Before we begin, I must apologise for the bad pun, but if any franchise deserves a pun for their first live-action movie adaptation, it’s Pokémon. Growing up in 90s Britain, Pokémon was absolutely everywhere. You couldn’t turn a street corner without seeing Pikachu and his sidekick Ash (or should that be the other way around) emblazoned across every toy shop window or on every bus. It was a true phenomenon that took the world by storm like nothing else.
Fast forward to 2019 and perhaps even more impressively, Pokémon is still very much in people’s consciousness. The adorable Pocket Monsters, if we are referring to them with their full title, are still something of a cultural mainstay across the globe – yet true global box-office success has eluded them.
Enter Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. The first live-action movie from the universally loved series. It’s taken over 20 years to get to this point, but is the resulting film worth the wait? Or are we looking at yet another video game to move adaptation dud?
Ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son, Tim (Justice Smith), to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds). Finding that they are uniquely equipped to work together, as Tim is the only human who can talk with Pikachu, they join forces to unravel the tangled mystery.
It was a peculiar choice for Warner Bros. and The Pokémon Company to adapt one of the lesser known video games in the franchise in which a talking Pikachu helps a young man solve the mystery of his missing father, but it ended up being a master stroke.
For those not familiar with Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow etc, the film needs no introduction and no prerequisite of Pokémon knowledge, meaning it’s suitable for Pokémon fans and Pokémon novices.
What the movie does need however, is complete immersion. The central setting of Ryme City is a thriving metropolis in which Pocket Monster and human live alongside each other, free from the battles that brought the franchise universal success. It’s a bold move, putting aside what is essentially the main money-making aspect of the series, but it works well for the most part.
The creature designs are astounding, bringing these historically cartoon animals living and breathing into the 21stCentury
Director Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) creates a vibrant world that is as immersive as anything we’ve seen on the big screen in years. You feel a part of the adventure and to be frank, it took me back to my first experiences with the trading cards and the Gameboy games.
With charm, wit and heart on its side, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is by far the best video game movie, although that’s not saying much. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s Justice Smith plays the lead role of Tim with gusto and true emotion and his character arc throughout the film is pleasingly well-written for a film in the genre. Bill Nighy adds some class to proceedings as wealthy businessman Howard Clifford and Ken Watanabe pops up now and then as a detective inspector.
But the main star is of course, Detective Pikachu himself. Ryan Reynolds takes to the role like a Magikarp to water and brings a little of his Deadpool magnetism to the portrayal. It shouldn’t work, but it really does and the humorous little mouse is a delight to spend the film with.
The cinematography too is lovely. John Mathieson, who worked on Robin Hood with Ridley Scott and X-Men: First Class brings to life stunning locations, filled with mystery and magic – and that’s everything you could ask for in a Pokémon movie. The special effects are on the whole, very good. With a reported budget of $150million, you can see where the money has been spent. The creature designs are astounding, bringing these historically cartoon animals living and breathing into the 21stCentury. There are a couple of lapses here and there, but nothing to write home about.
It’s not all good news. The plot is both predictable and nonsensical at the same time, especially towards the film’s climax. The thrill here is definitely not in the story but rather in the exceptional world the film-makers have built. Rumour has it that a sequel is already on the cards, and with a confidently filmed, funny and emotive first outing, the Pokémon franchise continues to be in good health.
Your move Sonic.