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Review: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Directed by: Rob Letterman

Premise: A live action film based on the animated media franchise. In a world cohabitated by human beings and their Pokémon companions, a young man (Justice Smith) pairs with his father’s Pikachu (voice of Ryan Reynolds) to solve a mystery.

What Works: A live action Pokémon movie presents some visual challenges to its filmmakers. The source material consists of cartoons and videogames and the moviemakers are tasked with making creatures who can convincingly interact with live actors and physical environments while also retaining animated characteristics. This is done very well and Detective Pikachu’s best asset is its visual style. The Pokémon creatures have a vivid visual texture and interact seamlessly with the live action environment. Also notable is the performance by Katheryn Newton as an aspiring reporter who elbows her way into the mystery. Newton’s character is the most proactive player in this story and the actress has an energetic screen presence. She plays the role with hints of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.

What Doesn’t: It is unclear who Detective Pikachu was made for. The Pokémon franchise is primarily aimed at children and although this movie is rated PG it is unlikely to appeal to the core audience of very young viewers. It’s not made in a style that is going to appeal to them nor is it going to appeal to older viewers in the way that The LEGO Movie did. This film is really bland. Unlike 2008’s underappreciated Speed Racer, which was also adapted from a Japanese media franchise, Detective Pikachu is a slog that takes an unusual set of characters and then forces them into a Hollywood blockbuster formula. The end result is a processed widget of a movie that isn’t any fun. Detective Pikachu is supposed to be a mystery with a young man, played by Justice Smith, teaming with a Pokémon to investigate his father’s death but the story in never involving. The mystery is mostly obvious and the detectives do very little investigatory work. Most of the movie consists of these characters going from one place to another with no motivation and clues are handed over to them with very little effort. There’s almost no drama to Detective Pikachu. Very little is at stake and the story limps along and suffers from obvious plot holes. The flat story is matched by uninteresting characters. Justice Smith is a good actor but he has very little to do. His character has no purpose or trajectory and Smith mostly tags along as other people push him in different directions. Ryan Reynolds voices Detective Pikachu and although the actor inserts some of his characteristically droll banter it’s rarely funny.

Bottom Line: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is a bland industrial product. This is the kind of film that exists solely as part of a diversification strategy by a brand’s corporate owner. There is no artistic vision behind it and the movie is paltry entertainment.

Episode: #750 (May 18, 2019)