Video game movies. Three words that when said together can incite fear into the hearts of even the steeliest of people. The announcement of Detective Pikachu was no different for me, a live action Pokémon film based on an averagely received spin-off game just screamed Hollywood cynicism. The hiring of Ryan Reynolds to voice the iconic electric mouse felt super weird and random. This was going to be another video game movie to add to the garbage pile.

Then the first trailer came out and suddenly the film started to look pretty good. It was funny and cute, even if it took a while to get used to certain CGI versions of some of our favourite (and least favourite) Pokémon. By the time the film was released I was a hundred percent excited for it and I am happy to say that I did not leave the theatre disappointed. Detective Pikachu is a humorous, adorable film that should fill your heart with warmth as long as you have some familiarity with Pokémon.

The film centres around Tim, a former Pokémon fanatic now working in insurance after giving up on his dreams of becoming a Pokémon trainer after his mother died. His father, Harry, was a police officer in Ryme City – where people and Pokémon co-exist side by side. Harry dies in a mysterious accident and Tim goes to Ryme City to pick up his father’s belongings when he bumps into his father’s partner Pokémon, our titular Detective Pikachu. This leads to an adventure where Tim, initially reluctantly, works with Pikachu to find the truth to his father’s death.

The story is not shy at portraying death and the effects of it – Tim gives up his dreams after his mother died and even though he had not talked to his dad for years his death is clearly having an effect on him. However, the film is very good at balancing these dramatic and sad moments with funny and/or adorable moments. I won’t talk about the context of the scene, the Bulbasaurs in this film are so cute it single handed made me want to play the original games and pick them as my starter which I have literally never done.

It is a nice looking film too with most of the game taking place in a pastiche of an urban city, full of tall buildings, neon signs and everywhere is full of life of both human and Pokémon varieties. One of my main concerns going into the film was that it would be taking a dark and gritty approach to things to appeal to “tha kidz” and while it does not shy away from dark moments and themes, it very much retains the essence of what makes Pokémon work. The CGI for the Pokémon is great for the most part once you get over the fact you are seeing them in a realistic nature. Seeing Pokémon with fur takes some getting used to. They really did a great job in making sure that Pikachu’s inherent cuteness comes across in this film – yeah it may be Ryan Reynolds’ wisecracking his way through Pikachu but it works really well, the facial animations and just his general mannerisms. Detective Pikachu should be a merchandiser’s dream.

Detective Pikachu is clearly made with a lot of love to the source material and this is super evident in how the Pokémon are integrated into the movie. Some Pokémon have practical uses such as Loudred being used as speakers in the club or Ludicolo working at the coffee shop. You see a Jigglypuff get angry after accidentally singing someone to sleep, the police all have their partner Pokémon and the film makers here did a fantastic job at making the city feel like something that could exist in our world while still making it feel at home in a Pokémon world.

Tim and Pikachu’s investigation leads to them discovering scientists making a gas that causes Pokémon to go crazy. They are joined on their adventure by aspiring journalist Lucy and her Psyduck. Psyduck is great, their great in the anime and their great in the games so seeing Psyduck get some time to shine on a big screen was wonderful to see.

I will say, the plot goes to places I was not expecting though and they do some interesting things with the villains which I won’t talk about lest I spoil it. The plot is nothing mind-bending or super unexpected but it took me a little while to figure out “oh, wait, maybe this is where they are going with this”.

The acting is great, Justice Smith was really good in what had to have been a difficult acting experience working alongside a CGI mouse. Tim’s journey is perfectly symbolised through his relationship with Pikachu, he is reluctant at first but grows to truly care about Pikachu and it is honestly a really nice bond. It feels natural which is a really impressive feat considering one half of that friendship is an electric mouse.  Other cast members include Bill Nighy who is always a welcome addition to any cast and he seemed to have a little bit of fun with the role. However the star of the show is Ryan Reynolds who was a one-man marketing machine in the lead-up to the release and it shows that he really cared about the film. It does take a little while to get used to Ryan Reynolds’ brand of humour coming out of the mouth of a cute yellow electric mouse but it does work and by the end of the film it even makes sense. I hope that if there is plans for a sequel they can bring Reynolds back in because he did add a lot to the film.

Some of the set pieces was great too, Tim and Pikachu escaping from the crazed Aipons was a fun scene and then there is a scene later on with some shifting landscapes that is really cool too. This probably won’t satisfy someone looking for straight action, it is a family friendly mystery film with action and a little bit of adventure thrown in. I feel like it does miss the adventure aspect of the games and the series but that is what sequels are for. Detective Pikachu is a good film but it feels like there is a lot of potential in this franchise and it was about making a good, albeit a little safe, first movie.

Detective Pikachu is a really fun film for people who love Pokémon, though I do wonder how someone who has no real attachment to the franchise will take to it. The film does a good job at introducing the world of Pokémon to those unfamiliar, but for adults who did not grow up with it like I did I am curious to see whether or not they would find the film as charming as those who did. However, for those of us who did, Detective Pikachu is not just a decent video game movie adaptation, it is wonderful new entry into the world of Pokémon and I hope to see a sequel come to the big screen soon.

SCORE: ***1/2

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