Pokémon has been a lot of things to a lot of people over the past 23 years. Video games, trading cards, an animated show and more.
With more than 30 official games and over 1,000 TV episodes, this Japanese behemoth of an entertainment franchise has no signs of slowing down any time soon. The next games come out in November with the 22nd season of the show close behind.
And yet, “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” the first live-action movie of the franchise has just hit theaters, something that fans now in their 30s have been waiting a very long time for.
It may not be exactly what we wanted, but seeing real people walking alongside and interacting with life-like Pokémon on the big screen is a sight that will make even the most grown-up of fans feel like 10 years old again.
After ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, his distant 21-year-old son, Tim (played by Justice Smith), a former Pokémon trainer, goes to find out what happened to the father he hasn’t seen in years.
Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, a wise-cracking, adorable Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who is also a super detective in the futuristic Pokémon utopia Rhyme City.
When Tim and Pikachu discover they can talk to each other, they join forces with reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her Pokémon partner Psyduck to unravel the tangled mystery of Tim’s missing father and a new dangerous chemical infecting Pokémon and making them crazy.
For anyone who may know the original games and TV show, this plot is nothing like what you might have expected. None of these characters are Ash Ketchum, this isn’t a familiar region and nobody is battling for gym badges and the Pokémon League.
But that’s OK, because for the most part, that means most people who go to see this movie won’t have to know much about the games or TV show to understand what’s going on. Pikachu is a universal character nowadays, so everything else can just be explained in the movie and not depend on audience members being super fans.
Now, that’s not to say the life-long fans of Pokémon won’t be rewarded with dozens of Easter eggs referencing the games and TV show. Hardly a scene goes by where there’s isn’t some sort of wink and nod or a blatant mention of something that has happened in the games or show.
But that’s not why people are going to see this movie. No, “Detective Pikachu” exists to show hundreds of different Pokémon in a realistic way and in a realistic setting. Most Pokémon are adorable, and that’s where a lot of the charm of the movie comes from. A lot of these creatures are the size of a dog or small child and are often just as cute.
However, it’s Pikachu who really steals the show, primarily because of Reynolds as the voice. While Pikachu is obviously adorable, it’s Reynolds doing his usual schtick of riffing and joking like his Marvel character Deadpool that brings a lot of enjoyment to this character.
Unfortunately, on the flip side of that, the human characters do not hold up their end of this film. The draw may be seeing Pokémon in real life, the people here should at least have some characterization to back up the story, or even act well. While not awful, Smith and Newton’s performances occasionally came across as stiff, awkward or just bad.
But that’s OK because Pokémon has never been about the people and the story. It’s about the creatures themselves and how awesome they are. This world feels lived-in and believable, with so many of the Pokémon filling roles that make sense. Ones that use water attacks help the firemen, ones that use fire attacks help the chefs and cooks, etc.
By the end of the movie, I had seen exactly what I was hoping to see with the first live-action Pokémon movie: these creatures that have been a part of so many childhoods for decades existing with real people. I couldn’t ask for anything more.