Pokemon Detective Pikachu movie review: Ryan Reynolds’ new film has the power to cure millennial depression
Pokemon Detective Pikachu movie review: Ryan Reynolds’ new film is a funny, subversive love letter to Pokemon fans. Rating: 3.5/5.Updated: May 10, 2019 17:03 IST
Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
Director - Rob Letterman
Cast - Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy
Rating - 3.5/5
On paper, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu had the makings of a true disaster. But in execution, it comes across as a minor miracle; not a fluke, by any standard, and certainly way better than it has any right to be. It has that innocent sense of wonder that I’d imagine would be very appealing to children, and a self-aware wisdom that’ll hit older fans right in the jellies. There is no way it should’ve worked, but it does.
It is, after all, a glossy Hollywood adaptation of a popular Asian property, starring a rakishly handsome white male actor as the voice of a character who shouldn’t really be speaking at all - but boy does it find a satisfying way to justify its decisions. In that regard, as a film born out of pure opportunistic greed, it comes awfully close to emulating the success of The Lego Movie.
Watch the Pokemon: Detective Pikachu trailer here
But just as easily as Adam Levine is able to spot a false note in an aspiring reality show contestant’s voice, hardcore fans are able to notice when their favourite stories and characters have been dumped in the hands of someone who doesn’t care about them as deeply as they do. Fortunately, despite his less than reassuring resume, director Rob Letterman appears to have some affection for Pokemon, and what he can’t achieve through storytelling, he compensates for by distracting you with nifty fan service and impressive production values.
Notice the luxurious pride Detective Pikachu takes in introducing you to its familiar, yet refreshingly new world. Notice how despite relying rather heavily on exposition - especially in its opening 20 minutes - it takes its time to acclimatise you in its painstakingly designed environments, like an unhurried Snorlax.
The film’s main location, Ryme City, is particularly well realised - it looks like a seamless combination of London’s shiny skyline and Shibuya’s snazzy streets.
It’s where our hero, Tim (Justice Smith), finds himself in after he receives the tragic news of his estranged father’s apparent demise. But when his dad’s Pokemon partner - a fast-talking Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds - lands on his doorstep, convinced that something sinister is afoot, our story truly begins.
Reynolds plays Pikachu like a cross between himself and a hardboiled James Stewart character. It’s almost as if he was struck by a thunderbolt of inspiration after watching the Maltese Falcon with Blake Lively on a lazy Sunday.
You’d be surprised to learn how heavily Detective Pikachu leans in on the investigation angle, and how subversive it really is, despite being a kids’ movie. It has less in common with the anime series that raised us - this is apparent in its sole Pokemon battle sequence, and the introduction of Kathryn Newton’s wet-behind-the-ears reporter - than the gumshoe detective stories of the ‘30s and ‘40s. This is certainly not something that I, as a lifelong Pokemon fan was expecting.
Similarly, few would have anticipated that Bill Nighy - that gentleman actor who can command more attention by simply loitering in the corner of the frame than most leading men can by growling in your face - would utter the word ‘Mewtwo’ in Detective Pikachu. But you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Bill Nighy deliver nonsensical exposition about Pokemon genetics.
Even fewer would have expected Detective Pikachu to deliver a treatise on human hubris, or a crash course on journalism, but it does that, too.
The film was announced during what seemed like a regrettable period of mass hysteria - the closest, in my opinion, we’ve ever come to replicating an episode of Black Mirror in real life - when Pokemon Go was taking over the world. And its arrival in 2019 signals an important (and bittersweet) moment in pop-culture, when ‘80s nostalgia is gracefully passing the baton to ‘90s nostalgia. Cinema, as we know, is the cheapest (and most realistic) mode of time travel.
Almost as real, some would say, as some of stunning CGI characters in this film. What they’ve achieved here reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s Tintin movie - the characters are hyper-stylised but photo-realistic. This is important to get right, because Pikachu is in virtually every scene, and the slightest misstep could mean alienating the audience.
But the film does, however, feel like the product of multiple voices. There are four credited screenwriters on this thing; a worrisome sign in moviemaking terms. You can tell that one was brought in to punch up the dialogue, another to add some gravitas - that’s just how disjointed it all is. Because of its very nature as a children’s film, the jokes in Detective Pikachu are largely targeted towards a pre-teen audience, and little effort is devoted to making the movie logically sound.
But Pokemon: Detective Pikachu isn’t meant for the present day me, a nitpicky person who watches movies professionally; but for the 10-year-old me, who’d rush back home from school on hot summer days to join Ash Ketchum on his adventures, and risk Cubital tunnel syndrome after wasting hours on the GameBoy. It certainly isn’t the very best, like no one ever was, but it cured me of my millennial angst for a couple of hours, and that has to count for something.