Disclosure: I have been playing Pokemon games since their initial release, and my views are definitely skewed by this lifelong experience with the franchise.
Good news! Detective Pikachu is comfortably the best cinematic adaptation of a videogame property to date. Bad news? It isn’t exactly a high bar to clear, and though it may be a good film, there are some noticeable issues that stop it from being great.
Primarily it comes down the script. I will always be grateful for a big release being under two hours in length, but Detective Pikachu fails to deliver a consistently satisfying experience. As the title would suggest, this film is structured more as a mystery thriller, yet the central conspiracy is needlessly convoluted and robs the primary characters of much needed personality and urgency. In the opening act, the human protagonists Tim and Lucy (Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton) get to display facets of their characters that are slowly yet noticeably pushed aside as the plot takes control, relegating them (and numerous other characters) into expository devices.
Supporting characters aren’t as affected by this: In part due to them being played by old hands such as Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe, who carry a level of gravitas with them, but Smith and Newton fail to anchor the film through no fault of their own. By the end of the bombastic final act which in itself is an unnecessary addition, the film feels somewhat hollow, something that I would put down to this lack of investment in the characters.
It’s a great shame as there is so much joy to be found in the film. As expected Ryan Reynolds brings bags of charm to Pikachu, effectively playing the role as a PG (and sometimes not all that PG) version of Deadpool, and the rapport he has with Smith makes for a highly enjoyable double act. Despite my reservations about the overall pacing and plotting, there are excellent individual scenes (notably an interrogation sequence with a Pokemon called Mr Mime that is even better than the truncated version seen in the trailer) and the central idea of Pokemon is stripped back to absolute basics, as analogous to intelligent animals that coexist with humanity. I may not be the best person to confirm this, but I believe this film will be quite welcoming to newcomers.
However, the real stalwart of Detective Pikachu is its production design. What sets it apart from other adaptations is that it doesn’t appear to be embarrassed of its source material; instead a truly admirable amount of care and attention has gone into making Pokemon feel like a believable extension of its world. The primary location of Ryme City is absolutely teeming with life, both human and Pokemon, down to the smallest advertisements and businesses. Animals are wholesale replaced by Pokemon, with a remarkable amount of the frankly ludicrous 800+ monsters being included, and their implementation within the film are often the highlights. If there was any doubt as to whether the film would find a harmonious balance of making Pokemon work in live action, Detective Pikachu knocks it out of the park with flying colours. It’s not enough to overlook the shortcomings though.
Detective Pikachu is out now on general release in the UK