An incomprehensible story and a combination of blurry, often dizzying special effects make this video game adaptation for die-hard fans only.
A total of 11 writers are credited with the “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” character creation and story. This talented creative team place an inert narrative within an interesting and potentially rich world. But maybe too many hands touched the script. In attempting to cover all the Pokémon bases, something important got lost: coherence.
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is a thoughtful loner, who resists the societal norm, which has humans partnering with various Pokémon creatures. He has no intention of capturing a Pokémon. In his past, Tim wanted to be a Pokémon trainer, but he soured to the idea when his police officer father, Harry, left him and his late mother for a job in the big city.
But when Tim learns that Harry has been killed while investigating a case, Tim ventures into the city to take care of the final arrangements. The circumstances surrounding Harry’s death are mysterious. No body was found, because security footage indicates that a powerful Pokémon may have incinerated him.
Naturally, Tim is drawn into investigating Harry’s mysterious demise. Along the way, he partners with his Harry’s Pokémon, dubbed Detective Pikachu (voiced cleanly by wise-cracker extraordinaire Ryan Reynolds). Some kind of drug has flooded the streets of the city, and it causes the ordinarily mild-mannered Pokémon to become powerful dangerous. Before people get hurt or worse, the case has to be solved.
To put it bluntly, “Detective Pikachu” is boring. And given the massive amount of resources and talent involved, that’s really surprising, and I can’t imagine even little ones engaging entirely with the dense, often confusing storyline. The best moments come early, as the world is built, especially the city that is awash in every type of unusual and colorful Pokémon. But exhaustion sets in early, as the tone is constantly jumping around, and the effects both over and underwhelm.
There are moments in this movie that are impossible to watch. In some action sequences, characters crash and fall and twist in impossible and frustrating ways. On top of that shifting kaleidoscope, the dramatic flourishes seem entirely out of place. There’s one scene in which Tim is moved to tears while discussing his father with Detective Pikachu. It seems as if Justice Smith’s well-meaning performance belongs in a completely different movie. It’s odd, reminding me of Michael Moriarty’s serious turn in the bonkers 1980s movie “Q: The Winged Serpent.”
And while the Pokémon characters have weight and look uncanny, the images constantly change from heavily animated to something appearing to be much less so. For example, the woozy effects sequences conclude by giving way to more grounded images at breakneck speed, but in the transition, you can almost see the seams weaving together the two worlds. Lighting moves from dark to bright in an obvious attempt to mask effects work. It gave me a small, but distracting headache.
One excuse that will likely be made for this weakly realized video game (also a trading card game) adaptation is that fans will love the laundry list of Pokémon creatures on display, which is clearly aimed at children. The attempt may be to wear the “PG” rating as a badge of honor, amid the arguable cesspool of content polluted with language, violence, and sexual situations. But don’t buy it. And aimed at children? The Pokémon empire, which started as a video game in 1995, has plenty of adult devotees. A little more sophistication might have gone a long way here, especially as the wham-bang conclusion felt very much like something from a “Spy Kids” entry.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” isn’t the “PG” action movie that it could have been, and as an introduction to a new Pokémon franchise, it’s not a good start.