Monday, May 13, 2019

Pokémon Detective Pikachu


I am not educated in Pokémon, so forgive me for the following. That's the thing about this movie though -- it trusts its audience to know, or to be able to pick up with minimal exposition, and that opens up a ton of space for expansive storytelling. Also, wise-cracking one-liners and fuzzy yellow adorableness!

And old-fashioned mystery!

In a city where humans and Pokémon live in equality, Tim (Justice Smith) gets the news that his estranged detective dad has died. When he goes to clean out his apartment, he finds a deer-stalker-wearing Pikachu, and is surprised to find that he can understand what he's saying. (I suppose it wouldn't occur to him to be surprised that he sounds like Ryan Reynolds.) Pikachu claims to be Tim's dad's Pokémon partner, and though he has amnesia he's almost certain that Tim's dad is still alive. They join forces (reluctantly on Tim's part, who used to be obsessed with Pokémon but now wants nothing to do with them) to track down the trail of clues in search of him.

Instantly you get an old detective noir vibe which pairs perfectly with the cyberpunk world. They lean into it more than is required, and as a noir fan I appreciated that. It's mostly present visually, with the apartment buildings and Venetian blinds and neon cityscapes, but there's also a hardboiled interrogation (through mime for a good laugh), dramatic plot twists, a secret laboratory, and shady characters. And an intrepid, spunky reporter girl (Kathryn Newton) who knows something sinister is going on. The plot is easy to follow and if you were inclined to think ahead you might figure out the destination fairly quickly, but I was simply too swept up in the story and fun atmosphere to even try and predict anything.

Bill Nighy and Ken Watanabe are also there. And another Deadpool vet, Karan Soni has a cameo type role.

In cases like this it helps to be like a kid, oblivious to tropes and probable outcomes. It is a kid's movie after all. But it's also good nostalgia fodder for adults too, who grew up with the game. I didn't myself, and felt a warm welcome stepping into the Pokémon world for the first time. It's good nostalgia because it doesn't draw attention to that aspect. It doesn't even appear to be made with adults in mind, just age-appropriate at such a high quality that anyone can enjoy. It deserves to have fun with silly tropes and to not worry about a complex plot or trying to avoid cliches. Those things are naturally included, and it does justice to them instead of attempting to circumvent them out of fear or misunderstanding.

It's like a throwback to before tropes were taboo -- and to a time before the Great Franchise Push. This movie attempts no sequel-baiting, and leaves no ends loose. It's a complete, stand-alone story, and that may be my favorite thing about it of all. Fully rendered; leaves nothing off the table; explores as far as it can as fast as it can, knowing this is its one shot to satisfy. The world building is effortless because of how much ground is covered. It doesn't dawdle but is eager to move further, and forward, to the next cool place and the next fun and informative scene. Plentiful fun and plentiful content, existing together instead of distracting from the other.

As it should be for a no-holds-barred entertaining time!

For instance, there was one action sequence that I found incredibly boring, but they moved on from it so quickly that it barely made a dent in my enjoyment. And I know there were one or two jokes that I didn't find at all funny, but since none of the jokes are overplayed (hello, Marvel) I simply forgot them, and there was no ill effect. The whole movie seems to exist because of how funny Ryan Reynolds can be, so scene-stealing might be expected, but he doesn't. Certainly not from Justice Smith, even though I expect he could have without proper control. The characters are crafted to work together and play off each other, so there aren't distracting rabbit trails of one-upping humor.

The story is Tim's, and Smith carries the movie more than you'd expect, and does it well. The best work I've seen him do. And Reynolds isn't solely for comedy though that's where he shines. Tim and Pikachu's developing friendship has all the ups and downs that a good story needs, and the movie doesn't shy away from drama. It pulls off a winning theme to hold together all the adventuring, detecting, action, and comedy with the glue of deeper meaning. And the structure is very solid. I feel silly being impressed that it didn't fall apart in the end, but that's just the standard of late I suppose. All my issues are in details and are less missteps than things that didn't work for me personally.

There was basically nothing that detracted from the movie objectively. Even the bits I didn't care for are hard to recall.

It's not going to turn me into a Pokémon fan or anything, but since I've always been a fan a solid and meaningful stories, with engaging characters populating vast and fantastic imaginative worlds with devotion and humor -- it did all it needed in order to leave me happy as a Pikachu getting his chin scratched!


  1. Seems like a cute, funny, sweet movie--don't know if I'll watch it, though---.I might. I'm not educated in Pokemon, AT ALL, either.

    1. Yeah, I'd say it is those things certainly, but at the same time you won't miss out terribly if you forgo, especially if you aren't a fan of Pokemon or Ryan Reynolds comedy. Then again, it might surprise you!