While I’ll confess I’m more of a Monster Rancher person (ah, memories of popping in random or specific CD’s to generate monsters!), I did dabble in a tiny bit of Pokémon starting back in the ’90’s, playing bit of the Red version and a few other titles, eventually tapping out because it wasn’t for me. In he 2000’s. I did eventually play a few of the free games from the franchise though. Both Pokémon Rumble and Pokémon Shuffle were decent, simple time killers on the 3DS for a while. But I wouldn’t say I was devoted to catching them all and nope, I couldn’t tell some evolved types apart even if you handed me a cheat sheet.
That said, I do know Pikachu is a species of Pokémon, so only seeing ONE of them in Pokémon Detective Pikachu was having my well-aged eyebrow creak up a little. Granted, it’s very likely that some younger kids would be a bit confused seeing more than one, so there’s that to consider. That said, I’ve had random conversations with super diehard fans over the years where from kid to adult, they can go on about Pokémon for a while as if they’re real creatures and you can learn everything about them, even if you’re afraid to ask. Try getting stuck in an elevator with a few restless Pokémon fans for about an hour, and someone’s practically guaranteed to whip out their Pokédex notes (NOTE: this has happened three times over a few years, so I must be either lucky… or I need to take the stairs more).
Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Detective Pikachu is quite a decent enough film, hitting all the right technical notes (the assorted Pokémon are all perfectly brought to life courtesy of some spectacular CG) and falling back on the usual formulaic three-act structure you’d expect from a movie like this. It’s also likely the best live action videogame to film translation to date, I’d say, Especially after sitting through a few cash-in films over the years that were lacking in a few areas. For anyone new to this sort of thing, it might be a bit overwhelming what with all the visual information presented onscreen (or: this is one very busy film). But for the most part, director Rob Letterman keeps things interesting and for a film partially based on a game of the same name, it’s pretty solid.
As a film noir fan, I can safely state this isn’t at all one, although it does partially present its plot and early bits in a darkly lit and atmospheric manner. It comes off as a bit intentionally humorous, that air of mystery thing, but it also benefits the somewhat dark plot. Tim Goodman, (Justice Smith), an insurance investigator, comes to Ryme City after the news that his estranged father, Harry, a detective of some renown, was killed in a car accident. As he’d lost his mother when he was 11, the poor guy is going though a few things, but he just comes to the city to say farewell and get it over with. He meets a initially mysterious blonde, who’s not a femme fatale at all – she’s a junior-level reporter named Lucy Stevens (an energetic and charming Kathryn Newton) with a rather nervous Psyduck as a companion (Hmmm, there’s only one of those here as well as far as I can tell, but they tend to be a bit lame in the games, soooo). She wants to talk to Tim, but he rebuffs her and goes upstairs to go through his dad’s belongings and get back home in no short order. He’s refused having a Pokémon partner ever since he was a child for reasons the film will make clear.
While searching his dad’s place, Tim ends up accidentally releasing a vial with purple gas that turns some nearby Aipom into a vicious state. The gas also has the side effect of Tim suddenly understanding what’s being said by a specific Pokémon, who just happens to be a Pikachu, who just happens to be prowling around Harry’s apartment looking for clues. He startles Tim by speaking to him in English (as Ryan Reynolds, coming off like a G-rated version of Deadpool). Tim understands him, but is very obviously freaked out by this. Cue a chase scene where those enraged Aipom go after the pair for a few minutes before the gas wears off and you find out that Tim can still understand what that Pikachu is saying and that electric rat seems immune to the rage effect from the gas.
In a nutshell, he’s got amnesia from somewhere, but can recall a few things. He’s convinced Harry’s not dead and thinks he and Tim should team up and look for clues to find him. He’s also VERY addicted to caffeine, which is an interesting vice in a kids film, but the script has a bit of fun with it. Long story short, the opening sets up the film nicely, while explaining how humans live side by side with Pokémon. But it also sets up a few other scenarios as it goes on that dip into conflict as a sort of necessary evil, with illegal Pokémon matches, a villain you think can’t be one, another villain who really isn’t, and a few other fun, yet predictable elements. I went on too long about the opening, because I found it hooked me in and a film I wasn’t planning to sit through had me wanting to see how it ended.
That said, all isn’t flawless here. A later scene with enormous lab-evolved Pokémon and other mutations goes on too long and only serves to seriously injure a lead character for the sake of introducing a specific Pokémon integral to the story. There’s a bit of pesky exposition though flashback via hologram that reminded my of a scene from Prometheus, and the finale is… well, if you saw Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, the sequence seems to be quite inspired from that. But the gas won’t kill here, it just merges humans with whatever Pokémon they’re partnered with permanently.
There’s also what I call a ‘Deus Ex Meowthchina’ ending, that negates all the danger that’s taken place and adds another layer to things, Ken Watanabe is very underused, and overall, there’s a sort of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? aesthetic here, but skewing much younger. Sure, Reynolds as Pikachu makes a few “hey, wait a minute…” jokes where adults in the room might laugh more that their kids, but overall, the film is quite inoffensive. Besides, you have to like a film that gives a lesser character known for its usually ineffective performance in the game a big, funny part in the film. So, Psyduck gets as much time here as he can, and actually saves the day at one crucial moment, the caveat being it comes as part of that long scene noted above.
Overall, I liked the film because it did successfully lure me into it and other than a few scenes, hold my interest until the end. I’m not here to convince anyone to watch if or decide if it’s “good” or “bad” compared to more serious fare, but I’ll bet a wooden nickel that some folks might find it pretty enjoyable if some young charge demands you watch it with them. Don’t be surprised if you want your own Psyduck at some point, but don’t be surprised either if you just get a Psyduck-style headache after all the stuff that comes at you the film offers up. You might want a Pikachu too, but your coffee cans will likely always be empty. Choose wisely.
Score: B (80%)