Detective Pikachu is a very odd film. And, unfortunately, not in the “fun” way that can sometimes mean. It feels like a movie that wants to be a few different things at once – which is usually a sign of different forces at work, all with their two cents of what this movie should be. And instead of one distinct flavor, we just kind of have one of those 7-11, “Hey, I just mixed all the sodas into one cup, I wonder what that will taste like … oh, turns out it’s not that great,” kind of situations.
For the record, I was really looking forward to Detective Pikachu. I’m one of those weirdos who still plays Pokémon Go every day and the idea of a new story set in “the real world” with all of these characters just kind of hanging out sounded very appealing. (Plus, let’s be honest, the trailer for this movie is pretty great.) And, in a way, there is still something appealing about this movie … at least visually. Now, this is a bad way to enjoy a movie, but if you’ve just always wanted to see an on-screen visualization of what it might look like if Pokémon were real – you know, you’re walking down the street and there’s a Snorlax just sitting there taking a nap – then there’s certainly a lot to look at here. And that’s not a dig, I did find myself enjoying just watching this world unfold, looking for all the different Pokémon hanging out in the background. (And there are a lot of them.) Unfortunately, this movie’s plot is, let’s say, suspect.
Detective Pikachu is one of those movies where, for about half the movie, I was trying to force myself to like it, until I just gave up. I kind of got the sense a lot of people around me were doing the same thing. (The screening I attended was mostly “fans,” not media.)
Tim (Justice Smith) is tasked with taking care of his estranged father’s apartment, who has gone missing. While he’s looking around, Tim stumbles upon his father’s Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), who can speak English and has amnesia and doesn’t remember how he got there. So, no, Pikachu isn’t the confident know it all Reynolds usually plays — instead, he spends most the film just telling people he doesn’t remember anything.
Tim used to love Pokémon, but now rejects having one for reasons that are never explained. The best guess is Tim resents them because his father spent too much time with them? Maybe? Also, this movie depicts most humans just hanging out with their Pokémon and ignoring the rest of society. The bad guy’s plot is to literally morph humans and Pokémon’s (more on this later). It’s almost as if this movie wants to make some kind of grand point, but never actually bothers getting around to doing so. It’s very strange.
So, Tim and Pikachu start a hunt for Tim’s father. With Ryan Reynolds voicing Pikachu, there’s probably an assumption that Detective Pikachu is hilarious. The strange thing is, it’s shockingly not that funny. There are some “inside baseball/Pokémon” jokes that people who don’t know anything about Pokémon will never understand in a million years (I spoke to a couple of people after the movie who had no relationship with Pokémon and they seemed a bit lost), but the humor that the trailer leans on – namely, “Hey, it’s kind of weird this Pokémon speaks English and sounds like Ryan Reynolds – is, strangely, mostly absent. (Again, the screening I was at, mostly filled with fans, was eerily silent. Usually, it’s the opposite problem.)
Okay, so, then is it a detective movie? Well, that’s the other thing: if it’s not going to be a comedy, then maybe they should have gone all in on the detective aspect? But it’s not really that either. It’s mostly just an excuse to have these characters walk around and bump into other Pokémon. Eventually, Tim and Pikachu team up with a reporter, Lucy, and her Psyduck. (This is a very good Psyduck movie. Somehow, a Psyduck sort of steals this entire film.) Bill Nighy plays a kindly older billionaire, who owns the network where Lucy works, who says he wants to help Tim find his dad – and there’s no doubt he only wants to do good in this world, because that’s why you hire Bill Nighy, to play kindly network-owning billionaires with no ulterior motives.