'Pokémon: Detective Pikachu' film review: A vibrant & silly noir mystery
Basic rule of movies: video game adaptations do not work. Thankfully, the creators of the noir-mystery "Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" (opening in theaters nationwide May 10) ignored that basic "rule" and crafted a fun adventure that will satiate the most ardent Pokémon fan- as well as the blissfully ignorant parents dragged along for the ride.
In short: Embittered former Pokémon Tim (Justice Smith) reluctantly teams up with a smart aleck, talking Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) to solve the disappearance of Tim’s father. Also stars Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy.
This film doesn't require (or even expect) every one walking into "Detective Pikachu" to be a Pokémon professor or the ability to name every entry in the pokédex. While the story dips its toe in the admittedly insane premise of the Pokémon mythology, for the most part, this movie is first and foremost a pretty standard mystery flick (albeit, one set in a hyper-realized, crazy world where animals battle each other).
That said, this is no hardboiled detective flick. "Detective Pikachu" is a vibrant movie set in an overwhelming Tokyo-inspired Ryme City, with Ryan Reynolds bridging the gap between humans and "pocket monsters." His take on the iconic yellow Pokémon is (of course) wry - but disarmingly heartfelt and sincere. This iteration of Pikachu is genuinely invested in solving the case -- which is a welcome change from his usual depiction, wherein Pikachu's entire vocabulary is limited to just saying "Pikachu" in varying inflections and tones.
For more than 20 years, Pokémon fans have enjoyed essentially the same depictions of their beloved characters - but what works for 2D cartoons or even video games wouldn't necessarily work in a live-action film like "Detective Pikachu." Going into this movie, some fans bristled at live-action renderings of Pokémon - with some fans going as far as to call them unsettling. But this ... kind of works for this movie: the Pokémon featured here aren't necessarily the cute and cuddly ones found in the cartoons. Some of these Pokémon are legitimately scary monsters -- and this treatment works, especially for some of the more thrilling sequences.
Longtime fans of the video game franchise will get a extra dose of pure Pokémon fan service. Just about every scene is chalk full of fun and blink-or-you'll-miss-them references to the games, and quick glimpses of famed Pokémon new and old.
While the disappearance of Tim's father is the heart of the film's mystery, the story does eventually descend into a less and less compelling conspiracy of sorts. At some point, "Detective Pikachu" does flip from being an entertaining noir and becomes a crazy sci-fi monster movie. Not many of the third act's plot points are earned and the movie increasingly just becomes less of a live-action story and more of a CGI-saturated spectacle.
Final verdict: This feat of world-building is energized with a dynamic voice performance by Ryan Reynolds and a thoroughly engaging mystery. It’s strength is in its mystery elements - and it becomes less compelling as it strays away from its core noir heart.
"Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" opens in theaters nationwide May 10. This adventure-mystery has a running time of 104 minutes and is rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.