Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton in Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Photo: Warner)

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Rob Letterman
STARS Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith

The Rotten Tomatoes website recently ranked 40 video-game movies from worst to best, and it should surprise absolutely no one that even the most acclaimed title on the list earned a Rotten score from critics. For the record, it was the 2018 Alicia Vikander version of Tomb Raider, nabbing a 52% Rotten designation. I happen to agree with that ranking, since that so-so endeavor looks like Raiders of the Lost Ark when compared to most of the other titles on the list, a compilation packed with 1-star horrors like Assassin’s Creed, Hitman: Agent 47, and Uwe Boll’s infamous Alone in the Dark (amusingly, five of the seven bottom titles were all helmed by the singularly unique Boll).

I expect Pokémon Detective Pikachu might be shaking up that list, and, if enough impressionable critics are included in the ranking (or at least critics who grew up as Pokémon fans and are feeling warm and nostalgic over the film), it might even become the first video-game adaptation to score a Fresh rating on the critical compilation site. Certainly, it’s better than anything else on that eyesore of a list, even if it never comes across as much more than a middling knockoff of the 1988 insta-classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Ryan Reynolds channels some of his Deadpool deadpanning into his vocal characterization as Pikachu, one of the “pocket monsters” living in harmony with humans in the sprawling metropolis of Ryme City. Suffering from amnesia, Pikachu, a private eye by profession, teams up with the son (Justice Smith) of his missing partner to discover who’s manufacturing a synthetic drug that’s turning all the Pokémon violent.

Like Roger Rabbit, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is set in a landscape where humans and non-humans co-exist, yet it does very little with this angle — heck, even last year’s notorious bomb The Happytime Murders did a better job at examining the relationships between the people and the puppets who lived, played and worked together. Yet where this new picture excels is in its visual realization, with state-of-the-art effects completely immersing viewers into this colorful world. The CGI mastery extends to the characters, with Pikachu proving to be an engaging protagonist. Even the film’s mystery isn’t too shabby, with the right amount of subtle clues and character reveals to keep it fairly interesting.

Unlike some other franchises with a long and storied history, it shouldn’t be too hard for newbies to understand Pokémon Detective Pikachu, since it’s fairly easy to grasp the nature of the various critters. Then again, perhaps I’m coming from the vantage point of having an older daughter who came of age when the franchise was created and enjoying its first flush of success. Although I was largely dismissive of the whole phenomenon, I was intrigued by the character of Psyduck (also in this movie), described as a crank who suffers from crippling headaches and often stands around in a dazed state. I can relate.


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