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 Pokémon–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 Pokémon, 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 Pokémon: 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon: 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, Pokémon: 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon coexist, and it gives the filmmakers the opportunity to stuff the film to overflowing with Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon 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)
4K UHD / Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Along with the feature film in 4K UHD, the 2D Blu-Ray disc and digital copy of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu are the following Extras:
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu in 4K UHD (1:44:27) – Not to sound like a broken record, but not all 4K transfers are alike, and while Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a solid transfer with rich colors and sharp clarity, I’m not sure it’s all that much different than the already sharp Blu-Ray transfer. However, if you’re a diehard Pokémon fan, it’s probably well worth the splurge for the 4K transfer, but I wouldn’t call this one a must for the format. Still, it is pretty good.
Free Pokémon Trading Card – I’ve never collected a single Pokémon card in my life, but fans may be excited to know that this set comes with a Detective Pikachu Pokémon card, where he has a healing ability based on a “Coffee Break” (I can definitely relate to that!), which can heal 30 damage, and a “Corkscrew Punch” that deals a damage of 20 to an opponent. Detective Pikachu is also a “Basic” card with a health of 90. (And it’s got that neat shininess to the image on the card that many other special cards have.) My 8-year-old son was very excited to get this card.
Detective Mode (1:44:27) – I’m not usually one to care for special “modes” of viewing a film, but this one is actually kind of neat. When the movie begins to play, director Rob Letterman introduces the feature via pop-up and explains how trivia pop-up bubbles and other features will show up while you watch the feature film. These give profiles on different Pokémon (which is especially insightful if you’re an uninformed viewer), Easter eggs, stunts, and behind the scenes videos that play along with the finished scene– like Ryan Reynolds filming the car crash stunt (which is a little odd since we don’t ever see him in the car in the scene).
My Pokémon Adventure (2:11) – Justice Smith, who plays Tim Goodman, talks about his experience with Pokémon throughout his life. He grew up as a fan and still has his original, first generation trading cards. He’s excited and honored to be part of the new live action franchise.
Creating the World of Detective Pikachu (21:12) – This is a series of mini featurettes with a Play All option. “Uncovering the Magic” (4:03) is about how the cast and director got involved in making the film, how it was shot on film (instead of digitally), and how they went for a very classic noir look and feel. “Colorful Characters” (6:46) talks about Pikachu as a character and Ryan Reynolds becoming him. Justice shares about what it was like to be acting with nothing for much of the film (since many characters, including Pikachu were all CGI). Finally, Kathryn talks a bit about Lucy’s mysterious character. “Bringing Pokémon to Life” (3:22) covers the designing of Pokémon for a live action world, and how they picked 60 different Pokémon to start with. This featurette covers the challenge of animating them, trying to make them look real, and trying to animate Pikachu to match Ryan’s energetic performance. “Welcome to Ryme City” (2:56) talks about the design of the film’s fictional city where humans and Pokémon peacefully coexist, and how it’s very much a fantastical mix of Tokyo and London. Lastly, “Action!” (4:06) is about the cast doing stunts and the fun they had doing them. They mostly focus here on the scene where the ground folds upward when Tim and Lucy are escaping through the forest.
Alternate Opening (1:39) – For this “alternate opening,” we find out it’s Tim’s 21st birthday and we see him at work in a cubicle in an insurance agency. A coworker tries to get him to go out partying and pick up girls and catch Pokémon, but Tim declines. There’s some weird, kind of risqué humor here too that just doesn’t fit the film or its target audience. It was wise to cut this entirely.
Mr. Mime’s Audio Commentary (2:58) is a weird gag to include here. He introduces the segment saying he’d be doing audio commentary for his scene in the movie, but the film plays out with no commentary at all… because he doesn’t talk. It ends with the whole scene playing out just like the theatrical version, and then cutting back to Mr. Mime realizing he doesn’t talk. I get the gag, but it’s a rather pointless addition here.
Ryan Reynolds: Outside the Actor’s Studio (1:32) – This is more or less a mock interview with Ryan Reynolds where he jokingly says he immersed himself in his role and became Pikachu, to the point where he even didn’t pick up his kids from school because “Pikachu doesn’t have kids.” His real life actress wife Blake Lively cameos here to fuel the gag. It’s pretty funny–and hopefully the young viewers will realize they’re just kidding. (1 “d*mn”)
“Carry On” Music Video by Rita Ora and Kygo (3:49) is a sugary pop song with scenes from the movie mixed with Rita singing and dancing around some sets from the movie–like the detectives’ office.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/4/19)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Pikachu makes a comment about a “birth canal;” Pikachu makes some remarks about “feeling it in my jellies,” which is kind of like a “gut feeling” but may also hint at other meanings; While being chased by little Pokémon creatures, Tim removes his pants down to his boxes, for a short moment.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 incomplete “S” word, 2 “h*ll,” 1 “d*mn,” 5 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “Oh G-d,” 1 “Good G-d”
Alcohol/Drugs: Tim tries to explain that he inhaled the purple gas that’s affecting the Pokémon, but it sounds like he says he inhaled a drug and he stumbles over his words trying to explain himself.
Violence: We see an explosion around a building; We see a car crash and later see closer-up footage of the car overturned with a person crawling out of it; Charizar big dragon-like Pokémon who goes crazy after inhaling some of the purple gas, and violently chases after and attacks Pikachu during a battle; A group of small Pokémon chase Tim and Pikachu and swarm them; We see a decimated lab after an explosion; The ground rises up and warps and tosses Tim, Lucy and Pikachu around. It turns out to be two gigantic Pokémon underneath it. A large rock falls on Pikachu, knocking him out and threatening his life. Tim then seeks the help of other Pokémon to heal him; A bunch of Pokémon chase the main three characters through a forest, till a Psyduck emits a wave of energy, defeating the pursuing Pokémon; A Pokémon changes into various other people and throws Tim around. Tim hangs off the side of a tall building and nearly falls to his death, but is saved at the last moment; A large amount of the purple gas affects many Pokémon, causing them to become hostile. A sequence where people and Pokémon merge together may frighten some people; and other cartoon-ish live action violence.