fully march in without checking their surroundings for security cameras seems a bit sloppy.
The next one occurs a scene or so later, where our heroes are trying to survive an earthquake caused by gigantic Torterras. Pikachu is severely injured during this, which leads Tim to discover the hidden Mewtwo. I understand that this is supposed to illustrate that the research facility’s efforts to rewrite Pokemon evolution is successful, but they’ve already shown that with the creation of Mewtwo, and we get a glimpse of that as our heroes are exploring the facility earlier. We go from one chase sequence to essentially another one, and the latter seems a little unnecessary. Pikachu could’ve gotten injured while they were trying to escape the facility and the events of the rest of the film could played out similarly. Maybe this was a scene taken from the game and it has some significance there, but it was a bit shaky in this context.
The final major plot issue I have didn’t occur to me until today, but if Clifford Howard (Bill Nighy) establishes during his villain explanation that Pokemon and humans can fuse after the Pokemon has been worked up into a frenzy from the R Gas, then how come that didn’t happen during the underground Pokemon battle earlier on in the film when tons of gas was released into the crowd? Did Mewtwo have to be a catalyst to the transformation? And if so, was that mentioned at all?
The Main Character’s Backstory
I like the main character, and I like the actor who portrays him. I think he did an excellent job and had a nice balance between being grief-stricken, haunted by his past, and lonely. But I wish the film had given us a chance to get a little more acquainted with him and, specifically, his abandoned ambition to becoming a Pokemon trainer.
We see it very briefly in the underground battle scene, and the smallest glimpse when he’s pleading with a wild Bulbasaur to help out the injured Pikachu, but we don’t get much else. I wish his past skill and dream of becoming a trainer played more in the story, or his Pokemon knowledge could come in handy more often, like instances where he interprets what Mr. Mime is saying during the interrogation scene.
Again, maybe this is something that’s much more evident in the game and was cut out for the movie, but Tim is such a likable character–and since Pokemon training is something fans are very well acquainted with–it would’ve been a nice touch to show his chops more in this area.
The Villain’s Thin Plan
This point I’ll make brief so we can move on t the positive elements. I love Bill Nighy; he is a phenomenal actor, and the films he is in utilize his style well. This movie did not, and he was a rather hollow red herring villain. As soon as Bill Nighy (who plays philanthropist Clifford Howard) pops up, I knew he was going to be the antagonist. And his plan to turn humans into Pokemon doesn’t have much backing. I get why he chooses Mewtwo to be a vessel, but they never establish the rationale as to why he thinks humanity would be better if fused with Pokemon. If this were established then the motivaton would be clearer, rather than him doing a villainous act because the story needs a villain.
Again, maybe this is all explained better in the game, and I would love to know if these elements are from those who have played. But, like I stated at the beginning, just because this is a kids movie about Pokemon doesn’t mean that the story should suffer at that expense.
What I Loved About the Movie
Overall, I do have to give the movie credit as being a fun, live-action romp through the world of Pokemon, and there is quite a bit that worked for me as I watched this film.
For a live-action Pokemon game adaptation, the world-building in Detective Pikachu SLAPS. The fact that Pokemon training, cohabitation, wild Pokemon, and elements/accessories from the Pokemon universe are integrated into the story make this world very believable and natural. I love opening shots like wild Pidgies and other Pokemon free-roaming, and establishing shots of Ryme City, as they bring to life the notion that Pokemon are real and there are many individuals who work with and around them.
A Diverse Cast
I LOVE it when a movie has a diverse cast and it’s incorporated seamlessly into the film. Detective Pikachu is that movie, where we see many individuals with varying racial and ethnic backgrounds co-existing peacefully in this world, and the main character is a person-of-color. Very well done, Detective Pikachu!
Decent “Real Life” Portrayals of Pokemon
Most CGI still obviously looks like CGI, and while that’s the case with the Pokemon in Detective Pikachu, I can look past that because of how well-executed the designs of each Pokemon are. Obviously, Pikachu is adorable, but I loved how the Charizard looks like a scaly lizard, and how they designed the bulbs on the backs of the Bulbasaurs. Fur looked plush, scales looked scaly, and flesh–regrettably–looked fleshy.
Okay, this one is more of a personal positive as I love Ken Watanabe, who plays Lt. Yoshida. Though I also think he was under-utilized just as much as Bill Nighy (both as a character and actor), I was delighted to see him in a new movie. If you want examples of his great work, I highly recommend Memoirs of a Geisha , The Last Samurai, and Inception.
As I said in the beginning, the movie has its faults, but I still had a lot of fun watching it. I love the movie-going experience, and I was hanging out with friends, and that’s really all that matters. My friends who still love Pokemon seemed to really enjoy the film, and though there are some plot issues, it’s a very watchable movie. Did I feel like someone’s mom watching this? Yeah at times, especially since I only really know the original 151 Pokemon, but I still had a good time.
Does Nerdily recommend Detective Pikachu?
Absolutely! Especially if you’re a fan of the franchise, know someone who is, or want an excuse to see Ryan Reynolds. It’s cute and a great excuse to get out.
Did you see Detective Pikachu? Is it faithful to the game? Will you be seeing it this weekend? Let me know in the comments below!
Life was meant to be lived nerdily, so what are you waiting for?