Detective Pikachu Review

Is it any surprise, given my handle on this site, that I, along with my partner, made it mandatory for us to see Detective Pikachu in theaters?

Detective Pikachu, brought to us by Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures, was received with optimism before its theater release by Pokémon fans across the internet, and similarly, I wanted to believe that this movie would break the mold of how various video game films have performed in theaters so far.

… And, okay, I also had to see it because of Pokémon. Yeah, I wore black and yellow Pikachu colors to the movie, don’t f*****g judge me.

I may have had a lot of hopes riding on this movie, and you know what they say – high expectations, low serenity. However, I am pleased to say that this movie lived up to the majority of its expectations in my book. Detective Pikachu juggles a lot of balls at once and manages to not drop a single one of them. I will say that it is not an excellent movie by any means. But it is, for sure, quite competent at everything it tries to do, and it still results in an enjoyable experience.

To be fair, if this movie had had fewer aspects to deal with, and had the same level of success, it would seem much more mediocre. But because it does so many things at a level of just-well-enough, it comes across as punching above its weight class. When you’re juggling only two or three balls, it’s boring unless you do some fancy tricks; conversely, it’s hard to do tricks if you’re juggling ten balls, but it’s still a spectacle.

Admittedly there will be a lot more excitement and fun for those who walked into the theater as Pokémon fans already, but even if you’re not, there is still plenty of excitement to be had. I will say that I have a lot of respect for this movie and the team that made it, because while they could have coasted on the nostalgia bait and made baseline money off of this, and they actively chose not to – to instead put some actual effort in, and achieve competency at minimum in every facet. I do feel that this is something that few studios do these days, and I want to give them a shout out for this.

The animation is top notch, 10 out of 10 here. This is a ball that, given the presence of non-real animals trying to be portrayed realistically, could not afford to be dropped, not even a little. The studio knew this and took the task seriously. The CGI is polished and smooth, even a bit believable (which is more than can be said for the Sonic trailer, oof). Ditto’s transformations are especially seamless. The incredible soaring landscapes of Ryme City are nothing to sneeze at either. Watch for the scene with the Morelull, it’s gorgeous!

Spoiler

Someone did spoil me that they use a large library of the same Pokémon models over and over again, and while I did notice and agree with this assessment, they a) did make a large pool to choose from, b) judiciously placed when certain Pokémon were on screen so no two species appeared too close to each other, timing wise. So I honestly would’ve hardly noticed the problem, if I hadn’t been forewarned. I can forgive them, though, for budget reasons – they did so well with what they had, and clever editing took care of the rest. Hopefully, the rumored already-in-development sequel will be given a larger budget to have greater species diversity on screen.

While at times it was a bit disjointed, the comedy is good overall. For the jokes themselves, only one quip from Pikachu fell flat, but most of them were great, and many even qualified for the bar that Disney sets of jokes that will fly over the younger crowd’s heads but will not be missed by the adults – and are even subtly raunchy at times.

The action and battles are well done. This does tie in with the animation a lot, but the choreography of different Pokémon moves is on point, and we were cheering in our seats at some of the more heart-pounding special effects moments. Mewtwo, in particular, is a sight to behold, appropriately grand for the legendary Pokémon. The humans’ action scenes are quite exciting as well.

The plot was cohesive and intriguing for the most part. My partner and I are mystery buffs, and while we predicted most of the twists of the movie between us, there was one at the end that I didn’t predict until the reveal. Big props for that. Aside from the mystery bit, the rest of the plot, story, characterization, and flow, like most other aspects of this movie, isn’t fantastic or ground-breaking, yet still works. There’s also some mild but good lessons about family. I do like how from the beginning, the story assumes you understand a few basics about the Pokémon universe – what Pokéballs are and how they work, that Pokémon are elemental-powered monsters in all sizes and shapes, etc. – and doesn’t spend any time bashing viewers over the head with any cheesy introductions.

As for the acting, Ryan Reynolds, who many of us had long been excited for given the justice he gave to the character of Wade Wilson in Deadpool, is excellent in his voice role – it’s very believable and you forget that it’s Reynolds speaking when Pikachu opens his mouth. Mewtwo’s voice actors (plural! as they used a male and female actor alongside each other for that “ethereal” effect) are excellent as well.

Next to the exaggerated emoting of the CGI creatures, however, the human actors tend to look a bit flat – although, for the higher-emotion moments, when it really counts it does get better, so it’s good enough. Justice Smith does well as the main human character, but my human pick would be Kathryn Newton – she fits right in as rash and impulsive reporter-wannabe Lucy Stevens. Also, watch for celebrity appearances from Rita Ora and DJ Diplo!

But the real secret to why this movie was so good to begin with, is that the studio did not mess too much with the source material. The thing that made us so excited about this movie in the first place, a few months back, was hearing that the production team was communicating with various artists over the internet who had done realistic art of different Pokémon, and trying to learn from them and reference their work. One of these artists, RJ Palmer, was hired by the studio to assist with production design. This, to us, was already a sign that the studio, unlike so many other live-action videogame or anime movies, was going to respect its source material and fan expectations. We felt this would hopefully make for a better film, and it did.

We were not disappointed; my partner felt that it was “the best video game movie ever.” For once, we were not betrayed by Hollywood trying to make a quick buck. Scott Mendelson of Forbes put it better than I ever could:

“Detective Pikachu works because it's a good movie first and a promising franchise-starter or a brand cash-in second.”

Of course, he would be the exception in terms of critics liking this movie – as usual, this scored far better with audiences than with most critics – and as usual, this is an unfortunately common phenomenon with adapted properties and popcorn flicks.

To those of us who are long-time fans of the Pokémon franchise, who may have been afraid of this movie being along the lines of Dragonball Evolution and Super Mario Bros., this is a total breath of fresh air. It may not be a landmark by any means, but it is still thoroughly entertaining. Mendelson is right in that it put the lamentable cash-grabbing behavior common in media these days second to making a fun story, and to us two Pokéfans, it has paid off.

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Indigo Altaria
Indigo Altaria has been a devotee of Pokemon since Gen 1, whatever gave it away? Within the greater realm of geek culture, her interests include languages, cultures, worldbuilding, and intersectionality.
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