'Pokémon Detective Pikachu': What the Critics Are Saying

Critics give their take on the live-action film based on a popular video and card game.

The reviews are in for Pokémon Detective Pikachu and critics are mixed. 

The film, directed by Rob Letterman, follows voice star Ryan Reynolds in the title role, with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom's Justice Smith co-starring as a young man named Tim who has given up on his dreams of becoming a Pokémon trainer. When his detective father goes missing, Tim meets Detective Pikachu and immediately has a special connection to the Pokémon, being the only person who can understand him. Together, the duo team up to solve the mystery of Tim's missing father. 

Though the Warner Bros. film opens to theaters on May 10, Legendary has already begun work on a sequel to its Pokémon-based movie, with Oren Uziel to pen the script.

For The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Rechtshaffen thinks the film "isn't half bad" and star Reynolds brings "a generous sampling of his sardonic Deadpool sensibility to the voicing of the title role" and "imbues his world-weary Pikachu with the right balance of pith and pathos." Further, Rechtshaffen celebrates the behind-the-camera talents for "tossing together dry humor, nostalgic sentimentality and a healthy visual effects budget to workable effect, even if those elements never actually coalesce." Despite the film struggling to organically blend the comedy, action and emotional moments, Rechtshaffen goes on to say that "Letterman’s energetic direction manages to hold everything aloft" making the film something that can "please both Pokemaniacs and the Poke-non."

Kate Erbland of Indiewire writes that though the film is "nothing short of awe-inspiring," unfortunately "no amount of technical polish can detract from a thin narrative that confuses far more than it amuses."

"For a film that should surprise and delight at every turn, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is clunkier and more confusing than a film about adorable creatures has any right to be," she writes. Further, she says given the film is based on a 2016 video game, plotting the narrative should be easy. Instead, she notes, the script "opts for a messy, listless plotline that fails to capitalize on the best attributes of a detective story." She also writes that audience members should have previous knowledge to truly comprehend the humor in the film. She also warns that the film has ingredients of "wonderful creature design, sweet stars, a coffee-addicted world-class detective" but they don’t necessarily “guarantee a good idea." 

Over at The Verge, Julia Alexander is quick to note that Letterman's take can't compare to the "rare jewel" that was the 1999 animated The Pokémon Movie, but the film can appeal to the diehard fans and offer a "much-needed twist to a formula that was growing tired" in adaptations. Alexander describes the film as "a hilarious, carefree, fun romp through a familiar place" where "humans and monsters are living in harmony." "That’s the vision that comes to life in this live-action reimagining of the Pokémon world," she writes. "Detective Pikachu isn’t well-constructed or a compelling mystery, but it is a wonderful dream come true, a strong and memorable vision of what a world populated by Pokémon could become."

Entertainment Weekly reviewer Chris Nashawaty writes that the film "is sure to be a hit with the pint-sized set and in states where recreational marijuana use is legal" but that it's geared more towards those with a Pokémon background. "Narratively incoherent to the point of being almost avant-garde, the film goes down a lot better if you come to it with a finely nuanced understanding of the difference between a Jigglypuff and a Wigglytuff. But for everyone else, it will feel like being forced to watch a Saturday morning cartoon marathon while trapped inside a Japanese Pachinko machine," he writes.

Nashawaty says that Reynolds deserves special notice for his efforts, but ultimately finds that "the main problem is that the film's gumball-mayhem plot is so frenetic that it’s impossible to determine if it makes a lick of sense."

IGN's Joshua Yehl agrees that the plot is a weak spot for the film (he describes it as "incredibly predictable and easy to follow … until it’s not"), but finds that other aspects of the film make for an overall enjoyable experience, writing, "The film makes some bold choices to subvert the expectations of even the most tried and true Pokémon devotee, and they’re largely enjoyable, which helps smooth over these quibbles."

Yehl credits the look and feel of the Pokémon ("[they] feel like a natural part of the world") and the film's "layered sense of humor" with the movie's success.

Ultimately, Yehl concludes that the film is a "critical hit." He writes, "Sure, not everything goes off without a hitch, but the lifelike Pokémon provide a nonstop stream of delights to make the weaker aspects of the movie forgivable. Smith’s character gives the story an emotional weight and Reynolds delivers an endearing comedic performance that’s closer to his subversive Deadpool schtick than you’d expect. While video game movies haven’t had the best track record, this movie is by and far the best example of how to do one right."

Likewise, USA Today's Brian Truitt says that Reynolds' Pikachu saves the day, going so far as to call it the "only draw" of the film.

"Detective Pikachu nicely blends live-action elements with the computer-generated Pokémon. There’s seamless interaction between Tim and Pikachu, and there’s a fun symbiosis created between other humans and their oddball Pokémon partners, like Lucy and her very weird Psyduck or Detective Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) and his canine Snubbull," he explains. "The story, however, is pretty convoluted and predictable — albeit with one nice twist at the end but misses the chance to be a really fun adventure with an unlikely gumshoe."

At Collider, reviewer David Trumbore emphasizes that the film succeeds in honoring the fans who have been obsessed with the beloved video and card game for over 20 years, but warns that the film may not necessarily appeal to the rest. Though the film features a myriad of iconic characters, Trumbore notes that the premise centers on a "half-baked mystery" simply "relies heavily on tropes, two-dimensional characters (no pun intended), and too familiar twists and turns, few of which make much sense in reality even though they’re forced to fit the Poké-fied narrative." However, Trumbore does note that Reynolds' take on the titular character is "full of charm, quick wit and kinetic energy," with Smith and Kathryn Newton doing a "solid job" at conveying an onscreen friendship for the audience. Despite having fun elements and performances from castmembers, nonetheless, Trumbore wasn't a fan of the "nonsense" story and advises moviegoers to "See Detective Pikachu for the Pokémon, not the plot."

In his three-star review for The Guardian, Steve Rose finds that the movie's template is "clearly Robert Zemeckis’ classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? — both in its junior film-noir plot and its mix of live-action humans and animated fantasy creatures." And, although it's "the best movie ever made ... about Pokémon" and Reynolds' voiceover work is a highlight, as a mystery thriller, "Detective Pikachu is more Scooby-Doo than Chinatown, and unlike Roger Rabbit, there’s little for grownup viewers to savour, although it does at least have some emotional grounding in its heroes’ respective daddy issues."

Rose also finds that the blend of live-action and CGI is not always "seamless," but there's enough variety of characters to keep it interesting, concluding, "By comparison, the humans are rather bland but it’s Reynolds who saves the day. He takes what could have been a generic conceit by the scruff of the neck and gives it the requisite jolt of energy — electrical, caffeine-derived or otherwise. He’s worth every penny."