Film reviews

#371 – Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Film review #371

Director: Rob Letterman

SYNOPSIS: When Tim Goodman gets news that his Father has been killed in a car crash, he travels to Ryme City where he worked as a police detective, to collect his things. While there, he finds a Pikachu who for some reason he is able to understand. Tim also learns that this Pikachu was his Father’s pokémon partner, and he has had his memory wiped. Tim decides to team up with Pikachu to help him regain his memories and carry on the case that he and his Dad were working on before he seemingly died…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSISPokémon: Detective Pikachu is a 2019 film based on the successful video game franchise, and loosely follows the 2016 game Detective Pikachu. The film starts off introducing Tim Goodman, a 21-year old insurance salesman who gets news that his father has died in a car crash in Ryme City. Tim heads to the city to collect his father’s things, but while in his apartment finds a Pikachu that Tim can understand when he speaks. Not only this, this Pikachu was his father’s pokémon partner in his job as a police detective, and has lost all his memories, so Tim gets caught up in this curious mystery that he teams up with Pikachu with, to try and work out what happened to his father, and what happened to Pikachu’s memories. The plot of the film is focused on unravelling this big mystery, which impacts on each of the characters, but becomes tied into the fate of the city as a whole too, meaning it has lots of facets and interesting avenues to head down. Nevertheless, the story is fairly simple to follow, while also offering some decent twists along the way. The different elements of the plot perhaps don’t weave together enough though, as scene-by-scene it focuses on either story, action or emotional aspects, and they don’t overlap too much. With this in mind the villain’s big plan can feel a little muddled, especially in comparison to the much more interesting mystery concerning Pikachu and Tim’s father. 

It should be noted that you don’t really need to have an extensive knowledge of Pokémon to enjoy this film: it is easy enough to follow the mystery without knowing what all the pokémon are. Nevertheless, the film is clearly aimed at fans of the franchise, and there’s a ton of little references that will satisfy the hardcore fans, and they will be the ones who get the most out of this film. Every pokémon has their own personality and comes alive on the screen, and while the human characters sometimes do not possess that amount of presence, they have their own specific roles that they play out well. Overall the film is easy to follow, and offers plenty of entertainment tailored to the pokémon themselves.

One of the most noted aspects of the film are the pokémon visuals: they have a unique aesthetic that maintains the original designs, while also making them more ‘believeable’ in the real world, such as accentuating the fur on Pikachu and others. Altering and adapting character designs is always a challenging task to pull off, as any alteration will no doubt anger fans and purists. However, Detective Pikachu seems to have struck the perfect balance with it’s designs: it makes the pokémon more ‘real’ looking, while also keeping the proportions and feel of the original designs, which went over well with the significant majority of fans. Sometimes the CG lets itself down (particularly with regards to Mewtwo), but on the whole it is pretty solid. The pokémon are also full of character, and their facial expressions (especially Pikachu’s) really bring them to life. Ryme City itself has its own unique aesthetic as a mix of London, New York and Tokyo, while also bringing in its own original elements to give it a feel of something new and also as a distinct place in the pokémon universe. Overall, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a success in translating the franchise into a live-action setting for the first time: it offers something new without deviating so much that it is unrecognisable to fans. The story is easy to follow, and the characters are entertaining, and the negatives don’t detract too much from the overall enjoyment. I think the film really is intended both for die-hard fans and (equally) also for those who were only into the franchise when they were a kid many years ago, and will appreciate the nostalgia trip. Even with all the new pokémon they would have never seen before, there’s still plenty of classic pokémon they will recognise and enjoy seeing again.