It’s official: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a good video game movie.
It’s been an interesting week for movies based on video games. The first Sonic the Hedgehog trailer tuned our heads (and stomachs) with its unbridled grotesqueness. Then, following the welcome news that Paramount will be updating Sonic’s design, the review embargo lifted for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu.
The good news is that the film is no turkey. Far from it, in fact. Although praise is not universal, it appears that the Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith fronted picture is a genuine treat for fans of the long-running video game franchise, and a coherent introduction to the world of Pokémon for newcomers.
The way in which film brings that world to life – particularly the metropolis of Ryme City – is the subject of almost universal praise. IGN’s Joshua Yehl is one of many critics to remark on the remarkable level detail on display:
“Most impressive is how the Pokémon feel like a natural part of the world, whether it’s a Treecko lazily sticking to a clerk’s window or a Ludicolo casually working as a barista. This extends to the Pokémon out in the wild, as well. One scene in particular features a pack of Bulbasaurs trotting through the forest as bioluminescent Morelull float overheard, creating a quiet moment of beauty not unlike you’d find in a Miyazaki film.”
The visual splendour of the film also helps to offset its simple story. Writing at The Verge, Julia Alexander says:
“Detective Pikachu isn’t well-constructed or a compelling mystery, but it is a wonderful dream come true, a strong and memorable vision of what a world populated by Pokémon could become.”
Kotaku‘s Brian Ashcraft appreciates how the film carves out a distinct identity while remaining faithful to the video game series.
“Pokémon are well conceived and fascinating creatures, so the fact that the filmmakers have recognized that and are not content to simply rely on appearances, but have a deeper understanding of what the Pokémon can do, is why this adaptation works so well compared to Hollywood’s other superficial attempts. Detective Pikachu understands Pokémon. It’s why the film works.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by British GQ’s David Levesley:
“Every scene feels so loaded with passion for the Pokémon franchise, the script has so many moments of deft writing, and for the entire film I sat producing that kind of low, heady giggle of a child who can’t believe they’re lucky enough to see this.”
Also receiving praise is the cast. Ryan Reynolds is, well, Ryan Reynolds. Nonetheless, as the UK Metro‘s Adam Starkey notes, he turns in a performance that serves as a good foil for the steady charm of Justice Smith.
“Justice Smith, previously seen in Jurassic World and The Get Down, is an instantly likeable presence who embraces the absurd tone. Ryan Reynolds is the scene stealer though, bringing a snarky spin to Pikachu which is endearingly odd without sacrificing the cutesy charm the iconic character is known for.”
The Guardian‘s Steve Rose’s also liked the film – “it is undoubtedly the best movie ever made… about Pokémon” – but he says it fails to stand comparison with classic family features of the past.
“As a mystery thriller, Detective Pikachu is more Scooby-Doo than Chinatown, and unlike Roger Rabbit, there’s little for grownup viewers to savour, although it does at least have some emotional grounding in its heroes’ respective daddy issues.”
Eurogamer‘s Chris Tapsell also strikes a critical note, saying that the film is too keen to over explain its story.
“There’s a perfectly digestible plot that side characters – and main ones, Pikachu himself the worst offender – are painstakingly dedicated to describing out loud explaining each action at every turn.”
So, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is not a perfect film, but in a world were we have suffered the likes of Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, and Doom – and seem very likely to suffer through Sonic the Hedgehog – it appears to be an effective step in the right direction.