Monday 6 May 2019

Film Review: Pokemon - Detective Pikachu

Despite an electric performance from Ryan Reynolds, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu squanders its star signing and sprawling world. 

Thousands over episodes, dozens of videogames, a collection of straight-to-DVD films and one viral mobile game – as a brand, Pokémon has churned out its fair share of material since bursting onto the scene in the nineties. It’s frankly surprising that we’ve had to wait until now for a live-action Hollywood makeover, but here we are.

Based on a fairly average Nintendo DS game of the same name from a few years back, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu reimagines everyone’s favourite electric mouse with rosy cheeks as a hard-boiled detective with a deerstalker hat, a caffeine addiction and a voice like Ryan Reynolds. The film sees Pikachu – who can crack wise and piece together clues on top of delivering a vicious zap – join forces with Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a former Pokémon trainer who is on the trail of his missing father. 

Much of Detective Pikachu’s appeal is derived from the novelty of seeing the weird and wacky creatures fans know and love coexist in the fictional urban metropolis of Ryme City. Machamp, a hulking beefcake with four arms, directs traffic at a busy intersection; Charmander, a cute fire salamander, helps heat food at a night-time noodle market; Aipom, cheeky chimp-like critters, chatter away atop a glowing neon signs. 

Ryme City feels like a living, breathing city, akin to Zootopia or Monsters Inc. And much like Robert Zemeckis’ classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the integration of animation and live-action is pretty much seamless.

However, this is more or less where the fun begins and ends. Detective Pikachu soon leaves the neon-soaked streets of Ryme City behind (and the fun noir vibe along with it) for a more generic family action film. The questions at the centre of its plot – is Tim’s dad still out there somewhere? What caused his disappearance? – aren’t that compelling to begin with, and then the film ties itself in knots trying to explain it. 

Needlessly convoluted for a film aimed at kids, the answer has something to do with an evil megacorporation, a sneering Englishman (Bill Nighy) and a secret lab in the mountains. If they were trying to cater to both children and adults (after all, the children who first played Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue on a Gameboy are now in their thirties), the filmmakers have failed to strike the right balance. 

Fans will see similar beats regurgitated from 1998’s Pokémon: The First Movie, while newcomers will feel all at sea surrounded by swarms of Rufflet, Loudred and Morelull. And while the myriad creatures add colour and creativity, the same can’t be said of the human characters. Smith is a bland audience POV character with nothing interesting of note while Kathryn Newton plays a common or garden plucky reporter with a “nose for a story”. 

The saving grace is Reynolds. With his natural charisma dialled up the 11, Reynolds does his utmost to add something – but it can only stretch so far. 

The Verdict: 5.5/10

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu isn’t without its ups, but on the whole it’s a rather run-of-the-mill film that doesn’t do enough with the rich world at its fingertips.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is in cinemas across Australia from May 9. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow 5/10. I can't decide if Im surprised by the luke warmness I've read so far, it IS a video game movie after all but it looked like it was going to be pretty good. I'll still catch it in theaters eventually.



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