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Film Review: “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” Delivers Few Shocks, but Good Fun

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | May 9th, 2019

Film poster: “Pokémon Detective Pikachu”

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Rob Letterman, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.

I know next to nothing about the world of Pokémon, nor did I do much research before watching Pokémon Detective Pikachu. I vaguely remember, in 2016, the Pokémon GO phenomenon, and have had a number of conversations with my girlfriend’s pre-teen children about various genera within that universe (the details of which I have, sadly, mostly forgotten). A quick search on Encyclopedia Britannica reveals that these adorable supernatural monsters began life in Japan in 1995 as part of a Nintendo game, and exploded from there (arriving in the United States in 1998). Since then, there have been many adaptations in different genres and formats. I gave up on video games in college (pre-1995), and so avoided this entire cosmos. I am not, then, in any way, the targeted demographic for this new film, directed by Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens). And yet, I had a pretty good time. Whether diehard aficionados of Pokémon will feel the same, I do not know.

The very fine Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) plays twentysomething Tim Goodman, brought to the teeming metropolis of Ryme City by the untimely death of his father, RCPD detective Harry Goodman, who was investigating a case that, as we see in the opening, went very bad. Tim is a sweet kid with former dreams of being a Pokémon trainer, who now works a dead-end job. When he gets to Ryme City, however, he finds himself caught up in the same intrigue that killed his dad. Fortunately, he has help in the form of Pikachu (excuse me, DetectivePikachu), a yellow rabbit-like Pokémon, previously bonded to Harry, with the ability to deliver powerful electric shocks (and voiced by Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool). Speaking of such shocks, both Pikachu and Tim are surprised to discover that the latter can understand the former. Normally – as far as I could tell from the rules explained within the film – humans just hear the repetition of the creature’s name when that creature speaks. Not so here, as Tim and Pikachu are able to carry on conversations that, they hope, will help them solve the mystery of who killed Harry.

Justice Smith, Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) and Kathryn Newton in POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU ©Warner Bros.

And what are Pokémon, exactly? They are excessively cute (a joke made often throughout the movie) creatures who, millennia ago, appeared as mostly benevolent familiars, whom humans can catch and adopt into their service. They each have powers unique to their particular subset of the species and can evolve into better versions of themselves (why or how, I am not sure). In Ryme City, founder Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy, Their Finest) has created a place where humans and Pokémon mix and mingle beyond their usual interactions, and so Tim has to navigate many adventures that introduce us to a wide spectrum of the many possible Pokémon characters.

Smith is joined by a likeable helpmate in actress Kathryn Newton (Ben Is Back), as junior reporter Lucy Stevens, convinced there is a hot scoop in following up Harry’s demise. Her Pokémon is a Psyduck, a yellow duck whose head, when he is stressed, erupts in a massive wave of psychic energy that disables all within range. Since this is a high-stakes mission, watch out! It’s all good fun, as long as one doesn’t overthink the plot, which breaks down with excessive analysis. Enjoy it for the silly romp it is, as well as for its marvelous digital effects, and you should pass a diverting 104 minutes at the cineplex.

One very cute Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) in POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU ©Warner Bros.
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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