Detective Pikachu Finds Its Own Humor, But Not Relevance

Andrew Mello, A&E Editor

Falcon Rating: 3.5/5

It takes a lot of good faith with an audience to bring together humans and a world of trading card monsters and still make it work. But with a lot of humor—nd even more Ryan Reynolds—Detective Pikachu is somehow able to pull it off for a sometimes shallow but childishly amusing end product.

While not a likely hero, insurance agent Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is a bit of a loner to begin the movie. After the death of his mother years ago, he was alienated from his detective father, and sent to live with his grandmother. It’s been years since he last saw his father until he gets a sudden phone call from Rhyme city police, a utopia for both Pokémon and humans to live together. He’s told that his father was involved in a deadly crash, and upon arriving to the city, gets to uncovering the mystery of his father’s death. With the help of a journalist intern and his father’s old sidekick Pikachu, Goodman goes off throughout the city trying to find the cause of his father’s death.

From start to finish, Detective Pikachu doesn’t ever really stray outside of its main story, with nearly every scene being a follow up to the next clue in Goodman’s investigation. While every scene is connected to the mystery, that same mystery often evaporates from the plot, so many scenes seem like a poorly-written excuse to include an action scene or elevate the tension with some kind of fight. For instance, there’s a specific “battle” that takes place at an illegal fight club, and instead of waiting for the ringleader to head out and away from the dangerous crowd, the gauntlet is thrown down then and there. The scene does almost nothing to progress the story, but the inclusion still serves the point of a big fight, and relieving some tension for the audience.

But, in all fairness, I wouldn’t expect a mystery on par with a Sherlock Holmes novel from a movie about living, breathing pocket monsters. The real center of the film comes from Ryan Reynolds’s eccentric performance as the sarcastic and titular Pikachu. His signature deadpan delivery could have been more than stale here, but because it’s the same monotone sarcasm from a large yellow rat, the jokes still feel fresh. Every scenario lends itself perfectly to his easy-coming one-liners and reflexive comedy, but there is still enough time given to more serious themes—mainly, Goodman’s detachment issues from his father. Unfortunately, these aren’t very well developed for any one of the human characters, and funnily enough, I was only able to identify with the yellow electric hairball. The time given to these areas is enough that you can understand a character’s motivation, but you still don’t really have to care about them.

Director Rob Letterman makes a smart choice at first by grounding the story in the human characters, and despite being somewhat flat, seeing this strange world of creatures from a real person’s perspective lends to the idea it could be real. The creature effects also play no small part in the audience’s tolerance for the Pokémon, as each one looks distinct in its own way, from large orange dragons to a baby shaped turtle made of 80% tongue.

While it’s not a great story, Detective Pikachu is 100%funnier than it has any right to be. The balancing between serious and humorous is riding the fine line with two hours of rightly immature jokes while having just enough plot and development to still technically be a detective story. The movie knows exactly which parts of itself are weakest, so instead it’s occupied trying to make you laugh. And that’s not such a bad thing.