Tim Goodman wanted to be a Pokémon trainer back when he was a little kid. But that was a long time ago. Now, as a young adult, those little magical beasties hold absolutely no sway with him. He doesn’t go out looking for them. He doesn’t toss red and white Poké balls at them. And he has no desire to “catch ’em all.”
Yes, he’s very well aware that makes him a little strange. Because let’s face it: Everybody, and I mean everybody, has a Pokémon of some sort these days. But Tim? He has no desire to deal with them in the slightest.
Little does he suspect how that’s all about to change.
First of all, Tim gets word of an accident that some say took his estranged policeman father’s life. So he travels in to Ryme City—a place where people and their Pokémon partners work side by side—to pick up his father’s belongings. And when he gets to his dad’s apartment, Tim unexpectedly finds the policeman’s Pikachu partner there.
But here’s the odd thing: This little yellow lightning blaster was supposed to have been in the same car crash as his dad. And now he’s sitting in the apartment with no memory of the event.
Oh, and how does Tim actually know about that little deerstalker-clad Poké’s lost memory?
Well, there’s the second odd thing: Tim can somehow understand him. Other humans can only hear the Pikachu say “Pika! Pika!” But Tim can decipher everything the little furry guy is saying.
Which leads us to the third odd thing: This “detective” Pikachu is saying that Tim’s dad is definitely still out there somewhere. Pikachu doesn’t know how he knows this, but he’s certain of it. The clues he’s gathered so far suggests that there’s an important mystery afoot. And only Tim and Detective Pikachu can solve it!
In the midst of the clue gathering and romping Poké adventures, the story thread here revolves around reconciliation between Tim and his dad. Early on Tim meets one of his father’s fellow police officers, who proclaims that Tim’s father “loved you more than anything else in the world.” But since his dad had left their family when he was a child, Tim rejects that idea out of hand.
Later though, Tim’s investigations reveal that his father really did love him and had earnestly tried to reach out to him and draw him close repeatedly over the years—something, again, that Tim’s younger self either didn’t know about or had always pushed away.
Tim also meets an earnest young reporter named Lucy who’s similarly determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on. Tim, Lucy and Pikachu repeatedly risk their safety to get to the truth, with each character exhibiting self-sacrficial qualities as they slowly unmask and confront the film’s real villain.
We hear passing reference to the fact that Pokémon can evolve into more powerful forms—something that’s a well-known component of the Pokémon gaming world but not actually explored here. Howard Cliff, the founder of Ryme City, says that he created the city as a place for humans to benefit from a calming communion with Pokémon so that they, too, might “evolve” into better versions of themselves.
A particularly powerful Pokémon named Mewtwo talks about mankind being evil (in large measure because humans have treated him poorly throughout his life), though he softens his view on that a bit by the end of the movie. (This perspective on humanity is consistent with his character throughout the franchise.)
[Spoiler Warning] As the story unfolds, various red herrings shift suspicions regarding who the film’s real villain is. But that baddie’s plot ultimately involves mystically transferring the “souls” of humans into their Pokémon partners, because he’s seemingly convinced that Pokémon are better than humans themselves, and that humans’ full “evolutionary” potential cannot be reached unless they actually become Pokémon.
During one struggle with an angry Pokémon, Tim accidentally loses his pants. (He’s wearing boxers, and Pikachu comments on his underwear preference.) It’s played for laughs. Pikachu repeatedly declares that he can feel his conviction about Tim’s father “in my jellies.” He also invites Tim back to his apartment, quipping that he’s “not that kind of Pokémon.” (A few other mildly suggestive comments similar to that one seem aimed at adults instead of the story’s main focus on a young audience.) Pikachu jokes about seeing a tattooed, shirtless man’s nipples. Tim and Lucy are clearly atttracted to each other, and Pikachu often gives a play-by-play assessment of how Tim’s doing in winning her affection.
The movie starts with a massive explosion at a secret research lab, and then we see what appears to be an incredibly powerful Pokémon blasting a car off the road. Later that potent creature is mind-controlled and compelled to shoot his blasts in a variety of directions and at several people. We see the above-mentioned accident reenacted and up-close in a hologram as the car burns and a victim climbs out of the wreckage.
On several occasions, some Pokémon inhale a mysterious purple gas and fly off in a fevered rage. A large Charizard (essentially the equivalent of a fire-breathing dragon) attacks Pikachu under the influence of this substance and almost crisps him and Tim with its fiery flames.
In one case, a mass, drugged Pokémon gang involves a hundred or more raging creatures. Some spew flames, while others rip up their surroundings, smash furniture and toss people around. That destruction is never bloody or lethal, but there is certainly peril in the mix as humans get attacked and pummeled.
One scene involves multiple huge explosions. Tim, Pikachu and Lucy tumble off the backs of two mountain-sized Pokémon and are chased by a fevered group of smaller ones. Tim gets battered around by a shape-shifting creature.
Several of these scenes are a bit tense and suspenseful and could be a bit frightening for young or very sensitive viewers.
There’s one unfinished s-word and a couple uses of the words “h—” and “d–n.” “Oh my gosh!” is exclaimed several times, along with exclamations of “geez,” “oh god” “good god” and one “sweet mother of Mary.”
As mentioned, a mysterious gas sends Pokémon into a rabid rage. As the film unfolds, we see that this substance has other effects as well.
At one point Tim talks about accidentally breathing the gas “up his nose,” making someone think he was referring to snorting a different illegal substance.
Tim jokes that Pikachu is addicted to caffeine since he drinks cup after cup of coffee.
There are lightly veiled quips tossed out about body parts, birth canals and bodily functions. During their investigation, Pikachu, Tim and Lucy cut through a perimeter fence and break into a research lab.
Nefarious scientists perform genetic experiments on imprisoned Pokémon in order to exploit and manipulate the creatures’ abilities.
Translating a beloved set of characters—in this case, endearing “pocket monsters” which have become famous worldwide via video games, trading cards and graphic novels—into a winning film is no easy feat. (Though you’d probably be pretty surprised to see a full list of how many times Hollywood has tried it!) And the idea of creating a murder mystery featuring a blend of live-action human actors and realistic CGI Pokémon critters seems like it could be an even more difficult pika to chew.
But it’s not impossible. And Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a case in point.
This rollicking, chuckle-worthy story takes on its Roger Rabbit-like challenge with a silly sureness. And most will say it does a pretty solid job, too. Especially if they’re a Poké fan.
The caffeine-addicted Pikachu hero is endearingly cute and charming, the fanciful mystery tale ducks and weaves quickly, and the central father/son story thread is sweet. And if nothing else, the movie’s wonderfully rendered Pokémon will have young fans of the franchise (mostly) oohing and awing.
That kid-centric focus, however, amplifies Detective Pikachu’s small problems. Actor Ryan Reynolds is sharp and quick-quipping as the story’s Poké protagonist. But his constant patter and chatter, though never really crude, can sometimes tiptoe along an uncomfortable borderline. Kids may not get some of the lightly veiled allusions to body parts and birth canals, but mom and dad will certainly wince a bit. And they’ll likely roll their eyes in mild annoyance at the story’s mild potty humor riffs and light language issues. Parents of really young fans should also note that a few scenes could potentially be frightening as well.
Those negatives are never as off-putting as, say, a Weezing gas cloud, but they are a bit of Lickitung slobber that parents of young fans should be aware of.
Looking for clues to a better father son relationship? Check out these informative and helpful Focus on the Family resources:
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.