Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton
Director: Rob Letterman
Running Time: 104 mins
Pokémon Detective Pikachu is an American film about a boy who travels to Ryme City, where humans and Pokémon live alongside one another. Upon learning of his father’s death, he comes across the Pikachu who worked as his partner, and the two set about solving the mystery.
For a film that’s so brimming with weird mashups and fun ideas, I was hugely disappointed by just how bland Detective Pikachu was. Despite a really fun lead performance from Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu, as well as a zany sense of humour that brings Pokémon into the ‘real’ world, the majority of this film is actually really rather predictable and watered-down, with a disappointingly formulaic plot, underwhelming comedy and often even disappointing production values.
But before I get into that, I want to talk about the positives, the biggest of which has to be the performances, mainly that of Ryan Reynolds. As weird as it sounded when it was first announced, there’s something so weirdly right about Reynolds playing an amnesiac, coffee-drinking, detective Pikachu. Fitting in with the sheer bewilderment factor of the casting, and the fact that the adorable Pikachu doesn’t have the same cuddly voice and personality to match, Reynolds really impresses with an enjoyably energetic and delightfully strange voice performance throughout, and easily holds up a good majority of the film’s fun factor.
Alongside Reynolds as Pikachu is Justice Smith, who, despite getting off to somewhat of a shaky start, ultimately proves a thoroughly likable lead. While the screenplay certainly gives the majority of character depth to Pikachu, leaving Smith’s character a little bland, he does well thanks to good chemistry with Reynolds, as well as some good action chops in the latter stages, growing into a role that he first seems a little nervous in, but ultimately is just as entertaining as anyone else on screen.
Away from those performances, we need to talk about the story, which, despite its seemingly zany premise, just isn’t as endlessly entertaining as you’d expect. That’s not to say the movie is a tedious watch, but for what the film sets up, and for all the genuinely original and entertaining ideas it has, it really falls short of the mark come the finish.
A lot of that is down to its more family-friendly orientation. Now, I’m not looking for Deadpool-esque humour in a Pikachu movie (although I really would have liked it), but there’s something about this film’s premise and sense of humour that really seems watered down in comparison to what it seems to set up.
After all, the basis of a really funny, strange Pokémon parody is there, all centred around subverting expectations through Pikachu’s character, but the film reverts too often to a family adventure formula that just doesn’t fit at all well with that potentially more cheeky but entertaining humour.
As a result, the film’s opening act – where it’s trying to make that unique brand of humour work – is an awkward mismatch of genres, as you’re left in two minds about whether this is a fourth wall-breaking comedy, or just another kids’ adventure movie. As it turns out, it is just a kids’ adventure movie, which is certainly disappointing given the promise of its story and ideas, although once the film accepts that more basic role, it does at least prove a little more consistent and easy-going.
The second and third acts are a lot more action and adventure-oriented than the comedy/noir parody/Pokémon homage blend of the opening act. I can’t say that the latter two-thirds of the movie are particularly striking, given that they follow a painfully simple and predictable formula, but with the charisma of the leads and the odd bit of good action, they do make for some fun, simple blockbuster viewing, even if it’s nothing to write home about.
So, despite the originality of its premise and charisma of its main character, so much about Detective Pikachu proves distinctly underwhelming. What’s more, there’s yet another part of the movie that feels really quite watered-down too.
The production values of Hollywood blockbusters are second to none nowadays, and that means that any weakness sticks out like a sore thumb. Here, while the CGI and visual effects are genuinely exceptional – the Pokémon characters are both delightfully adorable and fit in perfectly with their real world surroundings – I have to say that the set and production design of this movie was a real disappointment.
The story takes place in Ryme City, where humans and Pokémon live alongside each other. However, if you’re from London, or know the city, then you’ll be immediately struck by just how much like normal London this supposed near future world looks like. While the premise seems to suggest Ryme City is some sort of neo-noir futurist metropolis, in the same vein as something like Blade Runner 2049, there are far, far too many elements of normal London that really destroy that illusion.
Whether it be a generic Overground train passing through the frame, or typical red buses somehow in the same shot as Japanese-style, neon signage, there’s a real clash between the filming location and the atmosphere the movie is trying to create. I admire the film’s attempts to use more practical locations and effects in this regard, but it doesn’t do enough to create the illusion of a futuristic metropolis, and as a result adds to that underwhelming and watered-down feel of the film as a whole.
It seems like a little bit of a nit-pick, but because of that weaker story, things like this do become a lot more noticeable, and only play into making it even harder to really engross yourself in the movie.
Overall, then, I was a little disappointed with Pokémon Detective Pikachu. While it features a hugely entertaining lead performance from Ryan Reynolds, as well as a story that eventually proves entertaining, if not rather simple, the movie is a generally underwhelming and bland affair, and a real missed opportunity given its zany sense of humour and bizarre but original ideas and mashups, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0.