07th May2019

‘Pokemon: Detective Pikachu’ Review

by Xenia Grounds

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Josette Simon, Alejandro De Mesa, Rita Ora, Karan Soni | Written by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly | Directed by Rob Letterman

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I’ve been a Pokemon fan since the original Red and Blue games came out. I still play the games today two decades later. I grew up with the animated series and watched it religiously as a kid. Pokemon has been incredibly successful as a franchise but the one thing that alluded it was a successful movie. For those about to bring up the animated movies for the television series, they are enjoyable but there’s no denying that they are for fans only. However, Detective Pikachu does something which is really refreshing in that it doesn’t alienate adults who don’t have that attachment to Pokemon and is without a doubt, the best video game movie that has ever been put to screen.

Detective Pikachu centres around Tim Goodman. His father Harry (a detective) has gone missing and is presumably dead. In a series of events, Tim encounters his father’s partner pokemon, Pikachu, that has a case of amnesia. The strangest thing being that for some reason, Tim can understand Pikachu perfectly while other people around only hear him say the classic ‘Pika Pika’. The two choose to uncover the mystery surrounding Harry’s disappearance and stumble across a much bigger conspiracy.

The story itself is a straight-forward enough and has more emotional beats than you would expect considering the premise and comedic tone of its trailers. The movie does take the time to explain what Pokemon are, the relationship between Pokemon and humans, what Pokemon trainers are to newcomers so they don’t feel lost. This isn’t a story that takes itself too seriously but it knows when to be serious because Detective Pikachu does touch on the darker stories in the Pokemon universe – like with Mewtwo, whose origin and mentality remains accurate to his game counterpart.

If you are already a fan of Pokemon going in then you will pick up on so many references that will make you grin very hard while you’re watching it. For instance, they play the original theme song for the Kanto series in a news station and use some of the original video game OST. There are some scenes that feel like throwbacks to the First Movie like with Mewtwo’s first line being ‘They’re outside’ after hearing voices. Chances are you’ll see a Pokemon that you had in your team when you played the games which you can get a little kick out of. You’ll spend a fair amount of time trying to spot all the Pokemon in each scene, you’ll pick up on things a little quicker like with how Pikachu describes Psyduck as a bomb when he’s stressed. It’s a joy to the eyes and seeing Pokemon battles in live action is like a better-looking version of a Pokemon Stadium battle. It’s exciting, action packed and cartoonish enough to be light-hearted viewing.

Speaking of Pokemon, I should mention how they look… they look great! The effects, for a majority of the Pokemon in Detective Pikachu, are on point. The Pokemon look photo-realistic and feel like they are part of the world and that they are there next to these human characters even though it’s clearly CGI. The world of Detective Pikachu looks like a city that would legitimately fit in with something from the game. It’s a mix of a few places like London (Detective Pikachu got to London before Sword and Shield did) and Asia and it creates a sense of familiarity and combining it with the childlike wonder that only Pokemon can create.

The performances in this movie are also a highlight. Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu is brilliantly hilarious and Pikachu is loveable from the second he opens his mouth. Pikachu does have that self-aware humour and the one liners which Reynolds is famous for but there are moments of drama with the character especially as he uncovers more about his past and you feel for him as it isn’t always as ideal as he would like it to be. I am looking forward to seeing the jokes about this in Deadpool 3.

Justice Smith as Tim does play that ‘Only Sane Man’ trope in this movie but he’s not just there to roll his eyes at some of the more ridiculous situations he comes across. Tim is quite interesting for a Pokemon protagonist in the respect that he doesn’t want to have a partner Pokemon and goes out of his way to avoid having one. He’s also troubled by his relationship with his father which is problematic due to how distant it has become but as he learns more about Harry, he realises that his father is not as bad as he thinks. That part is not a groundbreaking or original character arc but Smith does a great job with it with how he delivers lines, body language and facial expressions.

I am immensely proud to say that Detective Pikachu is absolutely the best video game movie that has ever been made. The typical video game movie has never been better than merely passable but Detective Pikachu is the example that future adaptions should take notes from. It doesn’t alienate the uninitiated and speaking as a lifelong fan, it is great to have a Pokemon movie that everyone can watch and enjoy equally. This is a movie that stands on its own and will be successful on its own merits. It captures the joy, wonder and charm of the source material perfectly, you’ll be watching this and wishing that Pokemon really did exist by the end.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is in cinemas from Friday May 10th.

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