REVIEW: Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Spoiler Free)

Bets on Deadpool playing Pokémon GO in Deadpool 3.

After the infamous Detective Harry Goodman is presumed dead, his son, Tim, teams up with the Pokémon, Detective Pikachu, as the two scour Ryme City to crack a case Tim’s father left behind.

So I’m not a Pokémon person. I never used to watch Pokémon, collect Pokémon, play Pokémon or, plain and simple, be invested in the whole concept of Pokémon. It was just never my style, to be honest. Practically, I was going into Pokémon Detective Pikachu blinded to the mythology of the world. So apologies in advance if I don’t “respect” the Pokémon lore, but judging this movie from a film buff perspective alone, I still find myself with no incentive to become a fan of Pokémon. Sorry.

Not to say Detective Pikachu was a bad movie necessarily… it just failed to “wow” me.  Although I now have a greater grasp on the Pokémon mythos, this film adaptation didn’t do much justice to the supposed creativity and nuance of the original Pokémon stories. Detective Pikachu was kind of bland in its execution of a plot and fleshing out of characters. I wouldn’t go so far to call Detective Pikachu lazy, but I would note how the flick played it very safe and close to the chest.

Savour for one final twist towards the end of the movie, Detective Pikachu slipped up in its attempts to be a compelling mystery crime drama – to which was its apparent intention. As if trying too hard to be a Who Framed Roger Rabbit-type, Detective Pikachu instead devolved into something replicating The Happy Time Murders… ok, fine, it wasn’t that bad. The plot was clunky and whenever it tried to be mysterious, the story would then be undercut by narrative loop holes, sequences of exposition and a weird abundance of hologram technology which would explain every loose plot thread conveniently. And aside from the poorly written mystery and the overly obvious plot twists, the story of Detective Pikachu was just so cliché and baron of any creative takes. Everything worked out in this movie exactly how you would assume it to (again, apart from the one twist at the end which I shall continue to defend as really solid). For a Pokémon live-action attempt, I guess I assumed there would be more nuance in attempts to build a narrative surrounding weird Japanese monsters.

(Warner Bros. Pictures 2019)

You see, my main problem with Detective Pikachu stemmed from its lack of “fun” and “joy”; its inability to be goofy and play around with its concept. Detective Pikachu was directed by Rob Letterman who, a few years back now, made the Goosebumps movie with Jack Black, and for all the silly fun that movie indulged in, Detective Pikachu did not. There were so many opportunities for Letterman to just let the tone and comedic value take charge, but never did that ever really happen. I know Detective Pikachu was riffing off neo-noirs and dark thrillers, but the look of this movie in general just felt terribly dark in the vein of a DC movie. Everything about the production and story of Detective Pikachu shouted gloomy, even though the performances almost entirely juxtaposed all that.

The greatest positive I could give Detective Pikachu was its performances… and when I mean performances, I mean Ryan Reynolds. The Deadpool star was effortlessly entertaining in this movie as his recent run of satirical performances have allowed him to be. Along with the voice acting, Reynolds’ facial motion capture for Pikachu as well really boosted the classic character beyond just being the funny cartoon sidekick. I also quite liked Justice Smith as the lead of the film with his performance being an extreme improvement from the terrible comic relief he delivered in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. However, I did feel actors like Kathryn Newton and Ken Watanabe appeared tonally off in the movie – as if they were acting in a completely different flick. By the way, Bill Nighy… yeah, I had no idea he was in this movie, but I kind of loved the film’s inclusion of him.

The Zootopia-esque worldbuilding of Ryme City also added a major plus to Detective Pikachu on a whole. Offering a world which felt lived in and real, Detective Pikachu appeared, at times, as though the simplicities of its plot was an intentional ploy to purely introduce its wider world to audiences. And trust me, for a real Pokémon fan this movie may just be absolute gold. Like a two hour Pokémon GO game in motion, this movie was literally made to pick out rare Pokémon from packed frames like a Where’s Wally? book. The character designs for the Pokémon were also brilliantly done with the only downside being that the visual effects did not always match the detail of the designs. The score was also rather well done with its infusion to the original themes of the anime. To be honest, I couldn’t entirely call this movie bad because it genuinely might be a great blockbuster for Pokémon fans and I just don’t have any idea.

I may not be a Pokémon fan, but I am a film fan, and on that basis, I could not simply give Detective Pikachu a pass based on entertainment… because, truthfully, I didn’t even find it that entertaining. However entertainment varies within audiences and maybe a lot of the enjoyment people would find in Detective Pikachu would be in the film’s ode to fans of the anime and video games. I would still recommend Detective Pikachu to Pokémon fans because I feel that’s the audience this film was made for. Yet, for others outside of the Pokémon craze I would insist you don’t bother with this weak midyear blockbuster.

Not entirely breaking the video game curse… or even the anime curse, Pokémon Detective Pikachu felt like a side project for Reynolds between Deadpool movies with its only entertainment value being for fans of the franchise. Not the worst movie ever, but neither the best thing I have seen in 2019, Detective Pikachu was, in summary… fine. Also still didn’t convince me to download Pokémon GO.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu, sadly, belongs in the… KINGDOM OF THE CRIMINALLY DULL…


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