Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Review

Joseph Bortner, 2019

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is an anomaly. That isn’t to say the film, released May 10th, is good. In fact, for me one of the most interesting things about it is that it defies strict classification of quality. (Although, even if we’re being generous, it has more bad than good.)

First, some context: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a very loose adaptation of the popular multimedia franchise, focusing on a particular iteration of the mascot character, Pikachu, who can speak, and due to a particular set of circumstances, believes himself to be a detective. The pitch of the film, beyond being the first attempt at visualizing Pokémon in live-action, is that this Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) teams up with a young man, protagonist Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) in order to find the latter’s presumed-dead father.

What unfolds is a shockingly bizarre movie, one that seemingly begins with the already off-kilter premise that the Pokémon creatures and world exist exactly as they do in other forms of media. It branches out to apply that same level of peculiarity to every other aspect of the movie, as opposed to taking a more grounded approach like many other adaptations of this sort would and have attempted. This is a boldness that I simultaneously applaud but also find makes for an odd viewing experience.

The film seems to have two main goals, in this regard: Establish a functional live-action iteration of the already-popular Pokémon franchise and its characters, as well as creating a fun family film that can presumably act as the foundation for future cinematic installments. (To be clear: the film sets out to make money first and tell a compelling story second.) Of those two goals, it can only really be said to wholly succeed on the first – not to understate that accomplishment. The Pokémon themselves are spectacularly realized with few exceptions, brought to life by an impressive combination of practical and computer-generated effects. It really is fantastic and, in a few instances, beautiful to see this singular and imaginative world brought to life.

All that said, though, Detective Pikachu’s actual narrative is a stunning mess, drawing from incredibly disparate inspirations which, at least for one fairly audacious plot twist, seem to include Disney Channel Original Movies. (The aforementioned plot twist actually had much of the audience in my screening laughing out loud during the movie’s ending, which I’m fairly certain was intended to be dramatic and heartfelt.)

The characters are established decently and are taken on a fairly fun ride through most of the film with some inventive set pieces that, although inspired, have an odd tendency to end on nonsequitor anticlimaxes. (One sequence undoes a major and interesting threat that was only introduced in the preceding scene, seemingly for no apparent reason.)

Sub-plots are introduced with no real resolution to my mind, and the final action scene is composed of such an odd concept that one can’t help but be put off by it. In a way, I find this fascinating. I was so absorbed by this movie but at the same time was also profoundly upset due to its almost offensive ignorance of the principles of plot resolution.

In that same manner, I almost recommend watching it, particularly for Pokémon fans, as there is a certain type of deranged magic to the proceedings that can’t be captured elsewhere in blockbuster film-making. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is an audacious, fascinating mess. I give it a five out of ten.

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