Before I get to my review on Pokémon Detective Pikachu, I was never a fan of the video game/anime/trading card game series of the Pokémon franchise or even the hugely-popular Pokémon GO augmented reality mobile game. Other than recognising the cute yellow fuzzball of Pikachu, you could say I have little knowledge about the world of Pokémon.
Which brings me the ultimate question: does Pokémon Detective Pikachu appealing enough to non-fans like me? The good news is, the first big-screen version — not counting the previous animated features that have been released since the late 1990s — turns out to be a charming effort after all. While I bet the movie will please the fans more, kudos go to Goosebumps co-writer and director Rob Letterman along with three (!) screenwriters Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit and Derek Connolly for aiming Pokémon Detective Pikachu even for non-fans and casual audiences.
The story itself is easy to follow, even though it would help if the screenwriters spend a little more time developing the backstory and fundamental element behind the existence of Pokémon co-exist with the humans: 21-year-old Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) finds out his police detective father Harry has died in an apparent car crash. However, upon encountering his father’s former partner, a yellow Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) wearing a Sherlock Holmes-like deerstalker, in which he happens to be the only one who can hear him speak other than “Pika Pika”.
Soon, both of them inevitably team up to investigate the truth behind his father’s so-called death. Joining them is Lucy (Kathryn Newton), an intern journalist looking for a big break.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu certainly owes a lot to Robert Zemeckis’ then-groundbreaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), given its combination of live-action and CGI/animation with film noir and old-school detective genre. While the movie’s overall whodunit and its inevitable twist are neither surprising nor shocking, it still manages to deliver its fair shares of fun. This is particularly evident with Ryan Reynolds’ spot-on snarky voice performance as the titular Pikachu. He pairs well with Justice Smith, even though the 23-year-old actor tends to look a little lost and bland at times. Kathryn Newton brings an appropriately spunky edge to her supporting role as Lucy and it was quite a surprise to see the emotionally agitated and easily panicked Psyduck along with Mr Mime turn out to be among the movie’s scene-stealers.
From the technical point-of-view, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is visually appealing with the CG rendering of various Pokémon characters — particularly the cuddly Pikachu — that stay true to the original design. Credits also go to production designer Nigel Phelps along with cinematographer John Mathieson and the special effects team for successfully capturing the look of Blade Runner-like cityscape of Ryme City. The effects-heavy action sequences are equally exhilarating, particularly the ones take place in a collapsing forest and the crowded city filled with a colourful parade that looks straight out from Tim Burton’s Batman.
Although Pokémon Detective Pikachu could actually do more with its film noir/detective mash-up than playing it safe with the formula, this live-action/CGI hybrid remains a decent start for the Hollywood franchise.