POKÉMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU
REVIEW BY HIRAM HARRINGTON
After twenty-three years since the release of the first Pokémon games in Japan, 2019 has been blessed with the series’ first ever live-action Pokémon film. Being the most profitable media franchise in history, a real-world adaptation of the Pokémon universe has seemed inevitable for a long time, even with the existing critical failure of video game properties on the big screen. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was undoubtedly a risk for the Pokémon company, but, it is one that has paid off. Big time.
Based on the videogame of the same name, Rob Letterman’s Pokémon: Detective Pikachu follows the story of 21-year-old Tim Goodman (Justice Smith). He comes into contact with the titular Pikachu (voiced and motion captured by Ryan Reynolds) upon the disappearance of his estranged father in a mysterious car accident. Tim is the only human who can understand Pikachu’s speech, so, they put their differences aside in order to find out what happened to Tim’s father - and uncover a plot that will change the relationship between humans and Pokémon forever.
Now, here’s a sentence I never thought I would say in my entire time as a reviewer: Ryan Reynolds is genuinely wonderful as Pikachu. Portrayed rather impressively through facial motion capture, Reynolds plays into a Deadpool-esque style of character. This doesn’t mean Pikachu murders enemies in cold blood, by any means, but the one-liners, the comic timing, and just a hint of the disregard for the fourth wall all show up and stand out. He’s also adorably rendered with soft yellow fur, no doubt ensuring the sale of cuddly toys inspired by the film. Justice Smith also delivers a surprisingly heartfelt and relatable performance as Tim, who has spent his whole life resenting and rejecting a relationship with his father. It goes so far as to have ruined his childhood dream of becoming a Pokémon Trainer, an individual who spends their life working and battling with Pokémon. Straight from his role on Netflix’s The Get Down, Smith is undoubtedly familiar with dealing emotional punches - and in Detective Pikachu, he proves he could do it all movie long. Bill Nighy plays an unexpectedly modern villain, supported by equally unanticipated cameos from Ken Watanabe, Rita Ora, and Diplo - the latter to almost certainly win brownie points with younger audiences.
As much as I enjoyed Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, it is not the entirely perfect game-to-screen adaptation that many wanted it to be. It is, at its heart, a family adventure film, and plays out narratively just like one. Sometimes Pikachu’s one-line quips feel forced, the displays of Ryme City’s Pokémon too gratuitous, the supporting characters jumping from under to over-developed at a moment’s notice. But here’s the thing - so what if it’s all that, and more? As an older fan, I came to see Ryan Reynolds embody a childhood icon. I came to see those extended shots of Machokes directing traffic. I came to see every minute of its over-the-top, saturated campiness. And boy, was I rewarded with them. If my experience can be summed it up in one thought, it’s that there’s nothing wrong with seeing a non-critical darling just for the absolute hell of it.
While Pokémon: Detective Pikachu may not be the expected site for radical social change, it has a shockingly advanced representation of father/son relationships. Tim and Harry have been estranged since the death of Tim’s mother during his childhood. Despite Harry’s attempts to reconnect, Tim remains at odds with him until his disappearance, where he starts to see how much his father really loved him, but his grief over his wife’s death left him unable to care for him. In a screening with a horde of middle-aged reviewers surrounding me, the ultimate culmination of their arc left me teary-eyed in how refreshing and unbelievably heartfelt it was.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is hardly the next Godfather in its cinematic scope, but if Academy Awards were given out for a good time, this film would win Best Picture a hundred times over. For anyone looking for an honest, touching trip down memory lane, Detective Pikachu is the best way to find it this summer.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu opens in cinemas on the 13th of May.