REVIEW: Pokémon – Detective Pikachu

The Story

In a city where Pokémon and humans co-exist peacefully, former Pokémon trainer Tim Goodman must work together with a talking Pikachu to solve the mystery of his missing father.

The Review

I was never really able to get into Pokémon. I remember collecting special cards and tazos, playing the video games and watching the first animated movie along with every other 8 year old kid after the first show was released and could differentiate my Pikachus from my Mewtwos or Charizards, but I was just never enraptured by that world, and after it just kept expanding and my interest went to other horizons, I decided that the moment had passed.

The Pokémon boat had sailed.

Then the first footage for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was released and my interest was certainly tickled. A big budget live action adaption presented as some sort of hybrid fantasy/comedy/buddy cop movie which had the small adorable Pikachu voiced by none other than Ryan Reynolds? Yes, please.

So does the film live up to those expectations?

For the most part…Yes.

Although largely successful as the start of what I’m sure is to be a huge franchise, not all the elements stick together as well as one would hope for.

As far as the “Detective” side of the equation goes, the “mystery” leaves a little to be desired.

Unfortunately, some of the twists are painfully predictable, in particular the big villain reveal that makes one wonder whether it would have benefited the movie to not treat it as a twist at all but rather use that time to further explain some plot that might be a little confusing to newcomers.

This would have particularly helped the third act as the villain’s master plan seemingly comes out of nowhere and the film has no particular interest in giving explanations.

Also, the human characters are not entirely successful, although not through any fault of the actors, feeling a little thinly written and underdeveloped. Justice Smith does a commendable job as our protagonist Tim Goodman, playing the bumbling awkward hero we’ve seen in so many of these blockbusters while Kathryn Newton as plucky love interest Lucy Stevens is mostly there to be eye candy and give our hero his love interest.

Which is better treatment than some of the other supporting characters played by Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy get, only showing up when the movie remembers that it needs humans to move the plot forward and reduce the budget.

So it’s good news that the “Pikachu” side works so amazingly well.

First of all, the decision to have Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu stands as perhaps one of the greatest yet bizarre casting decisions in recent years with the actors trademark quick wit, comedic style and awkward nature turning what could have been merely an amazing looking special effect into a memorable, endearing and funny character.

“Newsflash! They’re all freaking adorable!” declares one of the characters after mentioning the futility of working on “top 10 cutest Pokémon” lists. And that they are. These might be some of the most adorable, cute, fluffy and lovable creatures committed to film next to Gizmo from Gremlins and… Howard the Duck.

Well at least when when I was 10…

Besides being so cute to the point that I felt I developed some level of diabetes watching the movie, all the designs for the Pokémon find a perfect sweet spot between being photo realistic and cartoony, all while remaining extremely faithful to their original animated counterparts. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one child (or adult) leaves the theater kicking and screaming that they want to have a real life Pikachu or Charmander or Jigglypuff.

The film is at its best and most fun when it goes into the stranger and fantastical realm of the Pokémon, whether it takes us to an underground fighting arena or a lab facility where we encounter some interesting experiments that give way to one of the more visually arresting and exciting set pieces.

Hardcore fans will be delighted by the number of easter eggs, references and callbacks with almost every frame being packed with small details that also serves to intrigue newcomers to the franchise, creating a sense of world building without the need of filling the viewer with too much exposition.

The fact that the filmmakers were able to take a mind boggling mythology told through 20 plus years in animes, videogames, mangas and trading cards, among other mediums – all of which include over 800 species of Pokémon – and condensing that into a less than 2 hour story which still manages to make sense is nothing short of a miracle.

That it happens to be tons of fun is just the icing on top of that miraculous cake.

The Result

Just the right amount of fan service for die hard Pokémon fans yet accessible enough for casual viewers unfamiliar with this world while being tons of fun for the whole family, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a great start to the franchise anchored by a sweet and funny performance from Ryan Reynolds.

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