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Detective Pikachu review

When the initial announcement for a Detective Pikachu movie adaptation came, I was initially skeptical; Japanese material brought over to Western productions and specifically adapted from Hollywood haven’t always delivered on the original’s quality or captured its spirit. However, as more of the cast got announced and more promotional material got released, I was given amble reason to be excited; the “realistic” cartoonish CGI for the Pokémon that still remind me of the games and anime, but also look like they can exist in a real world setting (which is immediately nightmare fuel for me) and the skits done by Reynolds to promote the movie that showcase a self-awareness and a dedication to making a fun movie above all else, sold me on the team’s ability to make a movie that I would at least have a good time watching.

In reality, Detective Pikachu is much more than just a “good time”; it’s funny, it’s got heart, it has its fair share of thrills, a well-executed story, and (in a time where every nostalgic or somewhat famous property is trying to create a cinematic universe) it is refreshingly only focused on making ONE great movie, which it succeeds in doing. The movie follows Tim, an insurance agent whose dad (famed detective Harry Goodman) has gone missing; after a long time not talking to his father, Tim goes to Ryme City to solve the mystery of his dad’s disappearance alongside his dad’s partner Pokémon, a talking Pikachu. Predictably, the story follows the mismatched Tim and Pikachu through a series of conspiracies and twists, which sometimes make sense and sometimes are best left unquestioned; surprisingly though, there is a solid foundation and a heart in the story that is worth following. It’s not mind-blowing or Pixar-level story telling in family oriented movies, but it’s a lot more than what is expected from this type of movie; it’s not going to make sense or hold the interest of people who don’t already have a fondness towards Pokémon or don’t really care for them, but to them I say: Why would you watch this movie anyway and what’s wrong with you, you cruel, joyless shell of a person?! To everyone else though, I think Detective Pikachu is going to be a good surprise in terms of its story-telling capabilities; the specifics of it may have plot holes and not be theoretically sound, but there’s a reverence and a joyfulness in the movie that was infectious and it got me to care for the story and characters in a way I wasn’t expecting and was not warranted on its own merits.

The reasons why I overlooked these flaws and many others, such as inconsistent tone and uneven pacing, are the reasons that save this movie from being meddling and mediocre; there were some spot on decisions made by the creative team behind it, especially in the visuals department. I, like many others, was not entirely sold with the casting of Ryan Reynolds, the director Rob Letterman (whose work consists of “gems” such as A Shark’s Tale and Gulliver’s Travels) and the look of the Pokémon on their own; in context, Reynolds is the perfect choice for a self-aware portrayal of a grumpy, caffeine-addicted detective Pikachu, Letterman did an excellent job in keeping all the necessary parts required in motion and in focus, while the visual style for the Pokémon created this goofy, nightmarish design that worked in evoking the nostalgia I have for these creatures, but also showcasing them in a new way that works for me as an adult with knowledge and love for the weird backstories most of these Pokémon have. Specifically, I want to single out how the movie deals with cameos—a feature of many movies based on existing IPs that bothers me; usually, movies will give meaningless screen time and create pointless interactions in order to showcase some of the more famous aspects of their source materials for fan service. In Detective Pikachu, this does happen occasionally but it never felt like it was pointless; in a movie where the primary source of entertainment is going to come from cutesy creatures that do or are part of something funny, having a cute Pokémon show up to do something funny or just exist in the world, feels like the movie playing to its strengths. Regardless of that though, the movie smartly picks a few Pokémon to give most of its runtime and a dedicate a few of its set-pieces to, which makes the movie feel a lot more focused on its core premise and story, rather than a potpourri of famous Pokémon having cameos—which is significantly more impressive once you consider how many generations of people and Pokémon have been raised with this property and wish to see their favorite characters show up.

What impresses the most though, is how funny this movie manages to be; I don’t want to spoil the specifics, but there were a few set piece moments where the humor of the movie shines through and created laugh out loud moments usually reserved for good comedies. While that is what won me over, I can’t deny that Detective Pikachu will feel underwhelming to people who come wanting to see epic, Pokémon battles, and impressive set-pieces; there are some, but not nearly enough to justify the asking price. I suspect that Detective Pikachu will be divisive for fans; some will enjoy the humor, love, and joy that has been brought to this comedic adventure with a surprisingly heart-warming story; others will leave underwhelmed from its lack of a cohesive identity and heart-pounding action, frustrated by the faults of its storytelling, disappointed by the lack of chemistry between the leads, etc. But, as I left the theater I was giggling while picturing the existential horror permanently embedded in Psyduck’s eyes, I was picking out my favorite moment of a hilarious Mr. Mime scene, I was thinking about the story and feeling satisfied with how it went (for the most part); it’s not a sure hit with all Pokémon fans, but with this Pokémon fan it was an absolute blast.   

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