If there’s one video game franchise that captivated my attention the most as a kid, it was certainly the Pokémon franchise. Like so many other kids in the 90s and early 2000s, I was engrossed in the vast world of these unique creatures and what it would be like to have my own Pokémon partner. I often wonder what our world would really be like if we had Pokémon instead of animals, how the world would be different, what types of technological advancements we’d have if pokeball tech could be used on a larger scale, and which Pokémon would be the most useful in this world. How fun would it be if we lived in a world where we could fly on the backs of fire dragons instead of taking airplanes or have our own personal electric mouse battery that can charge anything?
The possibilities of Pokémon and their practical uses seem endless.
This is the strength of “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” and it delivers on this in utterly grand fashion. Rather than focusing on the elaborate fight scenes of the anime and its spin-off movies, “Detective Pikachu” delves into a bustling metropolis where humans and Pokémon live and work together, some Pokémon serving in roles that humans would normally do even more efficiently than we can (like Machamp as a security guard, or Ludicolo as a bartender), while others work alongside their partners. The world building is some of the best in any fantasy since “The Lord of the Rings,” capitalizing on the imagery and imagination of the Pokémon series to great effect.
This is also helped by some stellar CGI on the Pokémon, giving nearly every pocket monster enough realism while also sticking close enough to its original design to play on our nostalgia. This is especially convincing for Pokémon such as Bulbasaur, Squritle, Jigglypuff, and just about any Pokémon the general public would recognize.
This is especially true for the mascot of the franchise, Pikachu, who never stops being adorable, though this is very quickly offset when you hear him talk like Deadpool. Admittedly, Ryan Reynolds brings the same wit and enthusiasm we’ve come to love from him, and it does lead the funniest lines in the movie. It’s just a little off-putting to see such a beloved and cute character making wise-cracks and some borderline adult jokes.
With that being said, this is all “Detective Pikachu” has going for it.
Beyond the world building, impressive CGI and Ryan Reynolds trying to be a kid-friendly Deadpool, “Detective Pikachu” is about as run-of-the-mill as you can get. The mystery and detective work lacks any sort of tension or suspense and seems to be an after-thought, even though the title implies otherwise. The film plays everything as safe as possible and never really takes any chances with its unique premise, instead telling a very generic mystery about a son (Justice Smith) trying to find his missing estranged father with the help of a plucky sidekick (Reynolds).
I wouldn’t mind this as much if the characters were as quirky as Pikachu or were as engrossed in the Pokémon world as the viewer, but Justice Smith plays his role with the same amount of boredom and disinterest as his role in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” Despite living in a world filled with fantastical creatures that want to work with humans and exploring a metropolis that exemplifies that sentiment, Smith couldn’t care less. He often looks lost and confused, like he wants to be somewhere else, which makes so many great moments of realization fall flat.
We’ve seen this type of story so many times in the past, and these characters offer nothing new to that story. It is only because of the world of Pokémon that we put up this generic Hollywood mystery.
For this reason, I find it a little difficult to recommend “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu.” The story is flat and predictable, and the human leads do nothing to make that more interesting. And yet, the world building is superb, making you care more about what’s going on in the background than the leads, just to catch a glimpse of some new practical use for a fan favorite Pokémon, like Squirtle being used by the fire department. It is rather charming at times and does make you forget about the bland story, which certainly makes this passable.
Final Grade: C+