Review of “Pokemon Detective Pikachu”

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) lives in a small village outside Ryme City. He’s informed his father Harry, a private detective in the bustling, high-tech city, had died in a car crash while on a case. Tim and Harry weren’t close as Harry had moved to Ryme City after the death of Tim’s mother, leaving the boy in the care of his grandmother. Tim felt abandoned and wanted nothing to do with his father. Tim goes to Ryme City’s police department to see Lt. Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) and get the keys to his father’s apartment. Tim is checking his father’s mail when he’s approached by a junior reporter named Lucy (Kathryn Newton). She is working on a story about a mysterious surge in Pokemon attacks that somehow involves Harry. In Harry’s apartment, Tim finds a Pikachu. The weird thing is, Tim can hear what Pikachu is saying, which is unheard of. This Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is Harry’s partner, but is suffering from amnesia. Ryme City was founded by billionaire Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy). In Ryme City, humans and Pokemon live together in harmony with no Pokeballs and no battles. Clifford is suffering from a degenerative neurological disease and is trying to find a cure by studying Pokemon. His son Roger Clifford (Chris Geere) has taken over much of his father’s businesses, including a news network Lucy works for. Tim wants nothing to do with investigating whatever Harry was looking into despite the urging of Pikachu. It’s only when it appears Harry may not be dead that Tim joins with Pikachu to investigate Harry’s last case, one that may completely change the relationship between humans and Pokemon.

I was too old to get into Pokemon when it came to American airwaves on the Kids WB back in the late 1990’s. It also isn’t something that I believe would have interested me if it had come along at a more appropriate age. It’s a story that has no discernible ending and no purpose other than to pit these animals against each other for the glory of the trainer. It has a stink of animated cock fighting that I’ve always found objectionable. There’s not much battling in “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” and that makes a big difference for me. It’s also a plus that Ryan Reynolds provides the voice for Pikachu and gives the cute yellow electrified Pokemon enough mature edge to keep adults interested in what is a kids’ movie.

The extensive integration of digital characters with the human actors looks very good for the most part. There are some scenes where the people are clearly interacting with nothing but trying to look like they are working with something three dimensional. This is especially obvious when there are several small Pokemon climbing on a character or attacking a character. I think it’s the lack of weight and the missing reaction to that weight that makes some of these scenes noticeable. When humans and Pokemon are walking together or otherwise interacting, the eye lines and occasional contact between them is believable.

There is also an effort to add depth to the story by making it about a grown son that feels abandoned by his father. This isn’t examined very deeply but provides the basis for a somewhat moving scene where Tim begins to accept the death of his father. Justice Smith delivers a very good performance as a young man struggling to find his way in the world without both of his parents. The script doesn’t spend a great deal of time studying how Tim’s father’s leaving has hurt him, but it does show a young man that seems lost and without direction. In this world where everyone has a Pokemon partner, Tim can’t invest the time and emotion into getting close to one. The implication is he fears the Pokemon will leave him like his father did and he doesn’t want to take the chance of getting hurt again. While it barely scratches the surface of something deeper, the film at least tries to throw some emotion into a fantasy adventure movie.

Ryan Reynolds is the only thing that might attract adults without children to “Pokemon Detective Pikachu.” Unless they have fond memories of collecting the trading cards or playing the various video games, those unfamiliar with Pokemon and the various creatures may find themselves overwhelmed and a bit lost. Reynolds voicing Pikachu is the gateway for those of us that are pocket monster illiterate. Reynolds provides a bit of mature snark to the fuzzy yellow Pikachu. His comic riffs and asides make every scene with Pikachu completely watchable and entertaining. I would probably watch another film with just Pikachu, voiced by Reynolds, walking around and commenting on things he sees in Ryme City. Reynolds seems to enjoy providing voices for characters that are hidden behind masks or otherwise hide his face. Perhaps that is freeing and allows him to explore his imagination and sense of humor and improvise lines he discovers in the moment. That’s easier on the “Deadpool” films as those are live action and the character’s snarky lines aren’t reacted to by the other characters other than an eyeroll. With the animated Pikachu, Reynolds probably had to stay more on script since his lines were performed on set by another actor. Reynolds then voiced the character that then needed to be animated. Still, there are scenes where Reynolds appears to be winging it and they are very funny despite his not being able to use the kind of colorful language allowed in the R-rated “Deadpool.”

“Pokemon Detective Pikachu” is rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor, action/peril and thematic elements. Pikachu suggests he passed gas in one scene. There is a scene where Pikachu is injured that caused some tears and sniffling in the audience. The Earth seems to be trying to kill Tim, Lucy, Pikachu and Psyduck in one scene. There is a violent car crash that is shown at least four times. Pokemon become violent when exposed to a gas on a couple of occasions. Pikachu battle Charizard. Foul language is limited to one “Hell” and one “damn.”

Do those adults that know nothing about Pokemon need to take a crash course in the various types of pocket monsters they’ll be seeing? No. Just accept you’ll be exposed to numerous types of fantastical animals that are both familiar and strange and just let it wash over you like all the unnamed aliens you see in “Star Wars” and other sci-fi films. While on-screen labels would have been nice for the uninitiated, knowing their names and powers isn’t important as the film isn’t about the Pokemon, but about Tim, the search for his father, and the mystery at the center of Harry’s last case. It also helps that the movie is funny, moving and entertaining. Who cares what a Squirtle or a Bulbasaur can do?

“Pokemon Detective Pikachu” gets five stars.

Next week, I’ll be reviewing “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” for WIMZ.com.

Other movies coming out this week:

A Dog’s Journey—

The Sun is Also a Star—

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