Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Review
Ryan Reynolds stars as everyone’s favourite Pokémon in this noir-meets-your childhood CGI romp.
Just when the world had had chance to get over Pokémon Go, we’re given an unspeakably weird Pokémon-shaped lifeline.Although Detective Pikachu is an adaptation of one of the more niche of the many, many spin-off games the animated world of cute monsters and bizarre creatures spawned, it’s still quite a serious left-turn from what we’re used to seeing of Pokémon – cards, battles, trades, etc.
The whole concept of the film does, on the surface, seem like an absolute mess. It’s as though the execs at Warner Brothers took a bunch of genres and characters, threw them to the wall and went with which stuck. You’ve got live action mixed with hyper-real CGI, a noir narrative mixed with cult kids characters and a wild blend of sci-fi adventure with classic kid-movie escapades; it really shouldn’t work. But weirdly, it kind of does.
Though this is clearly pitched at kids and hard-core Pokéfans, it’s a fairly safe wager to assume that most moviegoers in this day and age are at least tangentially familiar with the concept of Pokémon – it’s a world of technicolour creatures, some of whom resemble plants, animals, elements etc., all of whom have varying special powers. Human characters catch these Pokémon creatures in pods – Pokéballs – and then face-off in battle. Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on your point of view – there’s not really much of that classic canon battle stuff in this film.
It’s weird beyond belief, but it’s fun and entertaining
Detective Pikachu revolves around Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a recovered Poké-addict who sets out to investigate his detective father’s mysterious death in Ryme City. As Tim tries to make sense of his sudden loss, he runs into Pikachu (voiced by a wonderfully sardonic Ryan Reynolds), a streetwise gumshoe who’s pretty sure there’s more to Mr Goodman’s death than meets the eye.
What follows is a noir mystery that’s built like a kids movie but also offers dry humour, outstanding CGI effects and buckets of nostalgia. It’s weird beyond belief, but it’s fun and entertaining. The world of the film is one in which humans and Pokémon live side-by-side, interchangeably. We see Pokémon at the bar, at the office, in the street. It sounds ridiculous, and like, it shouldn’t work, but somehow the humorous script and really smart choices by director Rob Letterman actually pull it together pretty well.
As Tim and Pikachu navigate a shady media magnate (Bill Nighy) and his smarmy son (Chris Geere) we get to see more of Ryme City’s underbelly. The film, for all its kid-friendly animation, eyebrow-cocked humour and outrageous narrative choices, is incredibly evocative and atmospheric thanks to the cinematography of John Mathieson. It’s all long shadows, neon glow and incredibly lifelike features on the Pokémon. Pikachu himself is a marvel – almost palpably furry, with that signature cute expression amplified by motion captures of Reynolds.
It’s a weird one – combining elements of a buddy movie, a detective story, a kids film, a franchise piece, a sci-fi adventure and a comedy flick, without ever really being sure what it is. In a way, it’s refreshing, in this age of never-ending sequels and marketable releases, to find a film that isn’t trying to fit into one particular mainstream box, though its blending of child-friendly stakes and mish-mash genres is a little jarring.
Is it a noir parody? Is it in homage to classic 80s/90s pop culture gone wild? Is it simply a fun way into the Pokémon universe, playing on the rip-roaring success of Pokémon Go? It doesn’t really matter – if you’re seeing this film it’s probably because you’re part of the target audience (Poké-enthusiasts and, well, children), or you were intrigued by the bizarre concept, or you’re a Ryan Reynolds super-fan. You’ll probably find something to enjoy here. Other moviegoers will probably be a bit baffled by the entire thing.
You’ve got live action mixed with hyper-real CGI, noir, cult kids characters and sci-fi; it really shouldn’t work. But weirdly, it kind of does
Sure, it’s a bit patchy and finding its feet, and if you’re not a young kid or a Pokémon fanatic you might find there’s not much beneath the surface. It’s nonsensical and probably only appeals to those with prior knowledge or particularly short attention spans, but it’s fun and funny and cute and clever. Reynolds continues a stellar career in providing whip-smart comic relief in what can only be described as a child-friendly iteration of his iconic Deadpool character. The clever casting of Reynolds as the verbose detective – replacing the commonly held picture of Pikachu as a cute and mono-syllabic furry friend – means that while this is certainly a family movie, there are a few grown-up jokes that keep things interesting for adults in the audience too.
It won’t catch everyone, but it will catch all the Pokémon fans out there, and it’s a nice little bit of niche pop culture that stands out in the crowds of mainstream blockbusters.
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