Elementary, my dear Pokémon

The popular franchise gets a live-action spin in

Justice Smith, Ryan Reynolds (Pikachu) and Kathryn Newton star in "Pokémon: Detective Pikachu." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

"Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" brings the gigantic global video and card game/anime/comic-book franchise to the big screen in a big way, but it feels more like a sales pitch than a fully realized story.

After establishing some mystery involving an incident at a research laboratory, "Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" gets down to world-building by establishing a universe in which humans co-exist with Pokémon (a.k.a. "pocket monsters"). In this universe, these little beasties (which come in more than 800 wildly differing varieties) start out feral and either get trapped for underground cage matches or domesticated as contented partners to humans.

When human Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), the 21-year-old son of fallen Ryme City Police detective Harry Goodman, takes the train to Ryme City to get the bad news in person, he meets a Pokémon.

Older viewers -- if indeed any bother with the movie -- will immediately recognize Ryme City as a variation on Toontown from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." As in that live-action/animation hybrid, non-humans roam more or less freely amongst humans, although nastiness plays out in the noir-ish shadows. Director Rob Letterman ("Gulliver's Travels," the animated "Monsters vs. Aliens") gives the city a sunny introduction before plunging it mostly into nighttime, this futuristic pseudo-Tokyo bathed in the glow of neon signs and video screens (thank you, "Blade Runner").

In his father's apartment, Tim meets "Detective Pikachu" (Ryan Reynolds), a Pokémon whose English-speaking voice only Tim can (magically) hear. Pikachu sports big doe eyes, cherry-red cheeks and yellow fur from his rabbit ears to his lightning-bolt-shaped tail, all topped with a deerstalker cap. A caffeine-addicted amnesiac, this pudgy lil' cutie isn't a whole lot of help -- he can't seem to get his powers to work -- but he is Tim's only link to his dead father. The pair's investigation runs afoul of a drug that turns Pokémon rabid, which leads them to the supposedly altruistic Clifford Industries, run by Roger Clifford (Chris Geere) and his visionary father Howard (Bill Nighy).

For a PG movie, "Pokémon: Detective Pikachu" turns out to be convoluted and literally dark, so it's a toss-up how the wee-est ones will respond to it -- though they'll certainly enjoy the dynamic between the boy and his quippy Pokémon, as well as the decidedly non-photo-real CGI animation. The messy plot lurches along like a car with a bad transmission, busting out with twists having to do with secret genetic experimentation and the true nature of Harry's disappearance. All of this loosely derives from a video game called "Detective Pikachu," but the plot contortions required to justify a talking Pokémon (and, thereby, dialogue) bring to mind a quadruple-jointed yogi.

Is this the Pokémon movie that fans want? I'm guessing it'll do for most, as the "gotta catch 'em all" franchise is the Easter Egg basket that keeps on giving allusions and "cameos" (fans hearts will no doubt swell at scenes like the one that gives a hero moment to the Bulbasaur breed). With Reynolds' wisecracking and a number of frantic action sequences, this looks like an effective enough franchise launcher. But the early inklings of a 1980s kid-movie vibe (think "Gremlins") don't quite deliver on their promise of straightforward fun and games -- it all feels a little too much like work.

— Peter Canavese

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

After experiencing harassment, owner of Zareen's restaurants speaks out about Islamophobia, racism
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 7,479 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 14 comments | 2,483 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,429 views

Good News: The New Menlo Park Rail Subcommittee Hits A Home Run
By Dana Hendrickson | 12 comments | 1,622 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 986 views


Register today!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More