Friday, May 10, 2019

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu - Review

The emergence of Pokémon as a pop culture phenomenon happened a little over twenty years ago, and has gone in and out of popularity as the years have gone by. It is honestly a shock, in any sense, that a live action Pokémon film has not made it to the big screen before 2019. But now it’s here, and Detective Pikachu looks to kick start the franchise once more in new and exciting ways.

Ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son, Tim (Justice Smith), to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry's former Pokémon partner, wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds). Finding that they are uniquely equipped to work together, as Tim is the only human who can talk with Pikachu, they join forces to unravel the tangled mystery.

The prospects of a Pikachu, a shockingly adorable Pokémon, voiced by Ryan Reynolds doesn’t seem to connect. However, the filmmakers, and likely Reynolds himself, bring a snark and sense of humor that actually works in this strange detective story. And while Reynolds is obviously the draw, the performances from Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton are both solid, grounding the wacky world of Ryme City. 

It is completely understandable why the filmmakers wanted to avoid telling a direct adaptation of any of the past Pokémon stories. Adaptations of beloved franchises bring expectations that are not easy to match. By distancing themselves from known characters, the filmmakers can create a story that works for their film. And while it is undoubtedly entertaining, most of the story beats themselves feel common, cliché, or even mundane. It’s not a challenging film, nor complex in any way, but as an introductory film for live action Pokémon, it works well enough.

The key component for any of this to work rests on the shoulders of the visual effects. Of course, the titular Pikachu looks fantastic from start to finish, both in design and frequent interactions with reality. In fact, most of the designs for the Pokémon are really gorgeous designs, even if some of the background effects can’t match the quality of Pikachu or even Psyduck. In the end, half of the film’s best offerings are from little interactions with Pokémon or background nods to past entries that will delight fans of any variety. 

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is outlandish and over the top, and yet it still feels like it’s holding back. The story is basic and cannot match the weird and creative visuals in the slightest, but the inherent charm of the premise sort of makes up for the occasionally poor writing. It’s unclear what this film will actually do as far as a franchise is concerned, but there is not doubt that people will want to see more of the Pokémon, just maybe in a more creative story than this one. 

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