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I'll admit, I was never the biggest fan of the Pokémon franchise growing up. Between the card game no one knows how to play, and the constant overflow of content, I've just haven't felt any incentive to try and keep up, despite how cool these creatures are. When it comes to Nintendo's intellectual properties, I was always the Mario and Zelda kind of girl instead.
Needless to say, the news surrounding this movie long before it hit theatres didn't make me budge so much as an inch. My initial reaction to Ryan Reynolds voicing Pikachu was one of complete dismissal. I already wasn't expecting a particularly deviant plot from the usual "capture and cultivate cute critters in times of adversity" exercise usually present in all Pokémon media, but having that name attached to the project made no sense to me considering he was previously known for his profanity-filled, slice n' dice routine in that other colossal franchise we just can't seem to live without.
It wasn't until a few nights ago that I finally remembered my mantra that I always preach in these posts: give this a chance, and have zero expectations; you may surprise yourself. Besides, everyone's Twitter takes were becoming harder to ignore, and Pikachu's cockatiel-like cheeks are irresistible by default. Well then, off to the cinema I go!
And for what it's worth, I think Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a great way to give us hope for video game movies, while also taking what was previously the Pokémon Go craze to a different level. Not to mention, its choices help in reaching out to an even wider audience than before while simultaneously retaining its many longtime fans, especially when considering the Western market.
Rather than focussing on a short-lived gimmick or a straight adaptation of any main-series storyline à la Death Note or Ghost in the Shell that would've undoubtedly led to some pitchfork sharpening, this movie introduces entirely new characters to co-exist with the Pokémon along with a mostly original plot—based on the much lesser-known 2016 spin-off game Detective Pikachu—that's honestly a lot more emotionally investing than I predicted it would be for a concept normally thought to be simple and lighthearted.
This isn't to say that the attempt is without flaw, but why don't we start with that plot first?
Upon discovering that his father, Detective Harry Goodman, may still be alive, despite being declared legally dead while investigating a case, Tim (Justice Smith) and Harry's saucy Pikachu search for clues that may lead to his location. Along the way, they realize that what looks like a well-intentioned integration of people and Pokémon may in truth be a coverup for something much less altruistic.
For a film that doesn't hit the two-hour mark, it really doesn't feel rushed at all. It makes room for both the fun and serious moments. Now with that being said, it's also an example of a visual medium that sometimes feels the need to be overly expository in spite of its graspable premise.
It has its moments of expression, especially where MewTwo (Rina Hoshino, Kotaro Watanabe) is concerned, but there's ultimately more info dumping than necessary in a story where we're able to figure out who the bad guy actually is within the first ten minutes of the flick. That ain't exactly a good sign for something technically categorized under the mystery genre.
Although to be entirely fair, nobody is here to judge the pair's detective work. We're here to witness the sheer size of our heroes' environment, the insane Pokémon battles, and some silly banter reminiscent of the classic Sherlock-Watson dynamic.
The film succeeds in all three areas, with the latter helping me go from having no hope to mixed feelings about Reynolds as Pokémon's beloved mascot. In the context of trying to appease a Western audience, he works, but as far as maintaining a consistent tone goes, that's where I have my reservations.
I'm also mixed on the decision to have down-on-her-luck reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) as Tim's human companion as opposed to his friend Jack (Karan Soni). Aside from Soni being a fitting and safe choice in a Reynolds-related project, their "romance" is somehow both contrived and nonexistent.
There's no indication that Tim is even remotely interested in her, Pikachu's jokes notwithstanding, until he explicitly admits to it... behind her back. There's otherwise no chemistry between the two outside of being complete opposites brought together due to circumstance. Why can't people just be friends, goddammit?
Though I will say at first, Lucy felt like an excuse for gags, but I was later somewhat proven wrong when she, and her ridiculous, yet sweet Psyduck, end up serving a purpose in the story. She's fairly annoying, sure, but she's got that Lois Lane determination you just can't sneeze at.
As for Pokémon designs, not all of them fare well in 3D. In fact, some of them look like downright pocelainesque creeps, but most of them were done justice, whether for retaining their coolness or cuteness.
At the end of the day, these characters symbolise bonds people should be having with each other, and the world around them. It makes me wish I could have an otherworldly companion keep me in check. Even if I don't feel compelled to explore all of what Pokémon has to offer, I sincerely wouldn't mind watching more films like this, and finding out what else they could come up with.