Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Review

Pokémon is a 1990’s-spawned Japanese computer game series involving pocket monsters.

How do I know this? I looked it up on the internet.

Sure, I was vaguely aware of Pokémon as a concept and of a small creature known as a Pikachu, the de facto mascot for the franchise, but I knew little else.

Like other film-goers who may be similarly uninitiated in Pokémon, the trailer for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu made this world seem accessible to me.

The story takes place in an alternative reality where humans and Pokémon live side by side in harmony. The specific location is Ryme City, a futuristic utopia designed and built by Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy).

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a 21 year old former Pokémon trainer, is brought to Ryme City by the death of his detective father.

On arrival, Tim visits his father’s apartment and encounters a mysterious, ambitious reporter (Kathryn Newton) and an even more mysterious small, yellow creature. The creature is a Pikachu and to Tim’s initial horror and amazement, it can talk. And it sounds exactly like Ryan Reynolds.

As a Pokémon novice, I still can’t work out if the sub-species is a Pikachu or if Pikachu is the actual name of the character. Maybe both?

Anyway, no one else can understand the Pikachu but Tim, and he doesn’t want to hear what it has to say; it informs Tim that his father was murdered. It turns out the Pikachu is Tim’s father’s detective partner and will stop at nothing to track down the killer.

The pair then begin an investigation into events surrounding the murder. This naturally propels them around Ryme City and into contact with its various denizens, both human and pocket monster.

As matters unfold, it appears there is some secret formula in circulation which causes Pokémons to break out in an aggressive rage. This development seems to be related to the murder and Tim and Pikachu’s investigation broadens to find out who is behind it all.

As a non-Pokémon aficionado, which I may have mentioned once or twice already, I thought it all began rather well, with Smith bringing a likeable charisma to the role of Tim and Reynolds lending some recognisable star power as Tim’s diminutive companion.

The film also does a decent job of successfully and unashamedly plunging you into the colourful and wacky world of Pokémon.

Speaking of which, the character design is very well done and there is much to visually enjoy in the first hour or so, even in the background of the wider city shots. The central creatures like Pikachu and Psyduck transcend their special effects and feel like part of the world. It may take multiple viewings to soak up all the detail.

Where the film mainly falls short is not quite being able to maintain the opening momentum of appealing to newcomers and Poké-fans alike. There was a point mid-way through the film where I

found that the visuals, which were initially so welcome, became overwhelming and the plot grew too confusing. I gave up trying to work out who did what and worse still, I didn’t really care.

The other disappointment was the lack of edge you might be used to from other crowd-pleasing crossover fare. This could be due to the casting of Ryan Reynolds, the voice of Deadpool, leading me to expect something a little more subversive. What you get is something quite earnest and unexciting in terms of a central theme.

It has its strengths and is diverting, but probably would appeal most to younger viewers and fans of the source material.

Conor Brennan

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May 2019
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