It’s frankly ridiculous that Detective Pikachu has even happened. Just a couple of years ago, the notion of a studio as big as Warner Bros making a live-action Pokémon film was as ludicrous as an Onyx doing intricate embroidery. The rise of Pokémon Go, however, put the colourful world of Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori’s bizarre monsters back on the cultural map to the extent that a film was greenlit. And, to be clear, this isn’t a common or garden Pokémon film. It’s one in which Ryan Reynolds voices a sarcastic yellow Sherlock with an electro-powered tail. Its existence is a remarkable feat in itself, and it’s even more remarkable that it’s actually pretty good.
Fans of the first animated Pokémon movie, which arrived in the UK in 2000, will enjoy the opening, in which the legendary Mewtwo escapes his confinement and causes a devastating accident. The only survivor of the crash is an amnesiac Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), who was the companion of a detective. That detective’s son Tim (Justice Smith) arrives to look through his dad’s things and bumps into Pikachu, whose speech he can bizarrely understand. Pikachu thinks the detective is still alive, which leads the unlikely duo on an investigation that seems to involve the shady media mogul son (Chris Geere) of Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), founder of Ryme City, where humans and Pokémon live together without battling or pokéballing.
There’s an obvious charm to Detective Pikachu, in the way it populates its world. Fans of any generation of the Pokémon games or TV series will enjoy seeing recognisable animated creatures intermingling with a live-action environment that marries East and West in a similar way to the ‘San Fransokyo’ of Big Hero 6. An early sequence involving a stubborn Cubone is a comedy highlight and an extended scene of interrogation with a Mr Mime is delightfully dark. Much of the film’s best moments come from the inherent silliness of what happens when these characters interact with a world close to our own.
Justice Smith does a solid job of holding things together, with a performance that hits just the right level of hysteria and Kathryn Newton is enjoyably sharp as a greenhorn reporter who’s tired of simply writing fluffy listicles about adorable Pokémon (“news flash: they’re all cute!”). However, it’s Ryan Reynolds who is the MVP here. He plays his sardonic Pikachu as a hard-bitten, caffeine-addled sleuth who struggles to bring about his electric powers, even when he ends up on the opposite side of a ‘fight club’ cage to an angry, flame-spitting Charizard. Reynolds is at the peak of his fast-talking powers here and it’s no stretch to imagine that he was given plenty of room to riff and improvise as we know that he can.
The film also deserves credit for its willingness to be completely batty and throw absolutely everything at the wall. Director Rob Letterman previously showed these exact skills at the helm of the surprisingly excellent Goosebumps movie. There’s a lot of kaleidoscopic anarchy at play here. However, despite admiring this, one can’t help feeling that the film gets lost in the noise.
There are moments in which Detective Pikachu completely drowns in exposition, conjuring an over-complicated plot that has several screws loose and doesn’t make a lick of sense. The emotional revelations and twists of the third act are confounding and don’t come even close to adding up, though the ideas at play are so thoroughly barmy and wild that the movie’s head stays above water, even as the narrative flies off the rails.
There’s enough warmth and nostalgia here that anyone with a connection to the Pokémon universe will find plenty to excite them. Detective Pikachu is an unruly and nonsensical exercise in utter bedlam that relies on the firecracker comedy charisma of Ryan Reynolds to keep its rickety jigsaw of a narrative in one, misshapen piece. It’s a movie so strange that Rita Ora popping up in a bizarre cameo as a scientist wouldn’t even crack a list of the top ten weirdest things about it. And that’s something to be treasured like a shiny Mewtwo card on a school playground.
Dir: Rob Letterman
Scr: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Chris Geere, Ken Watanabe, Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora
Prd: Hidenaga Katakami, Don McGowan, Mary Parent, Cale Boyter
DOP: John Mathieson
Music: Henry Jackman
Country: USA, Japan
Run time: 104 mins
Detective Pikachu is in UK cinemas from 10th May.