In a world where people collect Pokémon to do battle, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) comes across an intelligent talking Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) who seeks to be a detective.
Since 1996, Pokmémon has touched the hearts and minds of its rabid fan base. From video games to anime, trading cards to toys, this is a gargantuan franchise/ borderline religion that I have remained (mostly) ignorant of besides the general, notion of what a pocket monster is, and the phrase, “Gotta catch ‘em all”. I was reticent to cover Detective Pikachu for fear of sounding dismissive or simply not engaging with the subject matter on screen. Turns out, I needn’t had worried.
Detective Pikachu was a whole heap of fun. Director Rob Letterman and co. strike a fine balance that neither hand-holds newcomers, nor leaves them in the dark like other expansive, beloved fantasy worlds (I’m looking at you, Duncan Jones’ Warcraft). The city design is striking and feels lived-in, the Pokémon themselves look wonderfully realistic, with requisite hair, fluff, scales and flames being transposed to screen with a great deal of care and attention to detail.
Considering the franchise’s intrinsic links to the accompanying anime, it is surprising that this film doesn’t offer more fan-service with relation to the cartoon’s wealth of human characters. However, eschewing this connective tissue allows for a more streamlined, less slavishly-devoted plot. Justice Smith is solid as the lead, with a far more likeable character than he portrayed in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Tim’s character arc may be a touch clichéd Smith’s performance allows for some nuance. Less can be said for Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy who are very one-note and little more than auto-piloting their way through Ryme City.
There is an odd disconnect in the fact that dear Ryan Reynolds voices Detective Pikachu (… it’s the titular role). Had he not spent two movies as Deadpool, his particular comedic cadence and rhythms would be an impactful delight. Sadly, there are a couple moments that just seem like Deadpool with training wheels on. In spite of this, there’s smirk-inducing humour slathered over most of the movie. I may not have laughed much but between the one-liners and the Pokémon themselves, there’s a lot to grin at.
With shades of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Zootopia and Bumblebee, Detective Pikachu articulates a fully realised world, rich with creatures and craftsmanship that someone with even a cursory knowledge of Pokémon can enjoy. As a complete noob to the franchise I had frothy fun but am unsure as to how fans of this treasured gaggle of creatures and characters will feel upon leaving the theatre.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is out May 10th
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