The first film based on the legendary Japanese media franchise owned by Nintendo, Pokémon Detective Pikachu doesn’t make much sense to those who aren’t familiar with Poké-verse. It’s a world dominated by creatures known as pocket monsters or Pokémon.
Pokémon are a range of brightly-coloured beasties that resemble lizards, birds, canines and rodents. They possess specific powers. Humans use special devices called Pokéballs to capture them and pit them against one another in battle. While furry little Pikachu is undeniably a Pokémon, describing him as a detective is a bit of a stretch (although that doesn’t make him less cute).
The film doesn’t have many of the usual Pokémon rules. Director Rob Letterman and cinematographer John Mathieson go for a look that, initially, seems old style-noir. Shot in 35-mm, a film format rarely used in Hollywood now, Ryme City, where humans co-exist peacefully with Pokémon, is bathed in neon hues and hazy filters. The excellent CGI makes the pocket monsters almost tactile. A magnificent sequence in which mountains fall apart and the earth opens up has the beauty and grandeur of a Christopher Nolan film. But buried under all the cuteness and technical excellence is a plot that makes little sense.
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is an angsty insurance agent who comes to Ryme City when his father Harry Goodman dies in a car crash. As he tries to wrap things up at his father’s apartment, he meets Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). Most Pokémon can’t talk to humans, but Tim can understand everything Pikachu says. Pikachu convinces Tim that his father, a detective, is alive. Tim, who has had a rough relationship with his father, joins the adventure to find his father.
They are helped by an intern at the local newspaper Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) who has been investigating the death of Detective Goodman. Ryme City is headed by Pokémon lover Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) and his malicious son Roger (Chris Geere).
Ryme City is a dreamy urban jungle – a surreal Tokyo in which fluffy pink Jigglypuffs sing in bullet trains, Mr Mime hides with his secrets in car parks with faux glass, and Psyduck threatens apocalypse with one of her headaches.
Tim and Pikachu solve the mystery they set out to with some bizarre plot twists. It isn’t a great detective move for sure, but plot and story don’t really matter in this video game movie elevated to animated noir. It helps that all the Pokémon are so adorable even if they merely utter the one word they are capable of saying: their names.
Fans, this is a big theatre experience you shouldn’t miss.