Boldly going where so many other video game adaptations have tried and failed before, the tarnished sub-genre has now placed its hopes in a bright yellow electric mouse, and a multi-billion dollar media franchise.
If you were a kid of the 1990s, then chances are you would’ve grown up with Pokemon. Whether through watching the anime series, or playing the highly addictive games on a GameBoy, Pokemon formed a part of many of our childhoods and even enjoyed a bit of a resurgence recently with the success of the augmented reality mobile app, PokemonGo. Detective Pikachu does in many ways represent the next stage of evolution for this unstoppable franchise, and where the aforementioned app encouraged us to go outside and catch Pokemon in the “real-world”, the film similarly imagines a world in which humans and Pokemon harmoniously coexist.
So far, so good, and admittedly the first half hour or so of the film is a lot of fun. As a fan of Pokemon growing up, it was hugely exciting to see the reimagined versions of the pocket monsters I knew and loved on the big screen. There are some great early sight gags including a sleeping Snorlax causing a massive traffic problem, and a Jigglypuff performing karaoke. And when Pikachu finally makes his way onto the screen, it’s a riot; at least initially anyway. Ryan Reynolds does some great voice work as Pikachu and the absurdity of him being a detective who can talk is the catalyst for some great jokes and one-liners. Sadly the joke, and indeed the rest of the film subsequently starts to wear a little thin after the initial spark.
The story itself is perhaps the most disappointing, failing to fully take root, and leaving many of the characters – the human ones in particular – feeling sorely underdeveloped. The narrative is full of twists and turns and the result is nonsensical, double, triple and quadruple bluffing itself into such a stupor that it becomes tied up in knots. It’s incomprehensible in many parts, making it difficult enough to follow and stick with, let alone feel fully invested in. The attempts at emotion are admirable and you couldn’t deny that the film does have a surprising amount of heart. Yet it moves at such a pace that it is a struggle to feel everything that the film is asking you to, and in failing to linger on perhaps some of the more heartfelt moments, the film fails to leave a lasting impression.
Perhaps this is getting too critical for a film that very much wears its absurdity on its sleeve, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by the whole thing. There’s no doubt that there is still an appeal for fans, and kids in particular will love the colourful and crazy nonsense but to me, it felt like a wasted concept, and it becomes so wrapped up in itself by the end that it just left me a bit cold. I won’t spoil it, but there is a late development involving one of the key characters that just didn’t sit right with me at all and has pretty much ruined any chances of a possible sequel. That being said, Pikachu is impossibly cute in this, and despite its numerous flaws, there is still the chance of running with it and having a good time with it also.
Overall, it’s a real mixed bag but for me, it failed to fully embrace that initially interesting concept and resulted in feeling a little lazy and repetitive. Whilst the actors all do an admirable job, the plot and the script let them down and not even the most adorable detective ever can save them this time!
Directed by: Rob Letterman
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton