Rarely are transformational works well-regarded in their time. Vincent Canby of The New York Times compared The Godfather Part II’s dialogue to “cartoon captions,” and wrote that the movie was “stitched together from leftover parts” — like Frankenstein’s monster. The Fast and the Furious was called “Rebel Without a Cause without a cause” by Rita Kempley of The Washington Post. Rolling Stone’s David Fear claimed Detective Pikachu “is strictly for the fans, in the best and worst possible ways.”
It’s claims like these that seem reasonable, but time proves them wrong, as fans, critics and later generations of filmgoers recognize these films for what they are: masterpieces.
Detective Pikachu, the first live-action Pokémon movie, is a daring and heartwarming piece of filmmaking. History will reflect this. However, I will admit there are elements that threaten to hold it back from its rightful glory. Diplo woodenly plays the announcer of an underground animal fighting ring; Rita Ora plays an unconvincing scientist. A good portion of the plot hinges upon Pokémon getting high on a purple drug, the effects of which change depending on the needs of the plot. The third act devolves into CGI shenanigans, with a few metaphysically troubling twists. For nearly two hours, Ryan Reynolds plays an electric mouse addicted to caffeine and cheap masturbation jokes — it’s not something I had a problem with, but I understand others’ mileage may vary. In a vacuum, these disparate flaws sound like a shit show. Together, they combine to great effect, like a beautiful symphony.
The film weaponizes a kaleidoscopic wave of nostalgia aimed at eternally arrested adults still searching for the elusive high of primary color cartridges, overpriced foil-wrapped cardboard and poorly plotted anime. Instead of scoffing at this pursuit, the creators of Detective Pikachu try to honor over 24 years of world building and earnestly wrestle with the narrative and artistic challenges of imparting souls onto computer-generated artifice. It’s an emotionally resonant movie about the lengths humanity will go to strengthen their bond with animals and — like owning a pet — it’s a rewarding but exhausting experience.
Detective Pikachu subverts the traditional, animated Pokémon movies in one, distinct way: It’s good. The Pokémon film franchise’s tend towards the lifeless, rote and formulaic. Their general ambition is maximizing profit, which usually means accepting mediocrity. Each movie follows the same blueprint: Ash (the properties’ eternal protagonist) meets a legendary, all-powerful Pokémon, and said Pokémon hates humanity. Ash cries at the monster and proves the human race is *points wildly* good. It’s why Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back was terrible on arrival, Pokémon: The Movie 2000 deserved to be taken out back and put out of its misery and Pokémon 3: The Movie: Entei – Spell of the Unown is not really worth mentioning ever again.
Ryan Reynolds and the writers of Detective Pikachu‘s addition to this formula hinges upon the Deadpool-ification of cinema. It’s depressing, and doesn’t bode well for the ultimate quality of the medium, but it’s effective here. Farts, porn, one night stands, daddy issues, addiction — no topic, apparently, in a film that has to contend with simultaneously entertaining man-babies and actual infants.
The saving grace (and potential downfall) of Detective Pikachu is the Mini Cooper-sized monsters that inhabit every inch of it. Pokémon are like dogs. They’re cute, have thousands of breeds, and each one is the best boy. Detective Pikachu is a dog movie, which loosely follows the same plot as the oft-forgotten 1999 Nickelodeon show, 100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd. As hyperbolic as this sounds, hating Detective Pikachu is not too far off from hating puppies.
But similar to puppies, Detective Pikachu can’t help taking a dump in the house during the third act. The last 30-minutes of the film are unintelligible. All of the goodwill evaporates once the movie tries to logically explain why Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is the only person who can understand Pikachu.
Then, Pikachu says “pika, pika” and those complaints evaporate. It’s impossible not to choose Pikachu, every damn time.