Pokemon Detective Pikachu

Jacob Richardson | 10/05/2019

This noir-ish take on the Pokemon property might finally have broken the video game to big screen curse, by realising the in-game stories don’t matter nearly as much as characters.

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In this world, Pokemon co-exist with humanity. In most cities, this is in the form of Pokemon battles, but in Ryme City, visionary Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) has created a more natural form of co-existence. There, Pokemon and humanity work side by side, fighting fires, directing traffic and even working cases together as detectives. When Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) learns of his father’s untimely death, he travels to Ryme City to collect his belongings; only to discover his father’s amnesiac Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), who insists his father is still alive.


The most fun part about Pokemon Detective Pikachu, aside from the always charmant voice of Ryan Reynolds, is the fun it has playing with film noir tropes. In this universe, Pikachu is a hard-boiled detective, reminiscent of Nicholson in Chinatown or Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress. When he isn’t hunting down clues, or interrogating suspects, he is draining the coffee pot; ‘black as night darling’.


When he is paired with the loveable loner Tim Goodman, whose desire to avoid the detective life of his father makes him sceptical of all things yellow and wearing deerstalkers, the faintly ridiculous aura of it all generates some solid laughs. Indeed, it is this odd couple dynamic that consistently provides the laughs, which are too few before our hero duo meet up.


Pokemon Detective Pikachu also has a lot of fun playing with the Pokemon mythos; albeit in a very different, more reverential way. Director Rob Letterman really works on the world building of the piece, and whether it is a Machamp stopping traffic in a joint Pokemon-human city, or a stream of Bulbasaurs leading our heroes into a magical natural wonderland, Letterman amps up the ethereal beauty of the source material.


This work is certainly amplified by cinematographer John Mathieson, who shot this on film. He has been noted as pointing out the difference in the look of this film with the recent trailer for Sonic The Hedgehog, and it’s an apt comparison. The neon hues, film grain and work with light and shadow in this film make for an out-of-this-world viewing experience, that pays homage to the hardboiled noirs of old without ever losing its sense of modernity.


What is a shame, then, is that Pokemon Detective Pikachu’s central story feels so stale. We know almost from the off who the villain will turn out to be, and who the good guy will turn out to be. There are no real twists or turns, and even the supposed surprises are foreshadowed to within an inch of their life. If you’ve seen a movie even once in your life before, you would be hard pressed to be surprised by any of the plot developments on display here. That is a bit of a shame, because while the plot is only serviceable, the world-building, character dynamics, dialogue, performance and visual aesthetic are all A-grade.


Pokemon Detective Pikachu could have done with a more difficult mystery to solve, but nevertheless this feels like a new high water mark for video game adaptations.