Thank you, Detective Pikachu, for being a videogame movie that doesn’t suck

A young man teams up with Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) to find his missing father in this live-action family adventure co-written and directed by Rob Letterman (Goosebumps).

Those hoping for the very first great videogame movie are going to have to wait a bit longer. However, as Liam Maguren writes, it deserves kudos for being a videogame movie that doesn’t suck.

From the Game Boy RPGs and the viciously popular ’90s cartoon to the Pokémon GO app that made zombies of us all, Pokémon has never stopped being relevant. It’s surprising that a live-action movie has taken this long to arrive. It’s even more surprising they adapted an obscure 3DS spinoff title rather than one from the core adventure series. The most surprising thing, though? Detective Pikachu is a videogame movie that doesn’t suck.

As with 2015’s Goosebumps, director Rob Letterman goes off the beaten path with the Pokémon property by doubling down on the crime mystery feel with superb neon-noir lighting and a moody synth score. The gorgeously rendered Pokémon sport ultra-fine details that never detract from their original designs (take note Sonic, you unholy freak of nature) and while there are HEAPS in this film, Letterman highlights key characters instead of fan favourites. The rest fill in the environment rather than take it over, reflecting the film’s wise goal of favouring genre over nostalgia.

Unfortunately, Detective Pikachu favours its world over its story too. Whether it’s due to sloppy writing or staying too faithful to the 3DS game, the script gives no opportunity for the audience to solve the case since the climax introduces an out-of-nowhere element that renders any previous guesswork pointless.

At least Ryan Reynolds scores a solid hit-miss joke ratio of about 4:1 as the voice of Detective Pikachu. He’s given so many one-liners, in fact, that there’s not much more to the character than ‘cute’, ‘funny’ and ‘I’ve got amnesia’. When the film tries to get emotional and serious, it doesn’t give the audience much to work with.

Justice Smith doesn’t get much to work with either as reluctant partner Tim, but he tries his hardest. While he sells the physical interplay between himself and the CGI rodent, his character’s such a wet blanket that you never fully buy him and Pikachu as buddies. That’s a big short-coming for a buddy-cop film.

Is it harsh to mark down a children’s crime film for not nailing its narrative? When films like Zootopia exist, I think not.

Fortunately, the concept fires on enough cylinders to prevent the story from being a write-off. Big Little Lies star Kathryn Newton delivers an on-point performance as an unpaid intern trying a little too hard to be a hard-edge journo and one ingenious twist manages to be both hilariously absurd and perfectly foreshadowed. It’s also admirable to see a takehome message for a blockbuster family film that favours a trust in nature over human dominance. With climate change closing in on us, it just feels like the responsible thing to do.