I play “Pokémon Go” with my six- and three-year-old sons. Yeah, that’s right. We play it. Laugh it up. We like it. It’s fun. I’d never played or watched anything Pokémon-related before, so I never developed any particularly deep love for the franchise. Still, when I recently took my six-year-old to see “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” we were undeniably excited to see live-action renditions of Charizard, Gyrados, Snorlax, Mew…
… and Cubone, Slakoth, Psyduck and, of course, Pikachu. Sure enough, there they were. So many of them! Seriously, it was like taking a tram ride through the zoo—“Ooh, look, there’s a Charmander! And Aipom! And, wow, cool, there’s Mr. Mime!”
Aside from all the sightseeing so clearly aimed at the Pokémon faithful, this installment in the Pokémon franchise follows, not the beloved Ash, but Tim Goodman (Justice Smith)—a 21-year-old insurance salesman who looks and acts and surely must be closer to 15-years-old. Goodman has been summoned to Ryme City after the apparent death of his estranged father, who was a detective.
When he arrives in Ryme City—which is distinctive because humans and Pokémon live side-by-side as equals—and after he does the whole “whoa, look at all the Pokémon” thing for a while (which, again, makes no sense as anything other than Pokémon-nerd eye candy, since Goodman has surely seen these Pokémon before), Goodman visits the police station (his dad’s workplace) and his dad’s apartment to collect his belongings.
But when he gets to his dad’s apartment, Goodman realizes something isn’t right. Not only are there suspicious materials lying around, but a suspiciously aloof Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) in a Sherlock Holmes hat shows up as well. Then Aipoms, who are high on some kind of Hulk-ifying anger juice, start going after them.
After they escape, Goodman learns that this Pikachu was once his dad’s partner. Except the Pikachu doesn’t really remember much because he has amnesia. With the help of Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton)—a tabloid writer who aspires to be a more serious journalist—they get on the case.
It turns out that Goodman’s dad may not be dead after all. And there may have been some funny business involved—something having to do with a Mew. And the seemingly-benevolent financier of Ryme City (Bill Nighy) might have had something to do with it.
Plus, look at all the Pokémon!
As I said, my son and I came to see this movie in part to see some Pokémon. We got our fill of that (thus, my son was pleased). But we also went to see a movie, and that was less satisfying.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” isn’t a very good movie. It is corny, hackneyed, melodramatic and/or sentimental at the wrong moments, predictable and just so clearly taking advantage of the fact that millions of people are in love with Pokémon and will therefore ravenously consume anything the franchise dishes up.
Indeed, part of the problem is that so much time, and so much of the gravitational pull on the plot, centers on our seeing Pokémon, identifying Pokémon, watching Pokémon do cute and funny things, and so on. This cheapens any genuine plot the movie may purport to offer.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is supposed to be some sort of detective mystery, I guess. But it doesn’t feel like it. Sure, Goodman, Pikachu and Lucy Stevens do scamper around chasing leads. But the uninspired (and predictable and uncompelling) plot machinations don’t make a story worth caring about. I, at least, didn’t care. I doubt my son did either.
On the other hand, we saw a lot of Pokémon. So my six-year-old was happy.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.