Film | Pokémon: Detective Pikachu - the very best video game movie, like no-one ever was
Returning to Rhyme City to put his father’s estate in order, insurance salesman Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) encounters the late detective’s Pokémon partner, Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), with whom he inexplicably has the ability to communicate. Pikachu does not believe Harry is actually dead, but with no memory of the man’s disappearance he asks for Tim’s help in solving the mystery. Reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) is likewise on a search for answers, having sensed a story that her boses seem little interested in exploring, and together with her ever-anxious Psyduck she offers to pool resources and assist in Tim’s investigation.
With the first animated Pokémon movie about to celebrate its 20th anniversary it’s amazing that audiences are only now seeing their favourite pocket monsters rendered in CG for the big screen. After all, The Pokémon Company’s seemingly inexhaustible cash-cow (or should that be money-Miltank) had by the turn of the century already been a hit video game, a hit trading card game and a hit anime — with 2000’s Pokémon: The First Movie going on to spawn eighteen animated sequels, though many admittedly went straight to DVD. While ‘Pokémon Go’ banked heavily on nostalgia, at least to begin with, The Pokémon Company (and Nintendo, too) has always had one eye on the future.
Enter Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, the long expected (and many might say overdue) live-action adaptation that somehow manages to come completely out of left field — adapting as it does a little-known 2016 spin-off that exists outside of conventional continuity. Gone are the usual trappings (trainers, battles and gyms are alluded to, but have no place in Rhyme City, where people and Pokémon cohabitate peacefully) and instead the hero’s journey is replaced with a murder mystery. The film is full of familiar faces (including, inevitably, the eponymous and by now ubiquitous Pikachu) but you’ve never seen them quite like this.
The crime noir aesthetic provides a surprisingly effective and pleasingly surreal spin on the Pokémon world, with an early interrogation of Mr Mime immediately dispelling any misgivings about this new context. The cast sell it too, with Smith approaching the role of Tim with a wry irony and Newton working overtime to ensure Lucy Stevens isn’t as boring as her name might suggest. Ultimately, this is Reynolds’ movie — the actor using the film to effectively test-drive his PG-13 Deadpool and he in the process open the film up to an even wider audience. Pikachu might never address viewers directly as Deadpool does, but Reynolds (as charmingly cheeky as ever) sneaks in his fair share of winks — somehow making everybody’s favourite electric mouse even more lovable than he already was.
As entertaining as this whodunnit is, however, it’s arguably the worldbuilding and creature design that stand out strongest of all. A sequel has already been greenlit, and on the strength of this it will likely be highly anticipated, but it’s hard not to yearn for a more traditional adaptation of Satoshi Tajiri’s creation. The animation is a delight throughout (Lickitung, Snorlax and Jigglypuff all make memorable appearances) and Rob Letterman’s in-movie adverts for Pokémon battles are spectacular (and, thanks to a few familiar cues, spine-tingling) to behold. With shared universes all the rage and a whole world of Pokémon still to explore it seems inevitable that we’re finally back on the road to Veridian City. Come on, let’s go!