Quality has never been a word one would associate with the Pokemon franchise, so it naturally comes as something of a surprise that the Japanese brand have created a product of genuine entertainment value in Detective Pikachu. Undergoing a glossy Hollywood makeover – no doubt thanks in part to the global phenomenon that was the interactive Pokemon Go – this first live-action project is perfectly watchable and suitably inoffensive for its target market, though the rather inspired casting of Ryan Reynolds almost certifies this to reach an audience unversed in the Pokemon universe.
With its detective-based plot-line and live-action/animation hybrid visuals, Robert Zemeckis’ 1988 classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit feels like a semi-spiritual predecessor to Rob Letterman’s fantastical mystery picture where humans and the Pokemon creatures live side-by-side in the metropolis setting of Ryme City, though the film makes it a point to note that they each fail to understand the other’s language. The titular Pokemon, an adorable little yellow furball whose only form of communication is stating his name twice in succession (“Pika! Pika!”) and shooting electric bolts from his being, has been considerably altered from its animated origins, now coming off as a wisecracking dweller with a serious caffeine addiction; Reynolds’ vocal work only adding to the character’s topical update with the actor bringing the same energy here as he does to his infamous Deadpool.
As cute as it is to hear Pikachu project his catchphrase, the film relays to the audience that it’s us as viewers and the sole Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) that can understand him. Tim, a loner of sorts from a neighbouring town brought to Ryme City to investigate the sudden death of his detective father, initially wants nothing to do with the case, but his apparent unique connection to Pikachu, Harry’s father’s former partner, and the mystery surrounding it all leads him to believe there’s more to his father’s death than what he’s being led to believe; Pikachu’s amnesiac state, the corporation run by a stoic Bill Nighy and his bratty son, and the insistence of reporter-in-the-making Lucy (Kathryn Newton) all potential factors in his investigation.
Ultimately more in tune with Scooby-Doo than Roger Rabbit in its mentality – though the visual effects are more polished than the former – Detective Pikachu doesn’t offer up a heft of humour for the adults to savour (despite Reynolds’ voice work feeling like it’s teetering on the edge of profanity), though that’s not to say there isn’t anything for older audiences to enjoy as the oddity of certain Pokemon characters and their unique traits means the film is never as dull as the majority of the human characters who fail to leave much of an impression beyond their archetypal description; Lucy’s sidekick, an over-sized duck (appropriately named “Psyduck”), earns its share of laughs due to its nature of constantly having to be kept calm via verbal affirmations and foot massages, and there’s a particularly brilliant sequence involving the interrogation of a jester-like creation who can communicate only through the medium of mime.
As to be expected though it’s Reynolds who provides the film with heart, injecting his impossibly cute CGI aesthetic with an electricity that’s almost too vibrant to be contained. Aided by a visual pallet that’s fittingly exciting and a surprising charm that manages to extend the film outside Pokemon enthusiasts too, Detective Pikachu, whilst not breaking the mold, can sit comfortably as one of the more successful videogame adaptations in recent memory, a sub-genre that has long eluded the fruitful minds of the industry.
About Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
The first-ever live-action Pokémon adventure, “POKÉMON Detective Pikachu” stars Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu, the iconic face of the global Pokémon phenomenon—one of the world’s most popular, multi-generation entertainment properties and the most successful media franchise of all time. Fans everywhere can now experience Pikachu on the big screen as never before, as Detective Pikachu, a Pokémon like no other. The film also showcases a wide array of beloved Pokémon characters, each with its own unique abilities and personality.
Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (PG) is screening in Australian theatres from May 9th 2019.