Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) - Review

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) - Review

In an isolated scientific facility the world’s most powerful Pokemon - ‘Mew 2’ - awakens from its sedation and bursts its containment. Flying through the air like a missile, it targets a vehicle attempting a high-speed escape and sends it careening off of a bridge.

On the other side of Ryme City, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) receives news that his estranged, big city Detective Dad Harry was killed in a car crash. While seeing to his fathers affairs Tim encounters Harry’s Pikachu partner. An Pikachu who is an amnesiac who can communicate to him in Ryan Reynold’s sardonic and sultry voice. This unsuspecting pair must join forces to uncover the truth behind Harry’s death and final case. 

Pokémon Detective Pikachu is an expression of kiddie-Noir. Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Zooptopia before it, it bundles the sinister corruption of so many quintessential noir cities and archetypal ‘heavies’ before it with overwhelming cuteness of famous cartoons - in this case, Pokémon of all shapes, sizes and textures.

Thankfully, for those like this reviewer who is entirely out of their depth with Poke-lore (my last obsessive period with Pokémon - the series and the trading cards could be a full 21 years ago), there’s a tour guide, Reynolds’ Pikachu. There was a quality in the very best of The Simpsons where at the surface level it was entertaining and comprehensible for younger viewers, and the hidden level was a whole expanded experience for older/more mature viewers. Ryan Reynolds’ is the physical manifestation of the bridge between those two parallel narratives. In many ways, his alter ego Deadpool is the most overt expression of the relationship that the character has to the story and the audience. Pikachu is vastly cuter, cuddlier and comes with a vocabulary that includes the word ‘dame.’ 

Justice Smith, ‘that kid from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ is squashed into Tim’s arrested adolescence. After his mother’s death in his early teens, Tim became estranged from his father. Choosing to stay on with his grandmother and abandon his dreams to become a Pokémon trainer, he’s struggling to engage with grief and appropriate denial to uncover what happened to his father. Smith gives an engaging performance, that feels bigger and simpler because of the landscape of the film and being required to play straight man to Deadpool-kachu.

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Director Rob Letterman captures that sci-fi bustle of an inter-species population in this a Western City/Tokyo hybridised space (think a live-action San Fransokyo in Big Hero 6, only with a stack of Pokemon) that by night is a bubble gum Blade Runner. When you’re allowed the time and space to become a citizen of this incredible space, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is thoroughly enjoyable. However, during the film, detours to gargantuan action centrepieces result in disinterest bordering on deadening. The toothless Roland Emmerich’s 2012 micro-armageddon scenes put you into a trance state that forces you to scrutinise the confounding and convenient invincibility awarded to the characters. 

This trance extends into a greater examination of the writing team - Dan Hernandez, & Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly and Nicole Perlman - who are doing their best to keep the focus on the necessary logical steps of Tim and Pikachu’s investigation as well as world building (cinematic universes are on the cards of course). Don’t press too hard on the logic gaps and failures in the police investigation or confusing character motivations; especially Ken Watanabe’s Lieutenant Hide Yoshida. Ryme City’s isolationism and portrayals of law enforcement toeing the corporate line are more likely a result of looking too hard into this, than some subliminal satire. Chris Geere’s Roger Clifford - the played out petulant son, who can’t wait to amass all of his Ryme City ‘visionary’ Howard Clifford’s (Bill Nighy) power to abuse it - has a moment in the downhill slope of the movie that demonstrates that obstacles and double-crosses are instead dominoes triggered to collapse and then be ignored. 

Pokémon Detective Pikachu has Ryan Reynolds making one of the cutest characters ever conceived say the word “dame” and also “I feel it in my jellies”; that’s enough.

Score: ★★/★★★★

BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.