One key to Detective Pikachu – a film that should by all rights be an unmitigated disaster – working is in its sincerity. This is a movie with a 100% commitment to the premise, never showing a note of embarrassed irony or winking detachment as it drags Pokémon into the realm of live action via a classically styled noir tale. As both a detective story and ode to the iconic videogame critters, it is aware of how silly it is, but never lets this get in the way of a fun mystery and brilliant integration of Pokémon into an otherwise realistic-looking world.
The other crucial ingredient is Ryan Reynolds. Voicing Pikachu, his balance of charm and snark, as well as his gift for ad-libbing, elevates the movie in a similar way to how Robin Williams elevated Aladdin. Though initially it sounds weird hearing Deadpool’s voice coming out of Pikachu’s absolutely adorable little face, incredible animation and a series of good gags swiftly make it seem like the most natural thing in the world. Whether he’s solving crimes or weeping his way through the old Pokémon anime theme song, Reynolds owns the film, powering it through some of its weaker scripting and rushed plotting.
Whilst most videogame movies find themselves bogged down in the often-absurd lore of their source material, Detective Pikachu immediately gives itself an advantage by telling an original noir story that it happens to populate with Pokémon. Suffering from amnesia after a car crash, Pikachu teams up with Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) – the son of his now-missing detective partner and only human able to understand him – to get to the bottom of a fiendish plot to turn Pokémon violently feral. Set mainly in the rainy, neon-lit streets of Rime City, Detective Pikachu never misses an opportunity to throw in an old noir trope, from journalistic femme fatale Lucy (Kathryn Newton) to a secretive media mogul who knows more than he’s letting on (played by an incredibly game Bill Nighy).
This story does end up relying on a lot of deus ex machinas, but, then again, this is a film where one of the main characters is a anxious psychic duck who needs to be massaged constantly to not literally explode with stress. Less forgivable is how uninteresting most of the human characters are – aside from Reynolds and Nighy, no one really has any distinctive traits or memorable lines – but credit is due to the cast and director Rob Letterman for how believably they interact with the Pokémon.
Every one of the creatures is wonderfully rendered, all their fur and scales looking tangible without sacrificing the stylised and fantastical elements. You’ll want to give all of them a hug and a scene with a herd of little Bulbasaurs is the cutest sequence you’re likely to see at the cinema all year. Even when the plot falls off completely in the final act, the streets full of lovable magical creatures (eat your heart out, Fantastic Beasts) will keep you engaged and are guaranteed to delight any younger audiences with even a vague interest in Pokémon.