Detective Pikachu: Pokemon fan fodder, but if you don’t know your Dragonite from your Charizard, you may feel left out

7th May 2019

Pokémon has transcended generations in popular culture, spanning card games, video games, TV shows, animated films and now a live-action film; just like all the iterations before it, Detective Pikachu capitalises on the cuteness of its mascot and the escapist nature of the world. By being based on the spin-off game of the same name, the film focuses on the specific story of Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) who must solve the mystery surrounding his fathers’ disappearance. With the help of a Pikachu only he can understand (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). The film is filled with action and comedy, but the plot is not as clever as it wants to be, aiming itself at the older generation yet has a childish level of complexity.

Set in Ryme City where humans and Pokémon live side-by-side, eschewing the need for Pokéballs and battles, it is set up as a utopia until Tim’s father Harry, uncovers a conspiracy within the city. Filmed on location in London, it can be distracting when shots of the Gherkin or Shoreditch permeate the scenery.

The relationship between Tim and Harry is estranged at best. Tim visits the city when he finds out his father is missing, bringing up bad memories forcing him to confront his reasons for leaving. The poor relationship with his father is then reflected in his relationship with Pikachu, unwilling to form a bond with him even without a language barrier.

Cuteness overload….. Detective Pikachu.

Ryan Reynolds performance as the titular character carries this film, it’s now impossible to imagine anyone more suited to voice such an endearing and funny character. As Tim is the only one to understand him, it allows for a lot of sarcastic commentary of the events around them. Satirising and championing the universe it is in. Fans who grew up with Pokémon are definitely the target audience here; newer generations of the creatures are around the screen but they are not front and centre. 

Tim and Pikachu set out to find the source of a new drug that is manipulating Pokémon into being more aggressive, hoping it will lead them to Harry. As the film progresses it is not hard for anyone to guess who the villain is and where the plot is going; predictability is the film's short bar a few unexpected twists – to quote Pikachu “It’s very twisty”. 

Detective Pikachu is surprisingly short, which ultimately ends up speeding up the narrative, removing the impact of the smaller more intimate moments which should have tugged at heartstrings. Furthermore audiences coming into theatres may have had their experience tinged beforehand, ruined slightly by its spoilerific trailer. But on a more positive note, audiences will appreciate the abundance of characters they have grown to love from the game as well as a multitude of in-jokes to keep them happy. In a bid to avoid the video-game movie curse Detective Pikachu tells a concise story that will please fans at the risk of doing just enough without overplaying its hand. Fans who have loved and grown up with Pokemon will love this film, faults and all, but if you don’t know your Dragonite from your Charizard you may feel a tad left out.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is theatrically released on the 10th May 2019.


Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam.

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