In the Limelight

For the first time in almost 20 years, a Pokémon film will be seeing a wide theatrical release, with the arrival of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu on May 10, 2019. Though the Pokémon franchise at large has seemingly lost no steam over the last two decades, it was 2000’s animated Pokémon 3: The Movie that last saw a typical theater release. For fans of this series, though, the wait for another big-time Pokémon film has certainly paid off.

The story follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a failed Pokémon trainer who now sells insurance as a young adult. After having been estranged from his father for most of his life, Tim must leave his small town and travel to the bustling metropolis of Ryme City, as his father has been involved in an accident and has been declared deceased. But when Tim returns to his father’s apartment, he meets Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) – his father’s old partner Pokémon who Tim can somehow understand. Pikachu believes that Tim’s father is still alive, and convinces Tim to search through Ryme City in order to uncover the truth behind the mysterious accident. Along the way they meet Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), a young reporter accompanied by her Pokémon, Psyduck. Lucy has some leads on what’s really been going on in Ryme City, and the two resolve to work together in order to figure out what’s really been going on behind the curtain of the seemingly perfect utopia.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is based on the 3DS title of the same name – an interesting choice given that it took several years for that title to even release in English. But it’s probably one of the smarted choices they could have made; adapting either the beloved classic anime series or attempting to tackle the story of the main line of games likely would have opened it up for a lot more scrutiny from lifetime fans. By taking on a side game – one that has more of a solidified narrative, as well – it can adapt the world of Pokémon for live-action and take some creative liberties it might not have been able to do otherwise.

The film is able to make a number of improvements on the story of the game, as well, with perhaps the most notable improvement being on the characterization of Tim himself. In the game I always found him to be pretty bland; by aging him up a few years and making him a slightly more pessimistic young adult instead, he actually has a personality that I think a lot of the audience can relate to.

The two human faces that we see most often throughout the film are that of Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton, both of whom have appeared in significant films in the last few years but neither of whom have really been featured in a starring role. While they both have moments of over-acting in a few scenes throughout the film, they both help carry the story in a convincing fashion. The kind of job that they both did – especially considering the fact that they both had to try and interact realistically with characters and creatures that weren’t actually there – should be commended. The supporting cast contains some notable names, such as Omar Chaparro, Ken Watanabe, and Bill Nighy, and all of them add a lot to the scenes that they’re in.

But the film’s star is, of course, the titular Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds. This voice acting for the character is incredible, and the level of emotion that he conveys throughout the film is honestly more than what I expected. Sure, Pikachu is objectively cute on his own, but Reynolds really sells you on the character over the course of the movie. If you weren’t a fan of Pikachu before the film, you will be after the credits.

Easily the most impressive part about this film is how they were able to make a convincing live-action Pokémon film through the use of CG. The textures and animation used on the various Pokémon seen give them a lifelike quality without landing them in the uncanny valley, and all of them look true to what they should look like. Of course Pikachu would be fuzzy, of course Magikarp would look slimy out of water, of course Charizard would look coarse and scaly. But they all still look like themselves, and that’s the most important part.

The world created by Detective Pikachu feels real. Pokémon and humans interact with each other naturally and the way that Ryme City works just feels like they’re sharing the space in a very normal fashion. Detective Pikachu presented the world of the Pokémon franchise in a way that my 8-year-old self could have only dreamed of the first time I picked up Pokémon Red back in 1998.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is not only a great Pokémon adaptation, and not only easily the best video game film ever made, but it’s just a solid outing in general. Even those without even the most passing interest in the franchise at large can probably find something to like here, with a story containing enough twists and turns to keep things interesting between the legitimately fun action. There’s enough going on to keep younger kids interested for the duration, and plenty of Easter Eggs in the background of just about every scene for lifelong fans of the franchise.

This is the kind of film that manages to appease existing fans and, at the same time, create an entire new generation of Poké-maniacs. It’s just a ton of fun and is absolutely worth seeing.

-Carrie Wood