Cinematic Releases: Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) - Reviewed

Video games have a history of poor adaptations when it comes to cinema (a case can be made for Resident Evil with the vulgar auteurism crowd), but Pokémon Detective Pikachu may be the first case in, like, ever where it finds itself so fun and charming to behold that the curse may have been lifted, if only momentarily. Its dystopian setting brings to mind a kind of Blade Runner feeling, only with less murderous androids and more cute, docile creatures that only want to live in harmony with the rest of society.

And that is indeed the initial setup for the world of Detective Pikachu, an adaptation of the wildly popular video game of the same name for the Nintendo 3DS. Pokémon roam around as free as ever, without living in fear of being caught and forced into violent duels with other species of their kind for the cruel amusement of their captors/trainers. It's a wildly different atmosphere from the video games- which is a welcome change, to say the least. People even vaguely familiar with the series and its various Pokémon creatures will instantly recognize at least one or two other animals from the Pokédex- having very little experience with the franchise myself, I was pleasantly surprised that director Rob Letterman stuck with most of the familiar faces instead of trying to shove in some of the newer generations that only the most recent fans would be familiar with. 

Detective Pikachu is probably the comfiest and warmest movie you'll see all year. It's definitely geared towards the kids (although adults will find plenty to keep them invested in the movie too!), and Pikachu himself is undeniably gorgeous and adorable, in all his fluffy wonder. Ryan Reynolds offers the voice of Pikachu- although many fans clamored for Danny DeVito to voice the titular character, he definitely wouldn't have been a good fit for how Pikachu's story is handled. Reynolds himself has proven to have a golden kind of voice: his friendly yet funny tone always carries itself so confidently and coolly while also somehow retaining an effort to remain serious whenever necessary. You'll definitely be pleased at how he's used here, if not in a somewhat predictable manner. 

That predictability is natural with any movie geared towards a younger audience: Paddington's thematic rip on 101 Dalmatians didn't dampen its cheerful atmosphere and idiosyncratic wholesomeness even through Nicole Kidman's chilling persona. When you go into a film knowing that it's meant for the kids, you have to know that it's not going to be some wild unprecedented ride that will blow you away from the start, although that's not to say its driving mystery is any less intriguing as it rolls out.

There's a much bigger picture behind its central mystery than what you may be led to believe, and fortunately the trailers gave next to nothing away as to what can and will happen in Detective Pikachu. It's a traditional gumshoe mystery in the style that matches almost exactly what you'd want, complete with a futuristic neon aura that it is every bit as drenched in as I expected it to be. Go into this unspoiled, with a completely open mind, and I guarantee that you'll have the time of your life (well, at least the kids probably will). 

Maybe I just find myself biased by how adorable all the creatures (Pikachu in particular) are, but Detective Pikachu is an unprecedented advancement in Pokémon's illustrious history that is at once bold and a load of fun, to boot. A potential sequel could easily be made from this, although if it were to focus on other Pokémon species I doubt it would receive as much attention as Pikachu would. It's a film that happily wears its inspirations on its sleeve, unafraid to venture out into its strange but welcome amalgam of fantasy and mystery. It's definitely a film that I'll have to revisit again very soon, if not to experience Reynolds and Justice Smith's fantastic chemistry and witty banter that somehow avoids devolving into overtly juvenile comedy. Comfortable is the word that immediately comes to mind with Detective Pikachu: a happy, thrilling, tender and hilarious meditation on a formation of the unlikeliest of relationships and just how important those closest to you are, even if you don't realize it.

-Wes Ball