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Pokémon: Detective Pikachu Movie Review

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019) movie poster Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

Theatrical Release: May 10, 2019 / Running Time: 104 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Rob Letterman / Writers: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit (screenplay & story); Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly (screenplay); Nicole Perlman (story)

Cast: Ryan Reynolds (voice of Detective Pikachu), Justice Smith (Tim Goodman), Kathryn Newton (Lucy Stevens), Bill Nighy (Howard Clifford), Ken Watanabe (Lieutenant Hide Yoshida), Chris Geere (Roger Clifford), Suki Waterhouse (Ms. Norman), Josette Simon (Grams), Alejandro de Mesa (Bartender), Rita Ora (Dr. Ann Laurent), Karan Soni (Jack), Max Fincham (Young Tim Goodman)


If you weren't of the right age and mindset back in 1999, the title Pokémon: The First Movie seemed more like a threat than a promise. Either way, Warner Bros. Pictures made good on it, with four animated sequels released over the next four years, adding to the craze that began in Japan with a 1996 Game Boy game.
While First was a solid hit (putting up close to Space Jam numbers on a modest $30 million budget the same fall as Toy Story 2), the sequels each experienced a drop-off in theater count and ticket sales, until 2003's Miramax-distributed Pokémon Heroes barely even made it to the big screen.

Of course, no property that has ever been popular can be deemed beyond revival. Three summers ago, the mobile game Pokémon Go became absurdly popular, encouraging people to walk about in the real world "catching" these so-called pocket monsters. At its swift peak back in 2016, the free-to-play game was attracting 45 million daily users, two-thirds of which were in the United States. Though it amounted to a fad for most of those users, it was nonetheless a fad that put the name "Pokémon" back on people's lips for the first time in quite a while.

Now, Warner hopes to capitalize upon that wave of nostalgia with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, a live-action with CGI elements adventure aimed at the masses but best enjoyed by people who already know and like some form of Pokémon.

A human man (Justice Smith), his father's Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), and an aspiring reporter (Kathryn Newton) go digging for answers in "Pokémon: Detective Pikachu."

The film opens with our 21-year-old protagonist Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) being coaxed into trying to catch a Pokémon in the wild by his childhood friend (Karan Soni). Tim used to be really into Pokémon, aspiring to be a trainer in battles, but he grew out of it and is now working in boring insurance. He gets a call from the Ryme City Police informing him that his father has died. Tim takes a train on which an expository in-ride video informs us all about Ryme City and Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), the visionary who conceived it after Pokémon saved his life. In Ryme City, humans and people co-exist. Just about every person has a Pokémon partner who tags along looking cute and saying little more than their name, if that.

Harboring resentment towards his somewhat absentee father, Tim is reluctant to go take care of affairs at his apartment. But it is there that he discovers his father's Pikachu still hanging about. Not only that, but Tim is the only person who can hear what Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is saying. Everyone else hears "Pika, pika!", but Tim gets to know just what the furry, yellow creature is saying. It's not always coherent; Pikachu's memory isn't great and he's weirdly dependent on caffeine. Still, he says enough of the right things to get the reluctant Tim to agree to help him solve the mystery of Tim's father's disappearance. That's right. Dad might not be dead, just missing.

Tim finds a vial of a potent, mysterious substance. Then he gets an encouraging tip from no less than Howard Clifford himself. Meanwhile, he begins digging into his father's disappearance with help from eager news intern and aspiring journalist Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her explosive tagalong Psyduck.

Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), the visionary behind Ryme City, provides Tim (Justice Smith) and Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) with holographic proof that Tim's father isn't dead.

Detective Pikachu has a lot of writer-director Chris Columbus in its DNA,
which may or may not be something you welcome. Though not involved with the production in any way, Columbus' debut screenplay Gremlins is evoked in early scenes. Another moment in a skyscraper reminded me of Adventures in Babysitting and heck, clips from Angels with Filthy Souls, the fake old movie from Home Alone play at one point (it's treated like a real old movie and alarmingly few at my packed screening seemed to recognize otherwise). Those '80s and '90s comedies are generally well regarded today, which cannot be said of Columbus' more recent work like Pixels, which stands as perhaps the obvious and least flattering comparison you can make here.

The better of Columbus' family-oriented movies are aided by nostalgia and maybe that is essential to appreciating Detective Pikachu. I hold none for Pokémon, having been just a few years too old to grow up with it. So the colorful characters, presented with brief pauses for audience fanfare, mean nothing to me and their use here did little to change that. Sure, I've not lived under a rock, so I know of Pikachu. I also know enough that he is, as a rule, not voiced with the sarcasm of Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds, best known for Deadpool, keeps the comedy PG here, although even that is a milestone, making this the first Pokémon movie not rated G by the MPAA.

I'm not of the belief that some edge is essential to comedy, but most of the material here lends more to light chuckles than laughs. That is not a deal breaker, though, because the movie is pretty earnest about playing as a mystery-adventure and it is reasonably diverting in this form. People online got very excited by the trailer, with the project largely having been kept under wraps during production. Tall expectations will not be met. This might dethrone Avengers: Endgame at the box office for a weekend, but it's certainly not going to inspire that level of excitement.

Then again, if you think about the project and consider the types of movies it might be directly compared to, from The Smurfs to Garfield to Michael Bay's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to director Rob Letterman's own Gulliver's Travels and Goosebumps, you'll realize it's pretty amazing that this is far from terrible.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Avengers: EndgameUglyDollsThe Intruder
Ryan Reynolds: Once Upon a DeadpoolThe Croods | Justice Smith: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Directed by Rob Letterman: GoosebumpsGulliver's Travels | Bill Nighy: G-ForceThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyArthur Christmas
PixelsMonster TrucksDragonball: Evolution

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Reviewed May 9, 2019.

Text copyright 2019 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2019 Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Toho Co., Ltd.
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