VOD film review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu
James R | On 19, Apr 2020
Director: Rob Letterman
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Bill Nighy, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Ken Watanabe
Watch Detective Pikachu online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Detective Pikachu. Two words that simply shouldn’t go together. And yet, in 2016, a video game did just that, breathing unexpected new life into the Pokémon franchise. Now, an equally improbable film adaptation pulls off exactly the same trick: given the long-standing tradition of Hollywood making terrible computer game movies, Detective Pikachu shouldn’t work. But it does, more than it has any right to – this witty animated adventure is a surprising delight of a film.
It follows Tim (Smith), a young insurance worker in Ryme City who has long dreamed of being a Pokémon trainer. When his police detective father, Harry, is killed in a car accident, he crosses paths with a deerstalker-clad Pikachu (Reynolds), who introduces himself as Harry’s former partner. Believing there’s more to his father’s death than meets the eye, and with strange attacks of rabid Pokémon on the rise, they begin to unpick a conspiracy that goes right to the heart of Pokémon mythology.
All of this, of course, is plainly ridiculous, but Detective Pikachu’s wonderful achievement is to take it with just the right level of seriousness. There’s respect and evident affection for the franchise’s lore, even incorporating Mewtwo as well as concepts such as evolution, battles ad lab experiments. From Bill Nighy as Ryme City founder Howard Clifford to Kathryn Newton’s Lucy Stevens, a reporter who is accompanied by a Psyduck, the cast all treat the creatures and concepts with respect and a sense of real stakes. The script – by director Rob Letterman, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit and Derek Connolly – also makes darkly inventive uses of Ditto, Mime and Mewtwo to craft a twisting mystery plot.
Letterman films it all with a confident blend of animation and live-action, bringing a vivid, neon futuristic noir feel to the urban backdrop. But what really brings a jolt of energy to proceedings is Ryan Reynolds, who is an inspired choice to voice Pikachu. He’s electrifying as the yellow furball, balancing his cute deer-stalker hat and ability to only say “Pika Pika” with the same motormouth irreverence that makes him a great Deadpool. Toned down for kids, of course, he’s still hilarious, dispatching witty asides and one-liners with scant regard for the fourth wall – we swiftly determine that only Tim can understand him, allowing us to hear his dialogue in full.
That ability is mimicked by the overall film, which provides an accessible entertaining window onto the Pokémon world even for parents unfamiliar with the franchise, while dropping enough nods and insights to please fans young and old alike. The end product shouldn’t work at all, but Detective Pikachu is a hugely entertaining animation – and, whisper it, the first good video game movie ever made.
Detective Pikachu is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.