Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Pokémon fans have a big summer blockbuster all their own!
Though the comparables are not the greatest, some have proclaimed Pokémon Detective Pikachu the best video game adaptation of all time.
The Pokémon characters are very cute and the visual effects work in fusing Pokémon into everyday society is seamless and impressive.
If you are not familiar with Pokémon, the movie has minimal interest in getting you involved. As a result, the story feels very exclusive, shoving away any emotions or connections you may otherwise feel for the characters.
Rather forgettable, and not a very creative exploration of a new world for moviegoers.
The story is all cliché, one after another. Without any connection to the Pokémon, this feels woefully and painfully thin from a storytelling standpoint.
Far be it from me to take the fun away from those who have wanted to see Pokémon on screen there entire lives. Finally, with Pokémon Detective Pikachu, these wildly popular creatures exist in a live-action/animation world where dozens and dozens of these little monsters can interact with real human beings. For a lot of people, this is a big deal. These characters, who have existed in cartoons, card games, merchandise, and the massively popular Pokémon Go! app and game, have made the leap to cinematic immortality.
They kind of now seem real. Or “realer,” as the case may be. So, that’s cool I suppose.
For those of us who have been immune to the Pokémon craze, or who only know the name of all of this from the Hillary Clinton quote where she (in)famously asked people to “Pokémon Go! to the polls!” and vote in 2016, we should rightfully expect to gain some understanding of what all of this craziness is about.
We should be shown the world. Learn about the creatures. Gain some understanding as to why they would be appealing to human beings in a dystopian world where they walk along next to us. With what appears to be the beginning of a new cinematic franchise, we should be educated as to why Pokémon matter.
Sadly, I don’t think the makers of Pokémon Detective Pikachu care to have us in the room.
As oddly titled a movie as it is a frustrating viewing experience for folks who have never scored combat points, thrown a red Poké Ball, or dreamed of one day competing in the game’s Trading Card Game World Championships, there is an emptiness with all of this that feels inescapable and yet somehow avoidable.
The premise isn’t the issue,simple enough for anyone to reasonably follow. 21-year-old insurance worker Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), learns of an accident which may have taken his father’s life. Forced to return to his father’s hometown of Ryme City, which encourages Pokémon and humans to live alongside one another, Tim attempts to put his father’s affairs in order.
Along the way, he meets Lucy (Kathryn Newton), an upstart journalist who is investigating some mysterious circumstances around the accident. A detective, Tim’s father worked closely with Lieutenant Yoshida (Ken Watanabe), who arranges for Tim to have access to his father’s home.
It is here where Tim meets a Pikachu who speaks English and can interact with Tim directly. No one else can understand the Pikachu, a gag we have seen deployed in countless movies prior to this one.
The Pikachu is voiced by Ryan Reynolds, an odd, but “box-office-draw-that-sells-tickets” casting decision, tasked with voicing the diminutive, rosy-cheeked yellow creature with a static-causing tail. His hyperactive tone and sarcasm seems out of place when assigned to the appearance of Pikachu, but Smith generates believable chemistry with him over the course of the film.
Director Rob Letterman’s vision for the film is ambitious. The introduction of countless Pokémon is nicely handled initially (i.e. they are everywhere). Letterman builds anticipation for our eventual arrival in Ryme City, playing on the excitement of showing audiences something new, resonating nicely in the context of the film.
After awhile though, Ryme City loses its luster and so does the screenplay, amounting to little more than a rambling, unwound product of four credited writers (and others who took a crack at this project over the years).
The longer the film goes, the more morose and heavy-handed it becomes, a bit more dramatic than you might be expecting and largely devolving into a rudimentary, paint-by-numbers, adventure tale. The basic mystery of the film, centered around the accident and Tim’s return home, is a common element of countless teen adventure films we have seen both on the big screen and on our television.
In his first leading role, Smith has a knack for interacting with green screen and motion capture acting occurring around him. Reynolds takes a while to get used to, especially if you associate Deadpool with that voice. Eventually, he settles in fine. Unremarkable performances fill the air around them, making this a pleasant-enough viewing experience.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu is clearly designed for those who grew up with, still love, or have had experience with the Pokémon franchise. Fan service is fine. It can work. However, the screenplay and Letterman’s direction do little, if anything, to make this summer blockbuster mean anything to non-Pokémon folks in the room. This is frustrating, because a kids movie, presumably one that looks to launch into a recurring cinematic franchise, should not isolate audiences from the get-go.
All that to say, Pokémon folks will be through the moon excited for this. And good for them; there appears to a lot here for fans to love. Intermittently cute, amusing and witty, and bringing fantasy to life, this could be the next movie your kids watch over and over and over again.
Moving forward, let’s just remember that others might be interested in this world as well, perhaps seeing Pokémon for the first time. I dunno, maybe it’s worth taking the time to usher more people under the tent, as opposed to making them stay on the outside looking in?
After all, wouldn’t you want more people to understand why Magikarp’s splash attack is so significant, why Mewtwo is important to the Pokémon universe, or just what a Jigglypuff happens to be?
Don’t mind me - just asking for a friend.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora, Karan Sori.
Director: Rob Letterman
Written by: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly (screenplay); Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Nicole Perlman (story).
Based on the Pokémon franchise created by Satoshi Tajiri, Ken Sugimori, Junichi Masuda.
Based on characters created by Atsuko Nishida.
Adapted from the video game “Detective Pikachu”, written by Tomokazu Ohara, Haruka Utsui.
Release Date: May 10, 2019