Detective Pikachu (2019)
Directed by Rob Letterman
I thought I was ready for a mature Pokémon movie. I thought 27-year-old me could put aside the wants and hopes of 7-year-old me for 100 minutes and just casually enjoy a talking Pikachu who is voiced by Ryan Reynolds, says PG-13 words, and is addicted to coffee. But as it turns out, my nostalgia wasn’t ready to be piqued by a Pokémon movie that looked and sounded so different from the Pokémon movies I was used to.
Dittoing the plot of the Nintendo 3DS game that released worldwide just last year, “Detective Pikachu” takes place in the supposedly harmonious Ryme City, where humans and Pokémon coexist. Except, Pokémon are still illegally pitted against each other in dark, seedy, abandoned spaces—despite Ash Ketchum’s immortal words, “Pokémon aren’t meant to fight”—and they’re still kept as “partners” (basically service animals, pets who can also help you at work). Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) isn’t interested in having a Pokémon partner, which makes him something of an outsider—but when he’s told that his dad has died in a fiery car crash, he gets one anyway. Tim’s father’s partner, a Pikachu (Reynolds), shows up in Tim’s life “Finding Nemo”-style (by following an address written on some headwear). Together, Tim and the talking Pikachu (who can only be understood by Tim) follow the clues to find out if Tim’s father is actually dead, and who is responsible for the many other weird happenings happening around Ryme City.
Because the plot is picked up from a video game, it has a very limiting feel to it. I guess it’s not terribly unlike many mystery movies—the detectives get a lead, which leads to a new lead, which leads to a new lead, which leads to the big realization that cracks the case wide open, which leads to the climax. But 11 different screenwriters have credits on this movie, many for creating the characters and coming up with the original idea for the video game plot, but a handful just for the screenplay. You know what they say—a Camerupt is a Ponyta designed by a committee. I was also excited about Justice Smith’s involvement—Netflix’s “The Get Down” is wonderful and I enjoyed “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”— but it felt like he didn’t want to be there. Maybe he had trouble starring with a bunch of CGI Pokémon who obviously weren’t actually there in the studio for him to act with.
The idea of “Pokémon noir” was what initially captured my attention, but in the end, it was this very concept that ruined “Detective Pikachu” for me. Now, what was once for me an adorable and innocent fascination (Gameboy games, books, a TV series, and “Pokémon: The First Movie”) is turned into a movie where a Mr. Mime is psychologically tortured, a Jigglypuff serenades an old man in a bar, and a Pikachu says the word “hell.” One would think, twenty years after discovering Pokémon, I would be ready for this moment. But in truth, it only made me crave the more pleasant animated movies of my childhood. Maybe instead of aging the franchise up, Warner Brothers could have instead put the movie’s significant budget behind a really great animated movie. Because despite my love for “Pokémon: The First Movie,” I fully admit that the Pokémon franchise has never had a truly great movie. And after decades of incredible world-building and so, so much potential, that’s a really disappointing thing to realize.