Pokemon Detective Pikachu Review (Film, 2019)
Pokemon Detective Pikachu poses an interesting challenge when it comes to a review. The film is incredibly well produced, but the actual bones of the film are not good. Even for a children’s film, the plot is pure nonsense. I enjoyed the film for what it was while also realizing the…creative limitations of the film.
I am part of the perfect nostalgic audience for a film like Pokemon Detective Pikachu. I was just the right age to get caught in the initial Pokemon revolution with the original US release of the Game Boy game. The cartoon played before and after school and I, too, decided I had to catch’em all. I’ve played all the traditional Pokemon games and some of the side games like Pokemon Snap, Pokken Tournament, and even Pokemon Pinball. I know these characters. I love these characters.
As a love letter to the Pokemon fans, Pokemon Detective Pikachu works. We have never seen these characters realized onscreen with such high quality graphics before. There’s always been that clearly animated disconnect even as The Pokemon Company dipped their toes into more advanced computer animation techniques. This film lets you really see what it would be like to interact with these creatures in the real world in a way that makes sense. There’s even an underground battle sequence that lets you experience the core gameplay in a film that intentionally steps away from that angle.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu takes place in Ryme City. This is the only major city that has banned Pokemon battles. Instead, people take on Pokemon partners who help them in their day to day lives. Ryme City is built for people and Pokemon to live in harmony. This conceit is probably the most successful part of the plot. The world is loaded with Pokemon from all different generations of the game interacting in peaceful ways that make sense to their own backstories.
The plot itself concerns Tim Goodman, a former Pokemon trainer who has to visit Ryme City after learning his father, a detective, died in a car crash. Tim discovers the titular Detective Pikachu while sorting through his father’s belongings. This Pikachu was his father’s partner on the force and has somehow gained the ability to speak directly to Tim. Together, they try to solve the mystery of his father’s death and discover the source of a strange chemical compound that can drive Pokemon temporarily feral.
The chemical nonsense is why Pokemon Detective Pikachu doesn’t work. It allows for some really well made action sequences that amount to a whole lot of nothing. The explanation for the chemical is nonsense even for a world where people can capture giant beasts in small balls and transfer them through computers. The look is good, but the how and why of the storytelling is bad. Every twist in the story makes it a worse film.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu is a film. It exists. The technical qualities of the production are wonderful. The story is bad. The acting is solid for a children’s film and the sound mixing is clear and polished. There are far worse family friendly films, and fans of Pokemon will find something to enjoy here.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu is currently playing in theaters.