When his detective father disappears under mysterious circumstances, Tim (Justice Smith) travels to Ryme City - the only place on Earth where Pokemon and humans co-exist - to settle his affairs. However, he's soon contacted by his father's partner - a Pikachu (voice of Ryan Reynolds) who are inexplicably able to understand one another.
Calling 'Pokemon Detective Pikachu' the great movie ever made based on a videogame may seem like it's damning with faint praise. This is because just about movie based on a videogame has been poorly made, commercially unsuccessful and critically reviled. The likes of Steven E. DeSouza's 'Street Fighter' are now considered campy classics, whereas 'Resident Evil' was a DVD bargain bin mainstay long after people stopped buying DVDs.
The reasons for the failure of these adaptations are myriad, but certainly one that's made them all suffer - and one that 'Pokemon Detective Pikachu' avoids - is building an emotional connection with the audience. After all, a videogame places the audience / player in the emotional story, and gives them an active role. For movies, it's a passive experience and translating this never works. Yet, in 'Pokemon Detective Pikachu', it works better than most. The silver bullet here is in the title - the Pokemon themselves. Each Pokemon chooses its human counterpart, acting as a sort of familiar for that person. For example, Kathryn Newton's journalist character aptly works alongside a neurotic, easily-agitated Psyduck. The grizzled police chief, Ken Watanabe, is paired with a growling Snubbull.
Framing all of this is a bog standard detective story, where Justice Smith's detective father has disappeared and left behind a Pikachu - voiced by Ryan Reynolds, no less - to help him piece together clues. The catch here is that they can understand one another perfectly, whereas the relationship between Pokemon and person in this world is non-verbal and done by empathy. Again, that's the key here - empathy is essentially woven into the story, because the Pokemon who feature in every scene not only feel like they have a tactile presence, but an emotional one. Moreover, Justice Smith is able to convincingly riff off of Ryan Reynolds' fast-talking detective speak with ease, all of which helps to sell the reality of a bright-yellow furry hamster with a deerstalker.
With a tight hour forty-five runtime, 'Pokemon Detective Pikachu' rattles through its thin story with ease, bouncing and playing off every detective movie trope you can imagine along the way. Reynolds' loose, motormouth banter helps to keep the pace going, and while the action-packed finale might feel somewhat hollow, it mercifully dispenses with any kind of exposition or audience hand-holding. Even if you don't know the difference between a Gengar or a Gyrados, it doesn't make any odds to the story and the script by director Rob Letterman, Benji Samit, Dan Hernandez and Derek Connolly keeps the details light and leaves the fan servicing to visual cues rather than reams of flat dialogue.
Veteran cinematographer John Mathieson drenches the night sequences in neon and venetian blinds, evoking 'Blade Runner' and 'Chinatown', all while Pokemon scuttle across the streets. As enjoyable as any family-oriented mystery-caper involving furry animals can be, 'Pokemon Detective Pikachu' deserves a lot of credit for bucking the odds when it comes to videogame adaptations.
While by no means perfect, 'Pokemon Detective Pikachu' can nevertheless comfortably lay claim to being the best videogame adaptation ever made, and will likely hold on to that title for quite some time.