I’m not what you would call a Pokemon diehard. I can’t name all 807 Pokemon as I’m sure many of you can, and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a Pidgeotto and a Spearow if my life depended on it. But I did play some of the games back when I was a teen, I’ve dabbled in Pokemon Go with the aunties in my neighbourhood and you can bet Blastoise’s ass I know the lyrics to the Pokemon theme song. ‘I wanna be the very best like no one ever was! Na na na na na na na train them is my cause! Pokemon!’
Anyway, when Waner Bros/Legendary announced that they were making a live-action Pokemon Detective Pikachu movie, I rolled my eyes and groaned loudly. There’s Hollywood trying to tap into our nostalgia once again by adapting and most likely ruining another cherished childhood property of the 90s. But then the trailer dropped and I changed my mind faster than you can say Quick Attack (I realise now that I sounded like a dad trying to act cool). My point is the trailer showed promise. The visuals were surprisingly fantastic (can’t say the same about the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer) and the jokes were… let’s just say they were very Ryan Reynolds. PG13 Deadpool set in the Pokemon universe? Sign me up!
Unfortunately, the movie is nowhere near as good as the trailer. But it does have a lot of goodness in it. Rob Letterman (Goosebumps, Monsters vs Aliens, Gulliver’s Travels) doesn’t hold back and brings to life a Pokemon world that’s oozing with detail and wonder. If you’ve ever walked down the street and wondered what it would look like if a random Snorlax was just sitting there taking a nap next to the traffic light, you’re in for a treat. Ryme City is beautiful. We see Pokemon wandering around town among humans, Pokemon serving drinks at a bar and my personal favourite, Machamp as a traffic police officer directing traffic. If you’re a hardcore fan of pocket monsters, you’re gonna be wide-eyed, analysing every frame of the screen from top to bottom and left to right looking out for easter eggs.
There’s even a scene where Pikachu and Justice find themselves in an underground Pokemon battle arena (Pokemon battles are outlawed in Ryme City) packed with slimy gamblers and over the top gangsters. At one point, Pikachu goes face to face with a regal, badass looking Charizard who uses BLAZE as you wonder if you’re actually witnessing all this glory on the big screen. What’s really surprising is how cool the visuals are. There are a couple of moments where the CGI is a little wonky, but for the most part, the pokemon and human characters come together rather seamlessly.
The jokes aren’t nearly as great as the trailer. There are some smartly penned lines by the screenwriters (Rob Letterman, Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit and Derek Connolly) and some that are served as delicious treats for Pokemon fans. There were moments in the film where I found myself laughing hard and loud, but it’s nowhere near the gutbuster of a comedy we hoped it’d be. Even so, Ryan Reynolds (who voices Pikachu)’s brand of snarky humour is never a bore.
So why then are we still on a quest to find a great video game adaptation. Because Pokemon Detective Pikachu fumbles where it matters most: The story. We’ve already established that the film isn’t that hilarious of a comedy. One would hope that it would at least succeed in being an effective detective movie. Justice who lives in the suburbs heads to Ryme City upon learning about his detective father’s death. But upon arriving at the big city, he bumps into his dad’s crime-fighting Pokemon partner, Pikachu (whom he and only he can understand and talk to) and realise that there could be a very real possibility that his dad is alive and well. There’s a conspiracy and before I forget, Pikachu has Amnesia, which adds another layer to the mystery. We’re also introduced to Mewtwo (which, just like everything else, LOOKS cool) who seems to be the secret key to solving the puzzle. All of this is OK and moderately engaging, especially when you remind yourself that the film’s target audience is kids under the age of 12.
The problem is, when things start to unravel, when questions are finally answered none of it makes an ounce of sense. I won’t tell you who the villain is as that’s part of the mystery, but his motives are baffling at best, completely unclear at worst. His evil plan is to merge his mind with Mewtwo’s body. So your immediate thought is ‘dude wants to be superpowerful and control the world’ which is as one dimensional and bland as it gets, but sure I’ll swallow that pill.
Only two seconds later we’re told that he also wants to merge every citizen of Ryme City with their Pokemon — via Mewtwo’s zapping powers (don’t ask). And I can’t for the life of me figure out why. How does the merging of humans and Pokemon benefit the big baddie? What is his end goal? What is he trying to achieve? At least with the giant beam in the sky in films like Suicide Squad and Fantastic Four, you know that it’s going to destroy the planet. With this, we’re simply left scratching our heads. It’s such a weird character/plot choice.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu is also the kind of detective movie that doesn’t offer any thrills nor does it work your brain. There are no dots to connect, no missing puzzle pieces that you uncover later in the narrative that ties back to what happened many scenes ago. The one note character writing causes the attempt at emotional moments to fall flat (let’s just say in a movie about Pikachu and Mewtwo, it’s Psyduck who steals the show). And besides his stellar work in Kingsman: The Secret Service, Henry Jackman’s music is as always, serviceable but routine and uninspiring. Oh, what the heck am I saying? Look up at in sky! Pikachu and Mewtwo are whooping each other’s asses. Is Pikachu using the Volt Tackle? Holy cow! Review over.