This review might be a little shallow. The Pokémon franchise is huge. Starting with the video game Pocket Monsters: Red and Green on the Nintendo Game Boy in 1996, there have been twenty-two games in the main series, easily more than that with spin-off games, mobile games for smartphones, a trading card game, an anime series with just under 1150 episodes, and several movies, including the live action Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Twenty-five years of Pokémon is a lot. Pokémon is the biggest media franchise.
The general idea of games in the Pokémon franchise is to become a Master Trainer, catching, training, and evolving Pokémon to use in fights against other Pokémon trainers. In the anime, Ash Ketchum is on a quest to do just that, starting in the Kanto region before going off into the world with his army of Pokémon, all trapped in Pokéballs except for Pikachu. The pika-style Pokémon doesn’t like being confined, but still travels with Ash and his friends as they confound Team Rocket.
The video game, Detective Pikachu introduces a new character, Tim Goodman, who arrives in a different city, Ryme City, to search for his missing father. The first being he meets in a Pikachu in a deerstalker hat. The Pokémon greets Tim, introducing himself as Detective Pikachu and Tim understands him. However, Tim is the only one who does. Tim also can only understand Pikachu. The first case they tackle, as a training mission for the player, is to track down an Aipom that has stolen a necklace from a little girl. As Tim and Detective Pikachu follow the trail left by the Aipom, they discover that something is amiss among the Pokémon.
While looking for Tim’s father the duo discover the existence of a drug called “R” that was meant to be a miracle drug. However, the creation of R involved genetic material from Mewtwo, not the Mew that was intended. The Mewtwo genetic material causes Pokémon to rampage. The investigation leads to the detective duo tracking down all of Mewtwo’s cells to return, finding the culprit responsible for R, and preventing the release of R from a large machine. Once done, Tim and Pikachu head off to continue to look for Tim’s father.
Naturally, something popular will be adapted as a movie. The live-action Detective Pikachu debuted in 2019, starring Ryan Reynolds as the title character, Justice Smith as Tim Goodman, Kathryn Norman as Lucy Stevens, Bill Nighy as Howard Clifford, Chris Geere as Roger Clifford, and Ikue Otani reprising her role as Pikachu when others need to hear the character. Detective Pikachu is Nintendo’s first live-action film since Super Mario Bros. This time around, Nintendo had, via The Pokémon Company, had more control over the film.
The movie starts similarly to the video game, with Tim travelling to Ryme City. When he was younger, Tim wanted to be a Pokémon trainer, but could never get one of his own. His dreams faded, and he became an insurance adjuster. News of his father’s death, though, hit him hard as he travelled. Tim’s first stop after visiting the police for details, where he finds out his father died after a car crash. He then heads to his father’s office where he finds a vial marked “R” which gets opened. Tim tosses the vial away after inhaling the gas. He continues to explore the office and sees motion. Being careful, Tim arms himself with a stapler and calls out the intruder. The intruder is a Pikachu wearing a deerstalker hat, who tells Tim to drop the stapler. It takes a bit of work to convince Tim that he isn’t hearing things, that Pikachu is talking to him. Pikachu is as amazed as no one has ever understood him before.
Outside, several Aipom are around where the vial lands. The Aipom begin a rampage and head up to the office. They break in, and chase Tim and Pikachu out of the office and up to the roof. The rampage doesn’t last long, but is long enough to force Pikachu and Tim to dive into a garbage chute to escape. However, a discussion afterwards between Tim and Pikachu leads Tim to believe that his father may still be alive, as Pikachu was also in the car crash.
The search for Tim’s father leads to meeting Lucy, an intern at GNN, and her Psyduck. While Lucy’s main duties are the network’s social media and puff pieces like, “Top Ten Cutest Pokémon”, she senses that there is a deeper story happening. She and Tim follow a few leads that point to a lab owned by Clifford Industries. The remains of the lab still have some of the Pokémon being experimented on.
The clues come together and the villain’s plot is revealed. The R gas will be released during Ryme City’s anniversary, fusing Pokémon and their partners together. Only Tim and Pikachu can stop the plot and finally find Tim’s father.
The Pokémon in the game are rendered to appear three dimensional while still resembling their original appearance. The opening credits show the Pokémon as being integral to the setting, with a herd of Bouffalant corralled in a farm and Pidgeot flying over fields. Pikachu is easily identified, as is Psyduck. Having Ikue Otani reprise her role as Pikachu’s voice is a nice touch.
The movie leans heavily on Pokémon lore. The “R” on the vials of R gas is the logo for Team Rocket, though they don’t appear. Mewtwo is specifically mentioned to have been retrieved from the Kanto region, the setting for the early seasons of the anime and for Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back. Pokémon Detective Pikachu is effectively a sequel of sorts to Mewtwo Strikes Back. However, Pokémon Detective Pikachu can stand alone; the movie explains things along the way for the Pokémon rookie.
Adapting mystery and horror works have their own tightrope to walk; the audience is there for the hidden. It is possible to adapt a mystery faithfully; Mystery on the Orient Express is a good example. Brannagh was faithful to Agatha Christie’s novel, but the novel is considered a classic. The Evil Dead remake used the same beats as the original, but threw in new twists to keep the movie fresh. Pokémon Detective Pikachu uses a similar method as Evil Dead; the elements are there, but with twists to keep anyone in the audience off-guard from knowing the ending during the opening credits.
Casting usually makes or breaks a film. The movie’s cast is solid. Ryan Reynolds is believable as Detective Pikachu, portraying the Pokémon as a determined, caffeine-addicted character. Justice Smith holds his own against Reynolds, showing his chops during the questioning of Mr. Mime. The two have chemistry despite Reynolds doing voice work as Pikachu.
Because it is a mystery, Pokémon Detective Pikachu isn’t an accurate adaptation of the video game. However, it does keep the beats from the game. The movie also uses the Pokémon franchise to both fit in and expand the setting. Unlike Super Mario Bros., Pokémon Detective Pikachu made an effort to reflect the original work, and the effort pays off.