In a world where people collect Pokémon to do battle, a boy comes across an intelligent talking Pikachu who seeks to be a detective. (from IMDb)
One thing that's a well-known disadvantage for parenthood is being dragged to things your child likes that you have no desire doing or seeing. While my son is 8 years old, he's largely been interested in the shows and toys that I was passionate about as a kid (and he has genuinely liked them--like Transformers, the original DuckTales, Garfield, and Star Wars), so it's a disadvantage I've been blessed enough to mostly avoid. However, there have definitely been brands he's discovered a passion for on his own that I don't share an interest in--like Thomas the Tank Engine (meh), Octonauts (not so bad), and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (and the cursed Hot Dog Dance). His latest obsession, however, is Pokemon--something that totally breezed by me as a youth but managed to seize the hearts of millions, including some of my peers. While I have nothing at all against Pokemon, I can safely say I have very little interest in it and most of my knowledge of it stems from whatever my son has shared with me in recent months. (Aside from the fact that I've always found Pikachu adorable. Ha!)
Why in the world am I telling you all of this? As a movie reviewer for a popular franchise, I think it's only fair to let you know where I'm coming from. If it weren't for my son practically begging me to take him to see the new live action/animation hybrid Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, I probably wouldn't have seen it in the theater (But I may have reviewed its in-home release). Indifference may be the best way to describe it. But as I sat in the theater, is the comfort of my own indifference, I heard gasps in awe from many young viewers around me with each new Pokemon that popped on the screen (Meanwhile, I'm thinking "Oh hey! Will has that card" or "Hey! Will has a little figure of that thing!"). I couldn't help but think "This must be how people completely not invested in Transformers, Star Wars or the MCU must feel when they see new entries in those films." (I get you now, folks.)
So my reflections on Pokemon: Detective Pikachu are from a non-fan. I don't hate the brand in any way, but I also don't have a passion for it. So this is a review from a movie goer seeing a new film that's targeted to a younger demographic. As such, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is a unique and imaginative film. It's actually based on a video game that came out in 2016. The plot revolves around a young guy named Tim who looks into the disappearance and possible death of his father, only to run into Pikachu. And it turns out that Tim is the only human who can understand what Pikachu is saying, and Pikachu is the only Pokemon who can understand Tim. The two soon pair up--albeit a little reluctantly--on a quest to find out what happened to Tim's missing dad. We also quickly learn that Pikachu has amnesia and can't remember anything--even how to use his powers--but all he knows is he used to be paired up with Tim's father.
Thankfully, Detective Pikachu doesn't feel like a video game movie. In fact, if it didn't say it was based on it during the credits, I don't think you'd otherwise know that. But the film creates a unique world where humans and Pokemon coexist, and it gives the filmmakers the opportunity to stuff the film to overflowing with Pokemon cameos, Easter eggs and references--the kind of which that made us Transformers nerds giddy in our theater seats in 2007. Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) steps into the role of Tim. He's decent in the role, but I didn't care for him much in Jurassic World 2 and I think he's just okay here. He's certainly not bad, but he's not what people will remember about this movie. Ryan Reynold's voices Pikachu and is his usual sarcastic and wise-cracking self, however, the humor doesn't always land. It's never terrible, but I think, for the movie to play better with non-fans, it could have definitely benefitted from a funnier script. Kathryn Newton plays Lucy, another human who helps out Tim in his quest, and is also merely okay in her role. Bill Nighy and Ken Wantanabe are surprising additions to the cast who help to add some class and validity to the film. Otherwise, the film is just a cut above your usual kid-aimed PG-rated fair, and it's elevated some by its fantastic special effects which impressively bring the Pokemon world to life. Still, I couldn't help but feel as though the movie lacked a bit. Whether it needed a stronger script or stronger character presence, I'm not sure, but it seemed like it could definitely have been stronger. But, at the end of the day, my 8-year-old really liked it and it wasn't a terrible movie, so I felt like it mostly did its job.
The content of Detective Pikachu is definitely PG-rated. The theme of Tim's dad's car crash may be a little heavy for some viewers--and we see a flashback with him crawling away from the car--but it isn't bloody or gruesome in any way. The scariest content would definitely be the fact that there's a purple gas that makes Pokemon hostile (it reminded me a little of the purple minions from Despicable Me 2 or the temporarily aggressive animals in Zootopia). One scene features a "Ditto" changing into various other characters one after another, including a human, featuring dots replacing their human eyes. Even I found that disturbing. (That reminded me of Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Actually, the whole Pokemon in the human world reminded me a lot of that movie!) But they zip through these moments and don't linger on them too much. Still, during the climax where a Pokemon takes on a more villanous role and the Ditto attacks Tim, my son declared he was feeling scared. But it passed and he quickly took it back to say it was "actually awesome." (He tends to get scared when he doesn't know what's going to happen in a movie.) Other content includes Pikachu making weird comments about the "birth canal" or "feeling it in my jellies" (which could be taken as your "gut" or something a little more suggestive), as well as occasionally using "Oh my G-d" or "h*ll." There is one incomplete "S" word from Tim, but otherwise, the film only uses a few "h*ll," "Oh my G-d," and a single use of "d*mn." The themes surrounding Tim and his family are also a bit heavy, as we learn that Tim hasn't seen his dad in years, and ended up living with his grandmother after his mom passed away. There's a pretty heartfelt scene when Tim shares his troubles with an eager-to-listen Pikachu.
Detective Pikachu seems to be the Pokemon film fans have been eagerly awaiting. I don't think it's so good that it goes too far beyond its core audience, but it's still entertaining and, at times, even touching. It's good enough to make me somewhat interested in another story set within this world, but it doesn't quite get me pumped to go out of my way to catch another one.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/12/19)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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