The craze surrounding assorted little creatures known as Pokémon (singular and plural are the same, like in the word sheep) came long after I’d stopped being interested in such things. I didn’t know there was a series of Pokémon video games or card games. I sure didn’t know there were 21 anime feature films based on Pokémon before “Pokémon Detective Pikachu.”
But I was aware of (though not savvy about) the Pokémon GO phenomenon, with passionate people running around - in the real world, not at their computer - pointing their smartphones at virtual Pokémon, “capturing” them, and earning points. Or something like that.
I recently attended a preview screening of “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” in an auditorium packed with rabid Pokémon people, feeling out of touch, but somehow picking up on and getting into the electricity in the air. One of those fans, sensing that I was out of my element, helpfully pointed out that this was the first “live-action/computer-animated hybrid Pokémon film,” for which I offered thanks. Then proceeded, for the next hour and a half, to have a delightful time.
It just didn’t matter that I wasn’t aware of Pokémon lore, or of the difference between a Bulbasaur and a Roggenrola, or that some are cute and some are fierce, or that Pikachu is a type of Pokémon, not a Pokémon’s personal name. It didn’t matter because the movie is a fast-paced, often hilarious sendup of a detective story, with a dose of science fiction and plenty of adventure thrown in.
The little bit that I knew about the human connection to the odd creatures did me no good at all. The film isn’t about people hunting for Pokémon, it’s about a Pokémon - a cute, fuzzy little Pikachu - who’s looking for a human. He’s, as the title suggests, a cop, and his human partner has disappeared, and he has to find him in order to save the world. Or something like that.
But there are catches galore. Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds, and displaying all of the snarkiness he offered up in the “Deadpool” movies but without the cursing) has amnesia, and has no idea where to begin searching for his partner. He also has to deal with Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a 20-something insurance salesman who has no sense of humor, is bored with and mad at the world, and couldn’t give a fig about any Pokémon, but ... here it comes - is the son of the missing detective, and is thrown together with Pikachu in the challenge to find him.
You’d think that a movie with this title and the fluffy little guy in the lead role would be intended for kids only. But a lot of people have been doing the Pokémon thing for a number of years, and the audience net is definitely a wide one. So, beyond the colorful characters, most of whom are absolutely cuddly (except for a big, dangerous-looking creature in the opening frames and a scary fire-breathing Pokémon (is it a Charizard?) who takes part in a secret warehouse caged battle), the movie is for the older kids in all of us.
Alongside the main characters there’s Lucy (Kathryn Newton), a struggling wannabe TV reporter; Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), a wealthy communications magnate, and his son Roger (Chris Geere), who do not get along; and Lieutenant Yoshida (Ken Watanabe), who’s trying to make sense of things. There are even real-world issues, including environmental problems and a second problematic father-son relationship.
This thing whizzes along, yet between its almost non-stop action and very funny dialogue, it takes time to slow down to present a problem or two, then solve them. There’s a little too much going on in the last act to keep track of, but that’s never much of a problem. It’s all too much fun to let something like substance, meaning, and sensibility get in the way.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Pokemon Detective Pikachu”
Written by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly
Directed by Rob Letterman
With Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy