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Review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)

A shockingly good time! An electrifying mix of fun and mystery! (And other electricity-based puns).

I have been waiting for a live-action Pokémon movie since the early 2000s. I remember seeing my favourite cartoon dog brought to life in Scooby-Doo (2002) and assuming that naturally, an adaptation of the wildly popular Pokémon anime (1997 – present) was sure to follow. Alas, while I got a follow-up to Scooby-Doo with the arguably superior Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), years went by without any news of Ash and Pikachu coming to life on the big screen. Well, because it’s 2019 and these days old properties have a habit of being made into blockbuster movies, I’ve finally gotten my wish with the release of Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019).

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 12.43.02 AM
Credit: / Warner Bros. Pictures / Toho

Based on the video game of the same name, Pokémon Detective Pikachu follows Tim Goodman, an insurance salesman whose detective father has mysteriously vanished. To find him, Tim joins forces with his father’s Pikachu, a caffeine-addicted detective suffering from amnesia. Unlike other Pokémon, Tim is able to understand every word Pikachu says, thus forming a bond that will help the pair to unravel this mystery.

Like I said, I’ve been waiting YEARS for this movie to be made. As I walked into the theatre, the kid who used to spend hours playing Pokémon Crystal on his GameBoy Advanced was squealing with excitement. Sure, it’s not a direct adaptation of the anime and its beloved characters like Ash and Team Rocket, but Pokémon Detective Pikachu is still sure to please even the most diehard of Poké-fans. It’s actually a smart move to not do a live-action version of the anime first, as this allows the studio to test the waters of a live-action Pokémon world without being known as the movie that completely butchered Ash and friends.

Though I’m not in touch with what’s going on in the world of Pokémon these days, I consider myself a pretty big fan and I’m happy to say that in under just four minutes, the movie completely drew me in. Seeing the first group of Pokémon appear on the screen and watching how they would live and interact in the real world was like watching the opening shot of a Disney animated classic. There’s an inherent sense of magic, childlike wonder, and wish fulfillment with Pokémon Detective Pikachu and it’s all thanks to the spectacular visual effects.

The entire movie is a buffet of dazzling visual delights, but it’s the photo-realistic Pokémon themselves that understandably steal the show. Here’s the thing though: Either the Pokémon turned out to be delightful dreams come true or they were pure nightmare fuel. There was no in-between. Clearly the most time was spent on the design for the movie’s eponymous hero and let me say, it was time well spent. You guys, Pikachu is fucking adorable and I would die for him. SO. DAMN. CUTE!

Voicing everybody’s favourite electric rodent is everybody’s favourite Canadian, Ryan Reynolds. I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with Reynolds. I find him talented, funny, and charming, but when he’s given free-range to be as quippy as he wants, I find him almost intolerable. Surprisingly, even though the quips fly faster than one of Pikachu’s thunderbolts, I didn’t mind the movie’s reliance on Reynolds’ ability to deliver one-liners. Hmm, maybe the key to my enduring Ryan Reynolds is to have all of his lines come out of the cutest little detective around.

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 9.57.18 PM
Credit: / Warner Bros. Pictures / Toho

Acting alongside Reynolds is Justice Smith as Tim. My only previous knowledge of Smith is his turn as a stereotypical nerd in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) which was a bland role to say the least. Admittedly I didn’t have high hopes for him as a leading man but his performance is perfectly fine (if not one-dimensional) and totally on par for the tone of this movie. I’m sorry to break it to you fellow young adults, but Pokémon Detective Pikachu is very much a kids movie. That certainly isn’t a bad thing and hey, if we’re being honest, I should have realized who the movie’s true target audience was before sitting down. From the childish dialogue to the cheesy acting, anyone over the age of 20 may find the movie to be a tad simple. However, if you’re over 20 and seeing Pokémon Detective Pikachu, chances are you’re a Pokémon fan. In which case, the movie is the ultimate piece of fan-service.

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 10.06.20 PM
Credit: / Warner Bros. Pictures / Toho

I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of painstaking work that went into designing this movie. Each shot is filled with callbacks and references to the franchise’s many games and movies, and the attention to detail is truly incredible. Every store sign, poster, and building feels remarkably realistic, fleshing out a world that fans have been waiting for decades to be made real. The world-building in Pokémon Detective Pikachu is astounding, creating a universe that not only feels wholly believable and lived in, but is ripe for the addition of sequels further down the line. In fact, a sequel is apparently already in the works. I’m not mad at that at all and will honestly pay good money to see even more of my favourite Pokémon come to life. Seriously, this whole movie was just my brother and I elbowing each other going, “look there’s Pidgeot! No way, Growlithe! Oh my God, it’s Squirtle!” Were we the oldest ones in the theatre not accompanied by children? Yes. Were we having the most fun? Also yes.

Though it’s competently made for the most part, it pains me to report that Pokémon Detective Pikachu suffers from an abundance of telling over showing. I don’t understand why movies persist in doing this. It’s like the movie thinks that if it doesn’t tell us exactly what each character is doing, how they’re feeling or what’s going on in a scene, the audience won’t be able to figure it out for themselves. However, if the movie just took a breathe and let the audience soak things in, they’d have no problem following along. Is it too much to ask for quality story telling even in a kids movie?

A cute, silly, honest to goodness fun time, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a must-see for anyone who holds a special place in their heart for the franchise. It honestly made me want to jump right back into playing the games and watching the anime. Also, it’s totally worth buying the DVD just so you can pause and see which Pokémon are hiding in the corners of different scenes.

Have you seen Pokémon Detective Pikachu yet? What’s your favourite Pokémon?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!



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