“Pokemon: Detective Pikachu”- Movie Review
Pokemon holds a very special place in the hearts of most 90s kids. Between the tv show, the video games and the card collectibles, the franchise dominated a lot of people’s childhoods. Hearing the theme song is enough to reduce anyone to a nostalgia-induced puddle of emotions. I personally was never as big of a fan of it as other people were (my anime of choice growing up was Sailor Moon). So when it was announced that a live action Pokemon movie was in the works, I wasn’t over the moon about it. Though I was curious to see if it would turn out to be another Hollywood cash guzzler or something that respected the franchise and the fans of it.
Rather than drawing directly from the television show, Detective Pikachu instead borrows its story from the recent Nintendo 3DS game of the same name. Justice Smith stars as Tim Goodman, a former Pokemon enthusiast who learns that his estranged detective father, Harry, has gone missing. He travels to Rhyme City, a bustling metropolis in which humans and Pokemon coexist harmoniously, to collect his father’s belongings. While there he comes across an english-speaking Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) who insists that Harry is still alive. Although reluctant to at first, Tim agrees to team up with Pikachu and investigate his father’s disappearance. Things get complicated, however, as they start putting the pieces together and realize that a far more sinister plan is afoot.
Regardless of what you may think about the overall quality of the film, the one thing I think we can all agree on is that this movie is the best 90s Nintendo commercial ever made. It makes sense, considering how the narrative was inspired by a video game. But every time a human and a pokemon shared the screen, I half-expected the camera to revert to close-ups and dutch angles and then the human to whip out a game boy console. A lot of that has to do with the cinematography and creature designs. The look of the pokemon bears a conceptual resemblance to the 2015 Peanuts Movie. They retain their traditional designs while also having dimension and texture. They look like they were plucked directly from the animated series and dropped in the real world. As a result, the pokemon feel like organic, living beings, and their interactions with the human characters are one hundred percent believable.
It’s obvious that the filmmakers put thought and effort into crafting a good adaptation. The mythology is laid out in a simplistic way, thus allowing anyone not familiar with the franchise to understand what’s going on without getting barraged with dense exposition. The environment feels lived in. Director Rob Letterman finds a firm balance between a vibrant yet gritty film noir style and a light-hearted tone. This is his second family feature, the first being Goosebumps (2015), and so far he’s proven himself to be a decent adapter of nostalgic entertainment. Fingers-crossed that more Hollywood filmmakers mimic his approach.
The script is pretty solid, as is the acting. In terms of development, the writing for their characters could’ve been tweaked a bit, though it’s not bad enough to sink the movie. Ryan Reynolds is especially great. You’d think that a 40-year-old man’s voice coming out of a cuddly little Pikachu would be distracting, but it works. Reynolds’ humor shine through the CGI, and he also delivers during the more emotional moments.
The film’s weakest link is the mystery itself. On the one hand, it’s predictable. That’s to be expected seeing how it’s tailor-made to be figured out by a younger audience. Though I’m of the firm belief that if you’re going to execute a non-original concept, you better do it well, and the first half of the film succeeds in doing so. Even if you’re able to piece together what’s happening and who all is behind this, the mystery is set up so well that it keeps your interest regardless. Though from the halfway point onward, it resorts to lengthy exposition dumps that make the film’s predictability all the more obvious.
Despite all of that, Detective Pikachu is a fun movie that’s a bit more clever than it leads on. The narrative has its shortcomings, but the film makes up for its flaws with a strong first act and a strong finish. It’s a decent and respectful adaptation of a beloved franchise that’s sure to please fans and non fans alike.