A little bit of world-building goes a long way.
I’ll be brutally honest: Pokemon Detective Pikachu won’t be winning any screenwriting awards. It tells a rather paint-by-numbers “boy and his dog” story with a heartwarming message about the power of love, friendship, and family. Contrary to what the title would suggest, it’s not even an actual mystery: sure, the narrative revolves around a series of puzzling questions, but there are no clues for the audience to decipher alongside the protagonists; instead, every answer is essentially presented on a silver platter, and the few plot twists are blatantly telegraphed.
And all of that is absolutely fine, because the setting is imaginative and impeccably-crafted enough to compensate for such relatively minor shortcomings. The eponymous creatures are perfectly stylized, blending the cartoonish proportions of the original designs with more tangible, “realistically” textured features (from Pikachu’s fur to Charizard’s scales)—thus gracefully avoiding the pitfall of the uncanny valley, unlike the CGI abomination that is the “live-action” Sonic the Hedgehog. Additionally, every frame is packed with small, subtle details—a Snorlax slumbering in the middle of a busy intersection, an Aipom rummaging through a garbage can, Pidgeys perching on power lines—that make Ryme City feel legitimately organic and lived-in.
Solid performances help to further cement this sense of authenticity. Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton occasionally veer dangerously close to camp, but since they’re acting alongside Ryan Reynolds (well, his voice, anyway)—who makes every joke and one-liner seem effortless—I’m willing to cut them some slack. The true MVP, though, is Bill Nighy, who is clearly having a blast with his surprisingly nuanced role, but still respects the material (and its sizable fan base) enough to deliver even the most ridiculous lines of dialogue with utter sincerity.
The result is a charming, funny, and aggressively cute cinematic experience. Pokemon Detective Pikachu (there really should be a colon in there somewhere) ranks among the very best video game adaptations ever to grace the big screen—and while that particular bar is pathetically low, I don’t mean that as a backhanded compliment.