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Dogasu's Backpack | Movies & Specials Guide | Detective Pikachu
Back in 2012 I remember reading a review of the the first Avengers movie whose general thesis statement was that we should all just take a moment to marvel at the fact that a film like that even managed to get made in the first place. And not only that...it's actually pretty decent..!? The movie certainly had its flaws, sure, and by today's standards it's only just fine. But you have to remember that earlier this decade the idea of a superhero movie on that scale not being a complete and total dumpster fire was basically a fantasy.
That's kind of the way I felt going into Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Hollywood's first attempt at creating a live action Pokémon movie. There's absolutely nothing in the first sentence of this paragraph that's even the tiniest bit appealing to me and yet Legendary Pictures and director Rob Letterman somehow managed to make a movie that, while not great, at least manages to get the job done. There were some smart decisions made very early on – base the movie on the Detective Pikachu spin-off game instead of, say, Red & Green; make the film a kind of action-adventure comedy anchored by Deadpool's Ryan Reynolds; center the movie around adult characters instead of irritating children – that really helped steer the film from Dragonball Evolution territory and more toward something along the lines of a modern-day American comic book superhero flick. It's not great, it's not terrible, it's just...you know, it's something you can show non-fans and not be embarrassed by.
The film starts with Mewtwo breaking out of its pod and immediately going after Harry Goodman. The ensuing car wreck prompts the Ryme City Police Department to call Tim (Justice Smith), Harry's son, out to Ryme City to deal with his father's death. As Tim goes through his father's belongs he meets Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), a pokemon who Tim can understand word-perfect for reasons that are only sorta-kinda explained later on, and before long the unlikely duo decides to team up to solve the mystery of what really happened to Harry. Along the way they meet up with a intern for the local news station, Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), and the small group of young heroes are taken on an adventure that pits them against ninja frogs, giant moving islands, and a showdown with the legendary pokemon who opened the film.
A lot of praise has been heaped on Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith for their work in this film, and for good reason. Detective Pikachu honestly wouldn't have been half as fun without Reynold's ability to effortlessly deliver the character's numerous zingers and one-liners and while people had been clamoring for Danny DeVito to play the role I can definitely say that Reynolds was the better choice here. And Justice Smith, an actor I'm admittedly wholly unfamiliar with, does a great job of holding his own against his larger-than-life co-star. He's not a scene-stealer by any means but if the movie was just nothing but Ryan Reynolds' Pikachu it'd get pretty irritating pretty fast. Justice helps bring a balance to the film it'd otherwise be lacking.
The rest of the actors, unfortunately, range from OK to just awful. Ken Watanabe sounds like he's just phoning it in (though to be fair he's been doing that a lot lately) and Kathryn Newton seems like an absolutely lovely person in real life but her performance here makes the acting challenges on Ru Paul's Drag Race seem like high theater. And then there's Roger Clifford (Chris Geere) and Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) as typical kids' movie villains; one's in a suit and sunglasses and you know he's evil because he tells Lucy she has bad taste in fashion while the other one's in a wheelchair and gives press conferences talking about harmony between humans and pokemon but also has a dark office with these ominous god pokemon statues hanging above him. Honestly, Ryan and Justice carry a lot of this film and without them it'd just be another poorly acted kids' movie.
So how are the pokemon themselves? A mixed bag, really. Of the pokemon in this thing the only ones I personally don't think look absolutely hideous are Pikachu (though there are some shots where even he looks a bit off), Bulbasaur, Torterra, and sometimes Psyduck. Everything else? Nope, no thank you. The movie is also quite inconsistent when it comes to the pokemon's voices; some, like Pikachu and Jigglypuff, say their names just like in the TV anime, but most of the others just make random animal noises. Why does Bulbasaur make high pitched mewing noises while Psyduck's walking around going Psy-yai-yai? The discrepancy is never addressed and it's actually kind of distracting.
There's also been a lot of buzz about the movie's world building, and I both agree and disagree with the praise heaped upon it. The movies does a great job of finding these clever, Flinstones-like uses for the pokemon that go a long way toward making them a natural part of this world and not just cameos for the sake of cameos. A Machamp as a traffic operator makes a whole lot of sense, right? A Ditto at a TV station? Sure. On the other hand, there are apparently only 54 species of pokemon in this film, according to several Japanese language interviews floating around, and so that means you end up getting a lot of repetition. I hope you all like Sneasel because that thing pops up at least once every ten minutes or so! Oh and what's that, is that Audino, again? Oh, someone else has a Treecko, that's neat! I mean look, I get it, you spend all this time and money on making your nightmarish monsters and you don't want to confine them to blink-and-you-miss-it cameos. But the unfortunate side effect of giving each pokemon multiple appearances is that the repetition makes Ryme City feel like that one Pokemon Stadium game Nintendo never bothered to bring over to the West because of how limiting it was.
Still, overall Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is an alright film. I'm not as high on it as other white people are being on it right now but I do think it's a decent first outing that far exceeds the expectations I had for when it was first announced. The cast and crew of this movie clearly love Pokémon and I hope the the other filmmakers who inevitably start trying to adapt other video game franchises take note of that.
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