Monday, May 13, 2019

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Film)

With Pokémon being one of the largest pop culture juggernauts since its introduction as a video game in 1996 in Japan, it's understandable that an IP that’s lasted this long would eventually want to experiment with its formula. In 2016 (2018 in the West) came Detective Pikachu, a somewhat obscure 3DS game that put the Pokémon Pikachu in a detective setting wherein it had to team up with a human in order to solve a mystery. When the announcement of a live-action film adaptation was announced, I was a little worried how it might look considering the track record of live-action video game adaptations, however the first trailer was enough to win me over. As some one who has some experience with Pokémon, I found the movie, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, to be one of the best video game movies I had ever seen, possibly even the best one made in live-action.

Despite everyone having partnered with a Pokémon, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) refuses to do so, preferring to work alone in insurance. After a failed attempt to capture a Cubone (at the insistence of a friend), Tim receives word that his father died in a car crash and must head to Ryme City, where humans coexist peacefully with Pokémon, to deal with his father’s belongings. As he searches his father’s apartment, Tim encounters a Pikachu (Detective Pikachu) (Ryan Reynolds and Ikue Ōtani) that only he can understand. After they survive an encounter with a group of Aipoms enraged by a mysterious gas found in the apartment, Detective Pikachu wants Tim’s help in an investigation, believing that Tim’s father survived the crash.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith, right) and Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds, left)
investigate the circumstances of Tim's father's supposed death.

For what it is, the plot is easy to follow and is actually pretty accessible to a non-fan. While at least a good majority of known Pokémon make some sort of appearance in the movie, only the ones most relevant to the plot get named and certain details are explained to the viewer when necessary (ex. the personality of Psyduck and the basic abilities of Pikachu). The plot point of Detective Pikachu being an amnesiac certainly helps in this regard, though much like Logan was for X-Men, you can easily go into this story without knowing very much about the franchise it is based in.

One initial worry was the look of the Pokémon, since they are known for being heavily stylized, and somehow Pokémon Detective Pikachu makes it work. The creatures themselves largely retain their game-accurate appearances while still feeling believable and the fact that humans regularly interact with them adds to this. Overall, both the practical and computer effects come together to create a very believable setting that embraces both the inherently silly nature of the concept and the surprisingly dark undertones that can be found in some aspects of the series.

Only Tim is able to understand what Detective Pikachu says.

The acting in this movie was very solid, especially those of Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds’ performance as Detective Pikachu is sort of like that of a PG-Rated Deadpool, putting a lot of emotion into his actions while delivering some well-timed snarky humor when needed. Special mention goes to a Psyduck featured prominently in the story; while most Pokémon in the franchise can normally only utter their name in some way, Psyduck manages to do that while making each utterance of “Psyduck” sound like it means something different, much like Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy can despite only being able to say “I am Groot.”

Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a definite must-see for Pokémon fans and also a recommended watch for non-fans. Despite having been more hands-off with Pokémon since my initial investment 20 years ago (before I admittedly latched on more to Yu-Gi-Oh!), I was still able to enjoy the movie (even catching some clever nods to the original anime) and my parents, who watched it with me, also enjoyed it despite knowing very little about Pokémon. Fans of Ryan Reynolds may also be interested in seeing this movie just for his role as Pikachu, as his recent success as the character Deadpool has evidently made him more of a draw for some. I have not yet played Detective Pikachu, so I cannot vouch for its accuracy to that game, however I will say this movie made me want to actually play it even more.

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