Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) just received a phone call that Dad is missing, presumed dead. No matter, Goodman and pops have been estranged for some time now—ever since Goodman lost his mother years ago—and with all the emotional attachment of a turnip, Goodman heads to the metropolis of Ryme City to clean out dear old Dad’s apartment.
A utopia of sorts, Ryme City, is one of the few places in this world where humans and Pokémon’s live side-by-side in harmony. Or, more accurately, each human has a Pokémon sidekick; how they treat them varies from person to person. Enter Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), Father Goodman’s Pokémon and detective partner. The hitch: while every other Pokémon can only say their name with various intonations, Pikachu speaks perfect English to Goodman. Goodman can understand and converse with Pikachu—others, inexplicably, cannot—and the two team up to uncover the mysterious disappearance of Goodman’s father, Pikachu’s sudden bout of amnesia, and the appearance of Mewtwo, the strongest of all Pokémon.
With a story that exists somewhere between Zootopia and Chinatown, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a neon-soaked noir designed for neither child nor parent. Though it tries, and oh how Reynolds tries, to bring humor and spontaneity to subject matter, too much of the movie’s better aspects feels shoehorned in as if a committee of test groups gave feedback throughout the filmmaking process. If the aim of Detective Pikachu were a kid’s move, then a healthy dose of potty humor would be a welcome addition. If the target of Detective Pikachu were the adults who grew up playing and watching Pokémon, then an irreverent edge would also be appreciated. But, since it is for both, we get neither.
There are positives: the facial animation of Pikachu is expressive and entertaining. As he tries to noodle out the situation, he often furrows his brow, giving himself a nice tabby marking and makes him less of a loyal servant and more an autonomous character trying to crack a case.
But the success of Pikachu’s animation does not extend to the wider world of Ryme City, populated with every possible Pokémon imaginable. Some looked like they walked off the page of a comic book; others look like they were designed by the same team who concocted the rubber suits for the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The whole endeavor comes off as bland. There are a few moments of fan service to tickle those in the know, but they are few and far between. Kids who don’t know any better will probably like it; the parents who are stuck taking them are in for a slog.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
Directed by Rob Letterman
Screenplay by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly
Story by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Nicole Perlman
Based on Pokémon created by Satoshi Tajiri, Ken Sugimori, Junichi Masuda
Characters by Atsuko Nishida
Original story by Tomokazu Ohara, Haruka Utsui
Produced by Hidenaga Katakami, Don McGowan, Mary Parent
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Suki Waterhouse
Warner Bros. Pictures, Rated PG, Running time 105 minutes, Opens May 10, 2019