When “Pokemon: The First Movie” debuted in 1999, it was a critical flop (15% on Rotten Tomatoes) but also an instant commercial success, making $172.7 million at the box office worldwide. As such, it’s no surprise the Pokemon craze has endured the decades since. Twenty years later, fans who were children when they saw that first film now have one that they can enjoy alongside the next generation.
While the entire Pokemon franchise is based on a series of Nintendo games, “Detective Pikachu” provides perhaps the easiest entry point for anyone who wouldn’t be able to tell a Weezing from a Wigglytuff. Set more or less outside of the world of competitive battling most of franchise centers on, this movie delivers a surprisingly dark, noir-ish mystery both children and adults can enjoy.
At the same time, “Detective Pikachu” is overflowing with references to make veteran Pokeon fans smile. In fact, the movie serves as a very distant sequel to the aforementioned “First Movie,” sharing a main character.
The plot revolves around Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) teaming up with his estranged father’s Pikachu, to investigate his father’s mysterious demise as he was scrutinizing a corporation’s experiments on Pokemon.
Detective Pikachu is a delight visually, effectively pulling off a world in which live-action people coexist with computer-generated critters. Ryme City, the main setting of the film, feels lived in, especially as night falls the audience follows the characters down back alleys and to underground clubs in search of answers.
The titular Pikachu gumshoe, who has the ability to speak to the protagonist, is a particularly engaging CG creation, emoting the heck out of Ryan Reynold’s lines and delivering consistent laughs. Think “Deadpool,” but much more kid-friendly. Smith is also good, especially for a children’s mystery movie.
“Detective Pikachu” isn’t exactly “The Usual Suspects.” While a few of the twists are genuinely surprising, some of the larger ones will be pretty obvious to anyone who has ever seen a kids movie before. All the same, it is a genuinely enjoyable excursion into the world of Pokemon.