You Needn’t Love Pokémon To Like ‘Detective Pikachu’, But It Helps
I couldn't count 'em, let alone catch 'em all. There's just no way. From the first ten minutes until the credits roll, the Pokémon of Pokémon: Detective Pikachu - to give this movie its full title - are simply everywhere. They're on signs, marshalling traffic, and padding the halls of the neighbourhood police station; they're in clubs and pubs and London backstreets - as while this might be Ryme City in the script, on camera it's often very clearly the English capital, Gherkin and everything.
And if I could count them - if my Pokémon knowledge wasn't largely based on a few plushies my kids own, a smattering of card games and the occasional session with Nintendo's adventuring series - I'd be in hog heaven. Or Hypno heaven, I guess - and yes, I did just look that one up. Pretty sure I spotted at least one of those in the mix. Likewise Machamps, Pangoros, Gengars and Rattatas... To name four that I can easily identify by peeking at an online Pokémon A to Z.
Now, the ones that get the most screen time, those I know. Because such is the scale of Pokémon's worldwide profile that it's impossible to have never seen a Pikachu (surely, surely it's actually impossible), voiced here as I'm sure you well know by Ryan Reynolds, who gleefully gobbles up all the best jokes and has a line in innuendo that'll keep grown ups smiling as the gags go over their kids' heads. Should his lines get a little more risque, the chuckles could become heartier still.
Naturally, his Pikachu, being the star of the film, dominates proceedings alongside his human partner, Tim Goodman, played by admirable slapstick prowess by Justice Smith. But there's plenty of space, too, for a Psyduck owned by secondary protagonist Lucy Stevens (played by Kathryn Newton), whose is-he-or-isn't-he-about-to-'explode' tension reaches a most satisfying climax; and a host of Charmanders, Squirtles and Bulbasaurs, taking us back to the misty days of Red and Blue debuting on the Game Boy.
If you fell in love with these not-exactly-pocket-sized critters in the late 1990s and have maintained that affection to the here and now, you'll be able to overlook the shortcomings of Detective Pikachu. Which are several, but can be immediately distilled to: a strictly single-speed plot with a twist so bleeding obvious even a Pokémon amatuer like me saw it coming; Bill Nighy's distractingly wooden performance as Ryme City founder Howard Clifford; and Chris Geere's disturbing channelling of the M*lo Y*annopoulos aesthetic as a sunglasses-sporting secondary villain (then again, if you want people to know you're evil, might as well look the part). For you, this is all about the monsters themselves, and they're absolutely the stars of the show, whether licking friendly-looking faces or smacking lumps off each other in underground battles.
What works for the non-Pokémon-lover - i.e. me, someone who doesn't mind this franchise at all, but has never developed that place in his brain for it - is enough to keep the attention where is should be: on the action, not the clock. Fight choreography is snappy and sharply focused, never falling into the blurry CGI messiness of Transformers or something similar, and the human participants, particularly Smith, give it their all given they're largely working with aggressors who aren't really there. While it certainly is lightweight - boy's dad is missing, boy must find dad, but oh no there are bad people in his way - the plot flows naturally, without the kind of planet-switching confusion of your average comic-book movie. This simplicity allows the set designs to really stand out, from abandoned laboratories and musty diners to London itself, dressed in post to resemble some semi-futuristic East-meets-West metropolis with nary a pound store in sight. There are also nods to some other movies, notably Home Alone and Tim Burton's 1989 Batman (a significant part of the villain's end-game plot is straight out of his Joker's playbook).
Of course, there are many, many more nods to Pokémon media past - even I sniggered as Reynold's Pikachu half-sings the theme tune to the old cartoon series. And yes, if you've played the Detective Pikachu video game, released for the 3DS in 2018 (in the West, having come out in Japan two years earlier), you'll notice some shared DNA here, although the movie does go places that the game never did. This is less of a direct adaptation, more a celebration of all things Pokémon given a convenient story to pin everything on - or, rather, to catch 'em all on.
The best video game movie ever, though? I mean, it destroys most of the competition, for sure. But the bar was low, to say the least - and when those Game Boy-inspired credits roll, you'll wonder if this is everything it could have been, and likely conclude: no. Love Pokémon, and you'll like this plenty. No worries there. Feel indifferent towards lighting-crackling mice and, um, whatever Mewtwo is supposed to be, and you'll maybe see it for what it is: an average popcorn flick with a big heart and plenty of eye-popping effects, let down by heavy expectations and a handful of hollow human performances.
Featured Image Credit: Warner Bros Pictures/The Pokémon Company