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Pokémon Detective Pikachu review – a solid attempt at a live-action movie

by | 10 May 2019 | Film Reviews

‘Tim and Detective Pikachu uncover a shocking plot that could threaten the whole Pokémon Universe.’

If you were a young child in the late Nineties, your life was likely all about living and breathing Pokémon. Starting out as a video game in which players caught animals with powers and trained them to battle each other, it quickly grew into a massive media franchise. Part of that franchise was a popular anime series that has been around in some form or another for twenty years.

Spawning numerous animated movies, it continues to gain new fans to this day. Now, with leaps and bounds being made in visual effects over the years, we’re getting our first live-action Pokémon movie. Detective Pikachu is based on the spin-off computer game, and stars Ryan Reynolds as the voice of the sleuthing Pokémon.

‘Directed by Rob Letterman, the story follows former Pokémon trainer Tim Goodman (Justice Smith).’

When Tim’s father goes missing, he goes to Ryme City to search for answers. While there, he bumps into his father’s Pokémon partner Pikachu (Reynolds), whom he can strangely understand. Together they begin to unravel the mystery of his dad’s disappearance, unearthing a conspiracy that could be devastating for humans and Pokémon alike.

As a franchise that has spanned multiple decades, Detective Pikachu obviously has a big advantage. Not only does it appeal to younger audiences, but it will likely attract those grown-ups who have a nostalgic attachment to the cartoon and games. Adults who grew up in the Nineties looking to relive those fond childhood memories.

Coming with such a large inbuilt fan base, this is a film that will surely succeed financially. Fortunately, it’s also a well-made movie and doesn’t just feel like a lazy cash-grab. There’s an actual story, with thought clearly having gone into this world and its characters. It’s far from perfect, but Letterman has provided an actual film and not just a big toy advert, which it so lazily could have been.

The thing that hinders the movie the most is the actual mystery itself. Borrowing numerous elements from the noir genre, it becomes very unoriginal, with the conspiracy being very easy to figure out. As a kid’s film it shouldn’t be that surprising, but no effort is made to do anything different with this age-old narrative. Red herrings are obvious, bad guys are easily labelled, and anyone who’s seen any kind of crime-fiction will see the story beats coming a mile away.

‘Despite the formulaic plot, Detective Pikachu is helped by the unique world it inhabits.’

A world filled with an assortment of weird and wonderful creatures is something visually distinct. Ryme City likewise has an aesthetic similar to Blade Runner (1982), offering a fascinating landscape for the story to unfold on. What’s more, the CGI utilised to bring the Pokémon to life is well rendered.

Depth and shading is added to them, and although you can tell they are visual effects, they blend in decently with the physical sets and actors. Combined with skilfully executed set pieces, there’s a great deal of excitement on display for those who just want to see Pokémon battle each other.

Another area the movie does well in is its characterisation, where real stakes are infused into the protagonist’s journey. For a film aimed at children, there’s genuine depth and complexity added to Smith’s Tim. He has an estranged relationship with his dad and a troubled past. It’s a meatier role than you would expect, and Smith is solid with the material. Doing some great acting, you’ll really feel for this young man who just wants to know the truth about his father.

On top of that, he bounces off Reynolds superbly, sparking believable chemistry between Smith and a CG talking animal. Reynolds is undoubtedly the main draw for the adult viewers. Playing a more watered down version of his Deadpool character, he contributes to that comedic and almost self-aware tone, getting some of the funniest lines. And with a skilled facial motion capture performance, he also brings the heart and seriousness when needed.

‘Detective Pikachu is a valiant attempt at doing something fresh with the Pokémon franchise.’

It has a lot of visual style, strong characters, and a game Reynolds as a talking Pikachu. Where it falters is in its uninteresting story, and a mystery that is easy to work out. This is a movie that will find it hard to attract new fans, but if you’re already a steadfast follower, there should be enough here to whet your appetite.

Film Details

PG · 1h 44m · 2019.


Action · Adventure · Comedy · Family · Mystery · Sci-Fi.


Billy Nighy · Justice Smith · Kathryn Newton · Ken Watanabe · Ryan Reynolds.


Rob Letterman.


Dan Hernandez (screenplay and story) · Benji Samit (screenplay and story) · Derek Connolly (screenplay) · Nicole Perlman (story) · Rob Letterman (screenplay).

Based on ‘Pokémon’ created by

Junichi Masuda v Ken Sugimori · Satoshi Tajiri.

Characters by

Atsuko Nishida.

Original Story by

Haruka Utsui · Tomokazu Ohara.


John Matheiseon.


James Thomas · Mark Sanger.


Henry Jackman.


mild fantasy threat.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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