WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Detective Pikachu, in theaters now.
Detective Pikachu spends its first act focusing heavily on the characters and how they respond to their noir setting. This includes Lucy (Kathryn Newton), a young journalist who has suspicions about the story she's investigating and wants nothing more than to be a major reporter for the news network GCN. She takes herself too seriously, but is also daring and talented enough to sniff out a good story.
The problem is that all the great set up for the character goes by the wayside during the latter half of the film. If the film had been more focused on the character and her investigation, it could have also kept the noir connection at the forefront of the narrative, helping play up human protagonist Tim's (Justice Smith) disconnect with the world of Pokemon. Detective Pikachu could have been significantly better if it had shifted the focus to Lucy.
When she's first introduced, Lucy confronts Tim in the apartment building his father lived in before he disappeared. In her introduction, she plays up the noir femme fatale aspect of her character. She's bathed in shadow as she walks down the stairs, delivering her lines in a smoky tone. It's quickly revealed that she's not the intrepid reporter she wants so desperately to be. Instead, she's just an unpaid intern who spends most of her time writing listicles about how cute various Pokemon are. It's a fun disconnect between who she is and who she wants to be.
But she's also still a determined character in her own right, proving she has it in her to be the journalist she believes she can be. She's the one that motivates Tim and Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) to investigate a lab outside of the city, and she's the one actively breaking them into the building. She even ends up trying to be proactive during the climax, attempting to warn the city of the plan to fuse humanity with their Pokemon. She's rewarded for her efforts with a major promotion in the final moments of the film. She's a more engaging protagonist than Tim and, if anything, making her the focus could have helped him, too.
Tim is introduced as a young man disconnected from the Pokemon-centric world around him. He's only dragged into Ryme City, where people and Pokemon live side by side, when his father goes missing, and he's clearly uncomfortable with all the Pokemon around him. It's slowly revealed that he used to dream about becoming a Pokemon Trainer, but lost interest after the death of his mother.
Tim is someone who feels like he outgrew Pokemon, which is a decidedly more difficult thing to do when you live in a world with Pokemon. This makes him a reluctant expert on the subject, which means he has the knowledge required for the investigation at hand. Bouncing that off the more proactive and excitable Lucy could make the screwball comedy elements at the core of their relationship more overt and frequent.
Tim being the only one who could communicate with Detective Pikachu could even be a sly comedy routine between the three, with Tim having to translate between the Pokemon and Lucy. With a bit more focus on Lucy, the film could have developed a more entertaining throughline for Tim, letting him actually regain his connection to Pokemon.
What We Got Instead
The problem is that we got a decidedly more passive Lucy than the character, and Kathryn Newton, deserved. After getting Tim and Pikachu to the lab, she's removed from the main narrative for the most part. She's quickly captured by Greninja while Tim and Pikachu actually do some more investigating. She doesn't get to see Mewtwo in the wild, and instead just waits around for Tim and Pikachu to return.
Even in the climax, where she does her best to inform the city about the danger they're in, she's quickly fused with her Psyduck. The interesting character development she received earlier in the film is glossed over in lieu of making Tim a more typical protagonist until she receives a hasty happy ending for her efforts.
Instead, by focusing on Lucy, the movie could have served both characters. Both characters' growth could have come across as more natural, and could have proved fertile ground for comedy. It would have also tied the film closer to the noir element that pervaded the early portions of the film, but gets lost in the CGI-heavy second half. There's so much about Detective Pikachu that could have made for a stronger movie, and the cure to many of those problems could have come in the form of a stronger arc for Lucy and more focus on Katheryn Newton.
Directed by Rob Letterman from a script written by Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit, Detective Pikachu stars Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe and the voice of Ryan Reynolds.