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Movies based on video games have few successful examples. For me, some flicks the Resident Evil series was a fun watch. Wreck-It Ralph, even though not explicitly based on any video game series, was enjoyable filled with heart. And let’s not mention Super Mario Bros. plz. But none have really pushed on to the heights of Marvel’s flicks, or anything Mr. Spielberg or Cameron have touched.
It’s unlikely that The Pokemon Company and Warner Bros. Pictures have a Endgame-size hit on its hands with Detective Pikachu, but it sure is the best video game movie made thus far.
Paying lip service to fans while inconspicuously churning the cogs of a movie’s plot, character development and pacing is the real challenge of video game movies, but this flick does a commendable job.
Granted, if you’re a Pokemon fan you’ll love the visceral and visual complexities and densities of the Pokemon on show. You’ll have plenty of moments to loudly call out the names of each as they crawl, flap, roll or screech across the screen, pissing off your fellow movie goers in the process. But if you’re in it for the plot, here’s a brief overview:
A Pokemon detective’s son, Tim Goodman (played by Justice Smith – Paper Towns, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) is searching for the truth of his father’s death. Hoping to simply go back to his normal life after a day in the neon-mad Pokemon-filled Ryme City, he gets sucked into the world of Pokemon once more when Pikachu (played by Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool, Safe House) strolls into his life. From there, the two embark on adventures that somehow seem safer than any ever undertaken in the anime.
Reynolds, the prince of quirky, sassy characters does a surprisingly good job of balancing Pikachu’s natural charm with more acerbic wit that only a human could appreciate. He’s no stranger to voice acting too, and it shows, bringing a degree of depth to a character that’s now known to Gen Z kids as “that surprised meme”.
The CGI team should also be given a round of extended applause. Pikachu’s coat feels voluminous and weighty. Although he’s nothing more than a bunch of pixels (btw, Reynolds also provides motion capture for the electric mouse) his presence in the world is tangible.
This can be said for all Pokemon. Like in the games, Pidgey are everywhere and their feathers dilute the sunlight passing through them. Psyduck is as daft as you’d expect, sporting a large, textured bill and oily feathers. Mr. Mime will scare you, and the dark joke associated with its scene will scare you even further. Even Mewtwo, who is paraded as the most powerful creature on Earth, is both elegant and incredibly potent in its visual depiction.
Some might find these pocket monsters’ art style strange, uncanny, and far too life-like. But it works. It works really well in the futuristic setting of Ryme City.
The world itself does seemingly lack rules. For a city that sees Pokemon living “side by side” with humans, the movie doesn’t explain how Pokemon fit within the human world. But this isn’t a documentary. It’s a fantasy flick. These factoids aren’t detrimental to the movie’s message.
Smith as Tim Goodman is the central star of the flick. As an equally quirky young adult, Tim is battered by his memories as a child. Regret plagues his actions, while remorse fuels his decisions. And his seemingly forlorn life is juxtaposed by his energetic, ambitious love interest Lucy Stevens (played by Kathryn Newton – Blockers, Big Little Lies) who ultimately helps the detective team solve the mystery.
Tim may be a bit boring alone but he and Pikachu bounce off one another comically and emotionally like Ash and his partner in the anime.
The aforementioned plot itself is surprisingly twisty too, to use Pikachu’s term.
A number of strange twists and late-flick revelations keeps the audience guessing, and what may initially seem to be the obvious is pulled from beneath you. In the final third though, the movie connects all the strings, and Pikachu finally demonstrates who he really is, and the power… that’s… inside.
POKEMON, GOTTA CATCH EM A….
Ultimately, I enjoyed Detective Pikachu more than I thought I would. Based on trailers, I wholly expected yet another Ryan Reynolds comedy rampage, with the Deadpool star overshadowing the plot and other characters with his self-referential gags and puns. But nope. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Perhaps I viewed the flick with rose-tinted glasses (actually, horrible 3D glasses), but wouldn’t any kid from the 90’s?
Those viewing Detective Pikachu for the colours, the legendary names, the Pokemon you just didn’t catch in Sinnoh, or for the fleeting, nostalgic battles, you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a feel good movie that’s entertaining, well-paced, carries tender moments for adults and positive life lessons for children, this isn’t the worst choice either.
Either way, let this be the beginning of a positive trend for future video game movies.
All images: Warner Bros. Pictures