Tim (Justice Smith) may be the only person in the world who doesn’t love Pokémon; in fact, he rejects them. When he learns that his detective dad was killed in a suspicious crash, he’s forced to join forces with Pokémon Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), the only creature who can help him crack the case.
For those who have somehow missed out on the games, cartoons, trading cards, beach towels etc, Pokémon are (usually cute) creatures that wander around with their owners, who sometimes keep them in balls, which they throw at them to catch them (don’t worry, Pokémon are okay with this). They have special powers and can be forced to battle each other (they’re okay with that too). The only thing they can say is their own names, like Groot (Groot is not a Pokémon, but could be). They come in unending variety and people collect them. This probably hasn’t helped. All you really need to know to enjoy, if not entirely understand, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is that they’re cartoony sidekicks, and one of them sounds like Ryan Reynolds doing a less saucy, equally sassy version of Deadpool.
This is not the first Pokémon film to be released — there are already 19 animated movies — but it’s the first one made for uninitiated audiences. It aims to put everyone on the same page by opening with a brand-new character. Tim, played with awkward charm by Justice Smith, is a 21-year-old insurance drone who has lost both his parents. His mother died when he was very young and, he learns at the film’s outset, his detective father was killed in a suspicious accident. The only thing that survived was his father’s Pokémon assistant, Pikachu, who has lost his memory but wants Tim to help him find out what caused his dad’s accident. Bizarrely, Tim can understand everything Pikachu says (in the voice of Ryan Reynolds), even though Pokémon can’t speak. Tim overcomes his dislike of Pokémon, the reasons for which become clear later, to join Pikachu on his mission.
"As a buddy comedy it's heaps of fun."
In terms of plotting, Detective Pikachu is pretty shoddy. It doesn’t very clearly establish the rules of Pokémon in the human world (if you don’t know your Mewtwo from your Mew, then good luck with the finer details) and the storytelling is so ham-fisted that approximately every 20 minutes there will be a long dialogue scene in which a character will monologue about what’s happening and what will happen next. However, as a buddy comedy it is heaps of fun.
Whoever decided that the film needed Ryan Reynolds deserves an enormous pay rise. His voice coming out of a little fluffy hamster-y thing is innately amusing, but his lines are also sharp, silly and knowing. The odd-couple riffing between him and Smith produces some scenes of surreal comic excellence — especially one in which they interrogate a mime Pokémon, which has a joltingly dark punchline. It bears some comparison with The Lego Movie. While it’s not the work of genius that is, it finds success in the same approach: instead of being drily reverent to the multi-billion dollar product that inspired it, it’s confident that it’s so beloved that it can make relentless, affectionate fun of it, with the help of a small, yellow, snarky idiot.