Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

For a short while in the beginning of the film, it lives up to the “Detective” aspect of the title in a noir-tinged kind of affair, with characters talking like 40s cops and dames (Kathryn Newton is the stand-out of the live-action cast as seemingly the sole actor involved understanding the tone the film best operated at), moody city shots, byzantine (for a kids movie at least) plots unfolding, and so on. All that slides off after around fifteen minutes or so, when characters start talking in bland modern dialogue and the bizarrely complicated plot is told as standardly as possible. The film really undercuts its more idiosyncratic aspects that made it feel unique and different, even to the hugely successful intellectual property it’s a part of, and trudges along as the most cookie-cutter version of itself it can muster.

The Pokemon are well-realised, at least, particularly the titular Pikachu, whose fur is stunningly detailed at times, particularly after a mishap in water. The sort of offputting, “realistic” way the Pokemon are defined in the live-action space is really interesting, giving them a look distinctive from their video-game and anime counterparts, while still of a kind with them. The ugly looking Charizard is the best example of the style the film went with; a fascinating rendition where the influence of the original design is very apparent, but bought into the grittier tonal realm of the film’s setting.

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Ryan Reynolds is done no favours by the dialogue, which squanders the potential to play more into his wise guy Deadpool shtick, but some clever things are done with the specific celebrity stunt casting of him nonetheless. Really, the whole movie is like that – clever ideas poke out every so often, but are buried under a needlessly conventional method of rendition that makes the film feel oddly aimless. Who is it for, exactly? The plot’s convolutions will sail well over the heads of many younger audience members, while the saccharine and simple nature of the dialogue and storytelling will see older audience member’s eyes glaze over. The nostalgia factor is dulled by the fact this is effectively a new story for all but those who’ve played the obscure Japan-only game the film draws its title and conceit from. It’s frustrating because there’s a quirky, interesting mash-up of “detective” genre and “Pikachu” branding here, but it’s so rarely well-executed. At least the Pokemon look and work great, and presumably that’s what matters most in this testing-the-waters for the intellectual property. Two and a half Psyducks, and a Pokeball.

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