Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, 2019.
Directed by Rob Letterman.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, and Suki Waterhouse.
In a world where people collect Pokémon to do battle, a boy comes across an intelligent talking Pikachu who seeks to be a detective.
When a friend asked me to compare Detective Pikachu against any “similar film,” I balked. It’s a cutesy film noir with lightning-bolt-painted training wheels, implying themes of humanity’s environmentally destructive nature while earning “awwwws” and chuckles as Pokémon roam free. Director Rob Letterman’s no stranger to live-action/animation hybrids, having directed 2014’s kid-friendly horror adaptation Goosebumps, but I’d rank Pikachu’s criminal caper a notch below Halloween’s Jack Black adventure. Baby’s First Blade Runner; Hey, Look At The Pokémon!; Oh Great, Another Product Placement Cinematic Universe – *whatever* you call Detective Pikachu, one *cannot* deny Poké-world building is next to none. Maybe just a tad too forceful with metatextual brand pushing (product placement), even by The Lego Movie standards?.
Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) is summoned to Ryme City after his law enforcement father, Harry, is reported dead in a tragic accident. The distanced son travels to Ryme City intent on sorting his father’s affairs, but Harry’s Pokémon partner, “Detective” Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), appears and suggests foul play in Ryme City. What’s “Serum R?” Is Tim’s father still kicking? Does Ryme City architect and overseer Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) have a hand in the Magikarp-fishy business afoot? For Tim, answers could mean finding a father who’s still very alive. For Detective Pikachu? It’s just another dangerous day in Ryme City.
The structure of Detective Pikachu is baffling and surreal and so unforgivingly immersed in Pokémon lore tailor-made for knowledgeable fans – but newcomers to the cartoon/video game/film mega-franchise shouldn’t expect coddling. A script molded by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, and Derek Connolly launches headfirst into Poké-heavy mystery. Ryme City is a peaceful utopia on the surface, but underneath, Pokémon battles influenced by lab drugs send competing “animals” into rabid-symptom snarling fits. Tim’s somber family backstory, the placement of Pokémon in everyday life, Pokémon illegality amidst Ryme City – it’s all such a whirlwind of crazy that’s never directed into a narrow, flowing stream. Even *before* the film’s villain reveals his-or-herself, Mewtwo [redacted], there’s a Pokémon parade, and said villain’s masterplan launches forward sans context or massaging with breakneck gusto.
Here’s a movie about “Detective Pikachu,” he’s a Pikachu who’s also a detective, y’all love Pokémon, why waste time on anything other than what you’re here to see. Detective Pikachu in a nutshell.
As a marker of animated/live-action hybrid craft, production designs keep Pokémon creations muted and “realistic” (based on RJ Palmer’s internet artwork which earned him the film’s concept artist gig). Colors are darker and duller than expected, never “cartoonish,” which works to ensure a grounded coexistence between characters like Tim and their companions. For example, junior intern journalist Lucy (Kathryn Newton) and her ball-of-stress Psyduck. Ryme City is this bustling metropolis where Bulbasaurs and Charmanders cross the same streets as suited businessmen. Mr. Mimes are police informants. Squirtles extinguish fires alongside Ryme City’s bravest. Shady backdoor cafes where Jigglypuffs sing in the corner and neon-lit streets honor Humphrey Bogart classics from a playful distance. Digital renders aren’t sensory-overloading, but nary to a negative effect. Living within Detective Pikachu’s universe becomes an immersive fantasy, where imaginations flourish unchecked and joviality thrives.
Ryan Reynolds’ voice acting as Sherlock Pikachu shines as the caffeine-addicted, electrocharged-hyper Pokémon copes with being understood by a human for the first time. Everyone hears “Pika, Pika,” but Tim can decipher every word the yellow fuzz-zapper squeaks. Don’t get me wrong, there’s an art to dropping the perfect “Psyyyyyduck” line – but Reynolds maximizes the existential weirdness of his sidekick’s situation much like Marvel movies continue to marry reality and the absurd (“I get emails from a raccoon,” kind of stuff). Justice Smith’s leading charisma suits the melodrama of Harry’s disappearance and Tim’s loner evolution, Kathryn Newton is ever the perky n’ peppy rule breaker who’ll do anything for a story, and Bill Nighy wheels around his veteran presence (if nothing else).
But, let’s be honest. You’re here for the Pokémon interactions, which do NOT disappoint. Machamps act as crossing guards while snoozing Snorlax(es?) stop traffic. Barista Ludicolo refills Det. Pik’s empty coffee cups. Loudred causes audible chaos as famed DJ Diplo uses his lil’ buddies to amp a crowd with bass-droppin’ EDM beats (yes, Diplo is in Detective Pikachu). That’s not to say Tim’s opening altercation when a wild Cubone appears is to be forgotten, or Lucy’s caretaking for her bundle-of-nerves Psyduck. Pokémon are just so pure in their existence, which is exploited and manipulated by man’s destructive touch (of course). Detective Pikachu is as much a commentary on our proclivity to decimate all that is innocent and unprovoking in this world, layering pro-humane subtext under ninja reptile assassin attacks.
Detective Pikachu exists as the Pokémon Cinematic Universe kickstarter that’ll delight children, bemuse adults, but ultimately entertain despite a relative disassociation to hardcoded plot elements. Laugh as Pikachu fights empty-cup jitters, accidentally confesses emotional instability during interrogations, and “battles” an “R” boosted Charizard. Love how the original Pokémon theme song is repurposed for a solid gag. It’s not as heartwarming as Paddington or fun-filled as Goosebumps, but closes the book on how Pokémon would fare in cinema’s live-action format: just fine.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).