Film Review: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

09:06 May 13, 2019
By: Fritz Esker

The Pokémon (loosely translated as "pocket monsters") Japanese media franchise, which features anime, manga, video games, and a smartphone game, now branches out into Hollywood with the mostly uninspiring Pokémon: Detective Pikachu.

In the film's world, humans live beside creatures known as pokémon. There are many different types of pokémon with different magical abilities. Humans and pokémon cannot understand each other, but many people keep pokémon as pets/partners.

In the fictional metropolis of Ryme City, a young man (Justice Smith) investigates the apparent death of his estranged detective father. In doing so, he meets Pikachu, his father's pokémon partner (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), and finds they can understand each other.

That's a lot to explain, and Rob Letterman's film has the unenviable task of explaining the universe to the uninitiated without bogging everything down in exposition. As a result, the film alternates between awkward exposition and sudden appearances of a new type of pokémon, with little to no explanation of who that pokémon is or why it is important.

This flaw could be overlooked if the film's mystery plot worked. A big reason that films like Zootopia and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? attracted fans of all ages was because they were both well-plotted mysteries. They worked as goofy family entertainment and as variations on classic detective stories. However, the mystery aspect of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is pretty ho-hum.

On the plus side, Reynolds does get a few funny lines. The film's climax has a bit of inspired weirdness to it that makes one think the film might have been better if it had just gone all-out on that weirdness.

Finally, a note of full disclosure: I have never followed the Pokémon franchise. What little I knew of it going into the film was told to me by my 9-year-old Pokémon devotee nephew. So, if you've been a longtime fan of the franchise, take the above review with the requisite grain of salt.

** stars (out of four)

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