Confession: I’m sort of addicted to Pokémon Go, the phenomenally successful mobile game based on the hugely popular … er, phenomenon.
Pokémon is a massively popular multiple-media franchise that spans video games, comics, TV shows, card games, toys and more, and has been bewitching kids of all ages since the second half of the 1990s.
Since getting into the game back in 2016, I’ve dabbled a bit in the anime and tackled the most recent videogame, Pokémon Let’s Go. And you know what? I’ve grown pretty fond of some of these little Pocket Monsters (not the shape-shifting Ditto, though, which usually pops up when you least want it to), and was quite excited for the release of this movie.
The finished film certainly does nothing for my regard of Ditto (wink wink).
On a more general note, it will certainly please fans, but falls a bit short of the spirit and inventiveness needed to extend its spell beyond the core fan base. (In game terms, it’s not quite a wonder but has certainly caught my attention. Go, Mystic!)
Director Rob Letterman repeats what he did with the reasonably successful Goosebumps movie: he takes a firm grasp of the outlandish setting and sets about building a realm where all the bizarre adventures that unfold before our eyes can seem acceptable. (I’m not shooting for “believable” – would anyone?)
One important achievement, though, is that Letterman has made a pretty decent entry in the often maligned – and deservedly so, usually – field of videogame-to-movie adaptations.
Based on the 2016 game which cast the adorable yellow electric rodent Pikachu as a detective, this movie is a live-action/CGI mystery-adventure that is aimed squarely at fans.
To the uninitiated, it may prove even more inaccessible than Avengers: Endgame, another current film that tosses viewers in the deep end of the pool without any attempt to ease newcomers into the proceedings.
But, yeah, people should know what they’re getting themselves into. Or at least Google stuff beforehand.
This is basically the story of a partnership between a Pokémon and a human, like all good Pokémon tales. Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is the partner of Harry Goodman, a detective who was presumably slain on the job.
The detective’s son Tim (Justice Smith, from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) teams up with Pikachu after it becomes apparent that: a) they both want to find out what happened to Harry; and b) somehow, Tim can understand what Pikachu is saying when everyone else just hears its trademark “Pika, Pika”.
Their adventure takes place in and around Ryme City, a place that’s quite different from most other places in the Poké-verse (you’re on your own if you need to know how different, we just don’t have the space).
But there’s a sinister plot afoot in Ryme City, and – again, as with all good Pokémon stories – it will take Tim and Pikachu to bring out the best in each other to overcome it.
OK, there’s also a romantic interest for Tim in the form of cub reporter Lucy (Kathryn Newton), but their interaction mainly consists of awkward and inappropriate statements.
Smith hits the required beats accurately enough, as a kid who lost faith in Pokémon and his Dad long ago.
But where the film really succeeds is in meshing Reynolds’ glib talk with Pikachu’s character animation to give us a fully realised, fascinating screen character. So effectively, that the highs and lows of his adventure and character arc have an emotional heft not usually seen (felt?) in videogame movies.
And if you think sounding like a PG Deadpool is not in keeping with Pikachu, well, let’s just say that the story addresses that concern in a satisfying way.
Still, you say, satisfaction, shmatisfaction – how cool is the Pokémon content of this movie?
Fans will definitely find a lot to gawk at. There are some spectacular scenes – one at a staggering kaiju level – although most of my favourite Mons are nowhere to be seen. Just a slumbering Snorlax here and there, and a Machamp directing traffic – what, why not a Hariyama?
Also, some creature renderings may take a little getting used to, like the furrier/fuzzier big-screen interpretations of certain fan-favourite Mons.
A few turn out flat despite the added textures, although a couple (a stressed-out Psyduck and a hilarious Mr. Mime) really stand out in well-executed scenes.
Overall, though, the cuteness factor is high (those adorable Bulbasaurs!) and the film is a nice celebration of the Pokémon phenomenon, one that’s not above occasionally poking fun at its source material. Er, in a purely respectful way of course.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Director: Rob Letterman
Cast: Ryan Reynolds (voice), Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Rita Ora, Ikue Otani (voice)