‘Detective Pikachu’ Exceeds All Expectations! (A Full Review, Minor Spoilers)

Detective Pikachu is a fun and charming popcorn flick that will delight Pokemon fans and engage even those who are unfamiliar with the franchise. Having now seen it twice, I rate it 3.5 out of 4 stars! The film is loosely based on 2016’s Detective Pikachu video game.

The movie follows Tim Goodman, a 21 year old insurance worker who learns his estranged father died in a car accident. To put his father’s affairs in order, Tim visits Ryme City, a place where humans and Pokemon live in harmony. At his father’s apartment, Tim runs into his father’s partner Pokemon, a Pikachu who only he can understand (voiced by Ryan Reynolds, of course). From there the duo joins a news intern named Lucy and her Psyduck. Lucy is suspicious of Harry Goodman’s death and odd occurrences in the city, and the characters soon stubble into a conspiracy.

The film takes the Pokemon concept and presents it through a relatable “real world” story that tries to keep the minutia of the Pokemon world to a minimum. Unlike the TV show, Pokemon battles are not the focus of this film, nor is capturing Pokemon. Pokemon attacks aren’t even mentioned by name until half-way through the film (Pikachu can’t even use them). It is clear from the get-go that the film’s purpose is to “ease” audiences in to the idea of a Pokemon cinematic universe. It makes sense too — video game movies have historically bombed, and the Pokemon world can be overly complicated to the uninitiated. In this way, Legendary’s “conservative” approach allows the Pokemon world to be accessible to all audiences without burdened them with its mechanics. (Once this film introduces mainstream audiences to the Pokemon world, I’m sure we’ll see more traditional Pokemon films in the future.)

The three leads are fun to watch — Tim is sarcastic and irreverent, Lucy is strong and ambitious, and Detective Pikachu is… Detective Pikachu. He isn’t just a quip machine that you want to shut up after a certain point, the filmmakers know when to use him and never push him to the point of annoyance. He also exhibits a full range of emotions, which might not have been apparent from the trailers. At one point he comforts Tim, who’s crying about his failed relationship with his father. Ryan Reynolds is owed a great debt for bringing so much life to the character and the film overall. Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton always nail their scenes too, which is all the more impressive when you consider they were interacting with puppets and thin air. Some of the minor characters don’t always have as great of a “handle” on the Pokemon world, unfortunately. You sometimes get a sense that they don’t really understand the lines coming out of their mouth.

The film has moments you wouldn’t expect from a traditional Pokemon movie, where you go, “I can’t believe they just said / did that.” You’re not watching this movie just to enjoy it as a story, the filmmakers clearly understand we are watching it under the real-world context of “How are you guys going to do a live action Pokemon movie?” Pikachu makes some veiled sex jokes that will fly over the heads of children. We see flashbacks to Tim’s childhood showing his troubled feelings with his father. For this movie it’s clear The Pokemon Company eased up on their franchise’s “cutesy” image, allowing the filmmakers to push Pokemon’s traditional boundaries and go darker for mainstream appeal (although the movie is still very cutesy, of course!).

The film goes out of its way to avoid some of the longterm criticism of the Pokemon franchise, which was likely a choice by The Pokemon Company. You don’t capture a Cubone by beating it to a pulp with your Pokemon, it has to “accept” you LGPE-style. Pokemon attacks are mentioned in passing but are usually referred to as a Pokemon’s “powers.” Pokemon battling is seen in a negative light and is banned in Ryme City. TPC clearly wanted to avoid controversy for their first foray into a live action film. They did the same thing with Mewtwo Strikes Back, trying to explain (a rather conflicting message) that Pokemon shouldn’t fight each other. So in this film they just try to avoid the cockfighting whenever possible. I did like how they tried to promote some of Pokemon’s positive concepts that aren’t always put into words in the TV show, such as that Pokemon can feel what we are feeling even if we can’t understand them.

The story itself is not groundbreaking. You may be able to figure it out within the first 20 to 30 minutes (although there are some plot points you won’t see coming). But I think the plot needs to be “familiar” in order for audiences to absorb this Pokemon world. When you bring a huge franchise like this to the big screen, you have to be cautious and strategic if you want there to be more films in the future. So in my opinion it’s forgivable for this film as long as future Pokemon films show a little more ambition. Pokemon is a rich world full of myths and legends and it will be a shame if they don’t capitalize on that in the future. (They should hire me to write one! :p)

At times the plot can get a touch corny. There’s a long exposition scene toward the beginning of the film that lazily dumps a bunch of concepts about Pokemon, showing what looks like fanart of the Pokemon. This isn’t a “grounded” Christopher Nolan film, of course, and no one should expect that. The ending of the film also gets a bit laughable/silly/cartoony when the villainous plot comes to fruition. Luckily the main actors approach any corny material as seriously as they can, which takes some of that cringe away.

The movie will get emotional for longtime fans. When we see certain scenes, like Mewtwo’s eyes glowing in the dark, you can’t help but feel giddy that we finally have a live action Pokemon film after 20+ years. Like Marvel fans, part of the emotion of this film is the fact it exists. That won’t be something general audiences will feel or understand, as they don’t have that nostalgic connection to the material.

Some of the CG Pokemon get copied and pasted a noticeable number of times throughout the film. There was a part where I said “If I see one more Treecko…” and then it showed up two more times within minutes. I think they needed 20% more Pokemon in the film or should have distributed the models better. It seems they only had 50 to work with. Most of the Pokemon look fantastic, by the way. When I saw the original cut of the film last October, that was the first thing that hit me — “oh, I wasn’t expecting that kind of look, but I like it!”

Sometimes the movie moves a little too fast to process, making some of the internal “rules” a little hard to follow (“wait who can understand Pikachu again?”). The jokes go by so fast that you may miss details, but that’s okay since we’ll all be watching it a hundred times when the home video comes out. The uninitiated may get confused in places, but not to a degree where they can’t follow what’s going on. For example, there’s a small bit where Ditto transforms into a human. In a Pokemon world where anything is possible and every type of “power” is represented, it may get frustrating to the uninitiated that they can’t immediately understand what each Pokemon does or what they should expect from them.

As a fan, I was confused by where this movie is supposed to be taking place canon-wise. For example, the film has references to the anime like it’s part of that canon, but then there’s also real-world Pokemon cards. The film also has posters of Legendary Pokemon and mentions at least one Mythical Pokemon, but most Pokemon stories act like those Pokemon are a secret to most people. Pikachu sings the original Pokemon theme song at one point, but how could he know that song if their story is part of the anime world? So I think we’re just supposed to accept this film under the real-world context that it’s a live action Pokemon film Hollywood is making that is trying to appeal to fans with its references. As in, “don’t examine the internal logic of it.”

Detective Pikachu is a blast from beginning to end. It is impossible not to enjoy this film, not to laugh, and not to be amazed by what Legendary and The Pokemon Company have accomplished here. At the end of the day it’s not yet a serious attempt at bringing a true Pokemon story to the big screen, but that’s okay for now. For what it is, and what it was trying to accomplish, I give it a 3.5 out of 4 stars. However, I expect more ambition going forward. It’ll be difficult to make a story that appeals to both general audiences and fans that simultaneously capitalizes on the mythos of the Pokemon world. But that’s the challenge of making good films, isn’t it?

(Note: I was invited to watch Detective Pikachu last October to give feedback to the filmmakers, and was then invited by Warner Bros. to an advance screening of the film this week. If anyone is interested, I will post some potentially interesting changes between the first cut of the film and the final version once everyone has seen it.)

PokéBeach's news commenting system is completely integrated with our forums! , you can reply to this story's forum thread directly on this page with all of the forum's functionality!

  1. DarthPinkHippo Aspiring Trainer


    I would love to see those changes! Thanks for the write-up!
    Sharkrai, TheAquaPiplup and Number51x like this.
  2. Vom probably forgetting something

    Forum Mod Member

    *is interested in potentially interesting changes*
  3. Zero Umbreon Pyromaniacal sorcerer
    Zero Umbreon


    Just got done watching this. Long story short, it was amazing. Can’t say why because... spoilers. But go watch it. Seriously.
    9/10 Starmies
    Pokenerd likes this.
  4. Zero Umbreon Pyromaniacal sorcerer
    Zero Umbreon


    Also I totally want to know about the changes!
  5. Merovingian Dead Game Enthusiast


    I want to know the changes. Like now.

    Just intersperse the spoilers in the actual news.

    “Here’s the translation for Mew & Mewtwo-GX. And by the way, the sled was called Rosebud.”

    Something like that.
  6. hervul Aspiring Trainer


    I think I speak for everyone in the forum when I say I'm more than interested about the changes!

    BTW, I noticed what you said about the Treecko shots. But I don't see that as an issue, since I wouldn't expect to see one (or group of) same species only once in real world.
    I was more bothered about the "plot convenience" lines, like how Lucy would always tell Tim "go ahead, I'll catch up" in situations where that was plain stupid.

    However, the movie is great. You should all watch it!
  7. crystal_pidgeot Bird Trainer *Vaporeon on PokeGym*


    I wanted to know what the distribution of Pokemon were in the movie. It seems I was right in it being a small selection of mons. Not sure why they wouldn't use more. It's not like money was an issue if good impressions were to be made. From what I saw of the trailers, it seems like Pokemon were thrown in for the sake of having them in the scene.
    If I may ask, how were inserted into the scenes? Were they just there to have a Pokemon in frame or were their inclusions appropriate? Does anything ever feel like "Here's a Pokemon in CGI! Here, look at it!"?
  8. Irelatetosobble Awaken my Eevees! (Poses Dramatically)


    Might see it this weekend. Want to hear about the changes.
  9. Kent Freeze Aspiring Trainer
    Kent Freeze


    Any thoughts on age appropriateness of the movie? Would it be too scary for younger children (mine are 9, 6, and 4)?
  10. The Binder Guy Aspiring Trainer
    The Binder Guy


    Very interesting! I'm glad to see that the film is taking a nuanced approach to introducing Pokemon to a wider audience and that, as he director said a previous Tweet, the film would avoid the dreaded "video game movie" curse! In regards to the film's canon and certain things contradicting its placement with other forms of Pokemon media it should be noted that Pokemon cards HAVE appeared in the early days of the anime (IIRC they were used whenever Team Rocket needed to identify a Pokemon they encounter) but they had to be edited into flashcards for international airings due to laws regarding advertising laws.

    And we still don't have any info about what the second card in the movie promo booster pack is...
  11. Water Pokémon Master I like Pokemon more than you. :D
    Water Pokémon Master

    Webmaster News Head Activities Head Elite Member Advanced Member Member

    They put a lot of thought into which Pokemon should appear where. Joltik on power lines, Flabebe and Comfey in the forests, etc.

    Nah, anyone can watch it!

    That still doesn't explain how Pikachu knew the Pokemon theme song. XD
    The promo pack comes with the exclusive Detective Pikachu promo and one random card from the Detective Pikachu set.
    Kent Freeze and crystal_pidgeot like this.
  12. hervul Aspiring Trainer


    I didn't feel like they were shoving CGI Pokemon up my eyes. It was more like me trying to recognise them on screen. "Oh, there's a Totodile, did you see it?" "What's that moving on the corner?" Just like in the trailer, things are happening and there are people and Pokemon everywhere in the city.
  13. Asrialys Aspiring Trainer


    I think it's a case of The Pokemon Company putting their foot down on what to approve. During the credits, I think there was one listing of Pokemon staff that said something like "CGI Approval." Since the models are based off someone's fanart, I imagine the Pokemon Company not liking certain designs or thinking "this is enough."
  14. Silktree Time Traveler


    I didn't notice several Pokemon that did appear. Any more would have done nothing for me.

    If it isn't just an easter egg, then the anime may be an in-universe show loosely based on Red's journey. It's a nice idea.
  15. Lostlorn Forest Sinnoh is the best region
    Lostlorn Forest


    This was pretty much the only movie this year I cared about seeing. To say the least, I was disappointed. None of the jokes from Pikachu were funny to me, the plot was too simple yet convoluted, the detective work felt sparse and contrived, and only while the credits rolled did it start to look and feel like it took place in the Pokemon world. Pokemon means the world to me, so I didn't walk in looking for flaws, but it just seemed so purposeless. It's reminiscent of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy movies, so if you enjoy those you'll like this. But for humor in movies these days it feels like they've neglected quality in favor of quantity. The CGI and visuals never bothered me, and Pikachu is so darn cute, but the characters and the script felt so flat. I don't regret going because I want to support anything with Pokemon in its name, especially at this huge scale, but I can't really say I had fun.
  16. crystal_pidgeot Bird Trainer *Vaporeon on PokeGym*


    I've heard a lot of people saying this. They said the beginning of the movie was great but started falling apart in the second and third acts. I really think they went in thinking "what if we made Pikachu Deadpool" and went from there. Now part of me wonders how this would have ended up if Danny Devito got the role.
    Lostlorn Forest likes this.
  17. Swampert Full Art #GROOKEYGANG
    Swampert Full Art


    Am I the only one who would give this movie a 4.5 out of 10 stars?
  18. DarthPinkHippo Aspiring Trainer


    This movie for SURE great for kids. I would take my nieces and nephews, personally.
  19. Snowy Lilacs Aspiring Trainer
    Snowy Lilacs


    Just saw the movie tonight. One part I loved was the inclusion of that Detective movie from Home Alone. It was that movie that was playing in Harry's apartment, when Tim first enters.

    Ryan was good, just wish he had a little more emotion to his voice during certain points. Like when Eevee evolved in to Flareon, I think he needed to sound a little more excited....I dunno maybe thats just me?
  20. Snowy Lilacs Aspiring Trainer
    Snowy Lilacs


    Ugh why is everyone so in love with wanting Danny Devito to voice Pikachu. He is too damn creepy!