Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, 2019.
Directed by Rob Letterman.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, and Suki Waterhouse.
In Ryme City, a neon metropolis cohabited by humans and Pokémon, a detective has been murdered. His son (Justice Smith) reluctantly teams up with his father’s Pikachu Pokémon (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), in order to solve the case.
Remember when Pokémon Go launched in 2016? For a crazy few months we all scanned our front rooms or holiday destinations, on the off chance of finding a Pidgey (the bird one) or a Rattata (erm, the rat one) bouncing up and down in our viewfinder. Around about the same time, The Pokémon Company, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures capitalised on the craze by announcing they were to make a live-action Pokémon movie, and that Ryan Reynolds would be voicing the menagerie’s most iconic character, Pikachu. Cue justified copy n paste video game adaptation cynicism.
Well, what Pokémon Go did so successfully was to appeal to those who’d never bought a pack of trading cards, or sung “gotta catch em’ all”. Everyone was playing it. So Detective Pikachu attempts to do the same thing. Positioning itself as a family blockbuster, embracing the ridiculousness of the concept, all while remaining passionately loyal to the brand. For those expecting this to be a load of Poké Balls, think again, because even if you can’t tell your Jigglypuff from your Squirtle, Detective Pikachu is a sheer delight.
The set-up is a perfect hand-holding exercise for anyone not schooled in the art of Pokémon. By introducing Justice Smith’s Tim as a character who hasn’t embraced this new creature infested world around him, the audience has an immediate way into the story. It’s also no coincidence that by the time Smith has excitedly captured his first Pokémon, your preconceptions will have already vanished, replaced instead by a huge grin, one that’ll barely threaten to dissipate for the entire movie.
Monsters v Aliens and Goosebumps director Rob Letterman has created a warm hug of a film, of lot of which comes from the pairing of Smith and a default-setting Ryan Reynolds. It’s an age-old culture clash narrative, with bickering and bonding in equal measure, and one that really pays off in a rather unexpected way during a couple of surprisingly emotional sequences.
Reynolds adds just the right level of restraint to his voice performance, so that comparisons with his other snarky blockbuster alter-ego soon vanish, and for all intents and purposes he becomes Pikachu: a coffee-drinking amnesiac who can shoot lighting bolts from his tail. Smith is a great foil. Constantly questioning the more absurd aspects of the adventure he’s been reluctantly dragged through. As audience projection, and a character to root for, he’s eminently watchable.
Admittedly Detective Pikachu is much better when serving as an investigative buddy-movie than a tent-pole blockbuster. The finale doesn’t quite deliver based on the multitude of inspired moments which come before it: the interrogation of a Pokémon named Mr. Mime, or the rather beautiful way in which a herd (?) of Bulbasaur are utilised during a key scene, display a level of ingenuity that’s completely absent during the tick-box spectacle of a truly bonkers ending. It’s the smaller, Pikachu sized moments that leave a lasting impact.
Relentlessly funny, heartwarming, and consistently inventive, Detective Pikachu could well be the family film of the year. One thing’s for certain: you’ll feel it in your jellies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt