Pokemon Detective Pikachu review: The best video game movie ever

Spoiler-free review: In the latest Pokemon movie, Ryan Reynolds' electric rodent sleuth leads an entertaining romp with plenty of heart.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
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Sean Keane
3 min read

Detective Pikachu is pleased that his movie turned out to be a winner.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Pokemon Detective Pikachu is an utterly bonkers roller-coaster ride in which a chatty CGI electric mouse teams up with real people to solve a mystery. And it's easily the greatest video game movie ever made.

It's the 22nd Pokemon movie, but this one is based on a spinoff from the monster-catching game franchise. It's also the first of the films to jump into live action, and it clearly wants to be the very best like no one ever was.

And it is, thanks to a clever balance of silly Ryan Reynolds comedy and a heart-warming human/Pokemon friendship.


We encounter a bunch of Pokemon during the mystery adventure.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Detective Pikachu, now in theaters worldwide, seamlessly melds our mundane world with the heightened universe seen in the long-running video game/anime series. The story introduces us to Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), an ex-Pokemon trainer reluctantly partnered with the titular yellow rodent to track down Tim's missing father.

The twist is that this amnesiac Pikachu can talk, with the voice of Ryan Reynolds -- but Tim is the only one who understands him.

As you might expect, it's pretty joyous seeing familiar Pokemon brought to seamless CGI life alongside real actors. That joy is enhanced by the movie's unique aesthetic; Ryme City looks like a fascinating cross between London and Tokyo.

The spectacle of this unique world is almost overwhelming at first -- like Ready Player One with more depth. But Smith's relatable performance gives the movie a grounding, and his character's quest gives us a focus. Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe add some gravity to the proceedings, even when the latter is hanging out with his snarling Snubbull, a pink canine Pokemon.


Justin Smith's Tim Goodman, Pikachu and Ken Watanabe's Detective Yoshida try to figure out the mystery of Tim's missing dad.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Things really kick off when Tim meets the coffee-addicted, motormouth Pikachu. You'll really root for this main duo -- Reynolds is hilarious throughout, bringing hints of dark humor and offering a fun contrast to Smith's straight man performance.

At this point, the movie ticks all the noir boxes with its central mystery, grimy lighting and striking designs -- Nighy's office is like something out of Blade Runner. As we progress, the tone veers toward that of a disaster flick before ending like a superhero movie (with one moment straight out of Terminator 2). It's all enormously fun and surprisingly coherent.

The main mystery is compelling enough to draw you from one set piece to the next. A Mr. Mime interrogation and an underground battle arena featuring Omar Chaparro's flamboyant trainer and his Charizard prove to be the highlights.

Watch this: New trailer drops for Detective Pikachu

These action scenes, neatly interspersed with character-building moments, are dazzling treats for the senses and supported by composer Henry Jackman's catchy score along with some classic Pokemon tunes.

Unfortunately, some of the secondary characters are a bit underwritten, particularly Kathryn Newton's one-dimensional reporter. Luckily, her Psyduck partner more than makes up for it -- this gormless waterfowl is essentially the movie's Chekhov's gun as you wait for his psychic powers to be unleashed.


Poor Psyduck suffers from a nasty ongoing headache.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Fans of the 23-year-old franchise will anticipate moments like this and be looking for their favorite Pokemon in every frame. It's crammed with entertaining Easter eggs, but casual viewers shouldn't feel lost. The movie smoothly introduces each major creature as it appears.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu manages to walk the tightrope of appealing to fans who know their Snorlax from their Gengar, young kids they want to make into fans and those people who've never caught much more than a cold.

"Pika Pika!" That's Pikachu-speak for "Go see this movie!"

Check out the reviews from our sister sites GameSpot and Comicbook.com. If that's not enough Pokemania for you, tune in to Comicbook.com's shiny new Pokemon podcast.

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Originally published May 2.