When I first saw the trailer to Detective Pikachu all those months ago, I couldn’t possibly see how this would work. Growing up I was a huge Pokemon fan, with countless hours playing the Gameboy games, hundreds of trading cards stuffed in my desk drawer and plenty of fan fiction written on scraps of paper. Of course, I’m not alone here and Pokemon was a huge cultural phenomenon when it swept the globe back in the 90’s. Since then, Pokemon has always been a mainstay on the fringes of society, with the more recent Pokemon Go bringing back those old Pokemon-crazed days, at least for a little while.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu is not the best film it could be. Nor does it have a particularly original plot or premise. At times it’s simple and not all of its jokes land. What it does have however, is a faithful vision of a world full of Pokemon, with gorgeous visuals and a few nicely worked twists to keep things interesting and help set the foundation for a potential cinematic universe to follow.
At the heart of this film is 21 year old Tim Goodman, a reluctant young adult who shuns the idea of having a Pokemon partner, instead content to go it alone. When he arrives in Ryme City to collect his deceased Father’s belongings and say goodbye, what he finds in his office is a talking Pikachu, a strange vial full of toxic purple gas called Chemical R and a potential scandal surrounding the well-being of Pokemon everywhere.
From here, the film adopts a much more formulaic detective plot, with various different Pokemon showing up throughout the adventure to help keep things interesting. From a hilarious interrogation with Mr. Mime and Jigglypuff putting people to sleep during karaoke to a Pokemon fight between Gengar and Blastoise, Detective Pikachu is incredibly faithful to the original creations, bringing them to life in the best possible way. Fans of the franchise are sure to get a kick out of seeing their favourites here (even if my favourite, Scyther, didn’t show up) and it’s this visual and artistic spectacle that’ll keep people hooked to the end.
Without that though, Detective Pikachu really doesn’t have a lot else going for it. The characters are average at best and forgettable at worst, with the antagonist of the story suffering the most, plagued by lacklustre motivations and an almost caricature persona. Still, this film is labelled a PG for a reason and you can really feel the effort put into making this accessible for all age groups. It’s a fun, engrossing family film and with that territory, there will inevitably be some simplification of the story (and characters) to fit that bill. Is this a film I’d take my kids to? Absolutely.
As I said though, it’s not perfect and the effect of Chemical R is something we’ve seen as recently as Despicable Me 2. Having said that, the simplified story is easy to look past with such a faithful recreation of the Pokemon world itself. Ryme City is bursting with colour and a myriad of different Pokemon, and not just the original 150 either. Video game movies have had a bad reputation for a long time but after the decent effort of the recent Tomb Raider film, Pokemon Detective Pikachu follows suit, showing there’s still a spark left in video game adaptations yet.