Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Review by Hannah Woodhead @goodjobliz

Directed by

Rob Letterman

Starring

Bill Nighy Justice Smith Ryan Reynolds

Anticipation.

Who asked for this?

Enjoyment.

Very silly but surprisingly sincere.

In Retrospect.

A fun, fanciful film – not for the ages, but never outstays its welcome.

Ryan Reynolds voices everyone’s favourite electric yellow rodent in this fun, fast-paced murder mystery.

There are many pop culture curios we associate with the 1990s, from jelly shoes and Pogs to the mark of a middle-class childhood, the Beanie Babies Retirement Plan. None, however, have found staying power like Pokémon, founded by Satoshi Tajiri for Nintendo back in 1995. In the two decades since, ‘Pocket Monsters’ have sparked global hysteria, spanning media from trading cards and video games to anime, movies, and even cuisine.

Given there have been 22 Pokémon films produced to date, and considering Hollywood’s recent fascination with turning gaming apps into yawning tie-in films (The Angry Birds Movie, The Emoji Movie) it’s surprising it’s taken this long for a studio to take a crack at the franchise. Nevertheless, following a glut of Western adaptations of Japanese animes including Ghost in the Shell (bad), Death Note (very bad) and Alita: Battle Angel (not as bad as the first two), we now have the film that nobody knew they wanted: a detective noir starring Ryan Reynolds as a caffeine-addicted Pikachu. What a world, eh?

Directed by Rob Letterman of Shark Tale and Goosebumps fame, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is based on the 2016 video game of the same name, which sees the adorable eponymous hero (voice and facial mo-cap provided by Ryan Reynolds) team up with 21-year-old Tim Goodman (a very game Justice Smith) to solve the mystery of Tim’s father Harry’s disappearance. Their escapades takes place in the futuristic Ryme City, which for audiences familiar with London might be jarring – the Gherkin takes pride of place in several establishing shots, and you can quite clearly see red London buses zipping around Old Street while young Tim makes his way across town.

It’s off-putting in a very specific way, given that signage seemingly places the city somewhere in Japan, though the characters are largely a mix of American and British, with the exception of Ken Watanabe’s Detective Yoshida, who doesn’t have much to do beyond looking po-faced whenever Tim presses the subject of his dad’s whereabouts. Arguably the strangest casting choice is Rita Ora as a scientist who exists purely to provide exposition.

Still, Reynolds feels like a solid choice as Pikachu, and for the most part he manages to avoid doing Deadpool 4 Kidz. There’s also absolutely no denying that Pikachu (complete with tiny deerstalker) is very, very cute. Just look at the fur rendering! Those big brown eyes! To wit, Reynolds has great chemistry with Smith, who provides a perfect level-headed foil. It’s no small achievement to be convincing when your co-star is a CGI electric mouse, and Smith sells the story heart and soul, which makes it much easier to forgive the film’s pacing issues and ultimate silliness.

When it comes to the Pokémon, Pikachu is the unequivocal star of the show. For fans of the original series there are some fun throwbacks to Pokémon: The First Movie, but a lot of the Pokémon featured are from more recent years, and may lack familiarity for wider audiences. It’s hard to really be interested in these minor characters given how little we get to see; it feels like the world of Pokémon isn’t explored as well as it could be, as the film is so desperate to follow one narrow narrative thread.

But Detective Pikachu – unlike aforementioned recent cynical corporate cash-ins – is a hopelessly earnest film. It has a few genuinely charming tricks up its sleeve, and for those looking for a nostalgia trip, it’s a pleasing little stroll down memory lane. Its intricacies might be lost on very young viewers (get ready to explain a joke about birth canals, mum and dad!) but it’s the sort of film that feels so gleefully amazed it’s allowed to exist – a warm tonic for these increasingly trying times. To live in a world where a film about a Pikachu in a deerstalker (shot on actual film, no less!) exists is to believe in cinema again.

Published 3 May 2019

Tags: Detective Pikachu Justice Smith Pokémon Rob Letterman Ryan Reynolds

Anticipation.

Who asked for this?

Enjoyment.

Very silly but surprisingly sincere.

In Retrospect.

A fun, fanciful film – not for the ages, but never outstays its welcome.

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