Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
As much as idealists will like to believe that the quality of a story is what helps it get made into a movie, it really is its viability to make money. Sometimes these two aspects collide, giving us the best films we know, but many other times we are left with a shameless money grab from desperate studios. The success of the Augmented Reality game PokemonGo was so universal, it was hard to think that the movie business would not cash in to the craze.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu (2019) is an attempt at adapting the famous Japanese video game series into a live-action film. The film takes place in a futuristic city (hints of London and Tokyo), where Pokemon creatures and human beings live together in harmony. The story focuses on Tim (Justice Smith) a young adult keen to keep his head down and shun away any Pokemon friends. Only when Tim finds out his detective-father has died in a mysterious car crash, does Tim bump into his father’s old Pokemon partner Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) and gets roped into an unfinished case.
Taking video game characters and attempting to shoehorn them into a cliché genre was an innovative way to try and break the “video game movies curse” (the belief that all video game adaptations will be flops). The pairing of mystery/noir with Pokemon was an intriguing one, but the execution of the idea assured that out hopes are kept down.
The first main problem with the film was the casting of Justice Smith in a lead role. Smith had charmed as a smaller side-kick character in Paper Towns (2015), where he played an awkward and stuttering teen. His subsequent roles have seen him attached to big tent-pole films like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) or this latest Detective Pikachu; however, the actor seems to be stuck playing his awkward and stuttering character, even when the script demands something different. There’s something about his attitude in Detective Pikachu that gives off the air that he’s not able to take the film seriously, and thus a low-energy and unimaginative performance is left at the center of this film.
Thankfully, Ryan Reynolds is here to help liven up the film, voicing the titular detective. Reynolds is one of the few actors that, no matter what ridiculous premise he’s acting in, will give the project his all. Reynolds is known for playing tongue-in-cheek characters, but he’s also able to balance it out by fully inhabiting the screen-world. This is certainly true of his Pikachu, and he sometimes becomes the only ray of hope in many scenes.
The other main problem with this film was the talent behind the camera. The script was completely unimaginative and seemed to be written by elementary-school Pokemon fans. The effort put into crafting an original mystery seemed inexistent, instead borrowing from other (terrible) genre-fantasy mash-ups like Bright (2017) and The Happytime Murders (2018). Exposition was dropped on viewers laps in unabashed blunt chunks, and the dialogue seemed confused as to whether play to clichés or carve out its own stake. The central mystery was so lazily worked on, that twists could be predicted as early as the introduction of story-arcs and characters. The result is a plot that is already solved in the opening stages of the film, and the ensuing journey is anything but entertaining. Director Rob Letterman was incapable of steering a consistent tone for the film, leading the visually colorful and full world to seem empty and boring.
As with any big-budget film the effects are wondrous to look at, especially the Pikachu rendition, however the rest of the talent attached to the film (bar Reynolds) is an absolute embarrassment. The “video game movie curse” seems very much alive and well.