By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Loosely based on the video game of the same name, Detective Pikachu is a fun romp breathing new life to the Pokėmon franchise. The eagle eyed can try identifying every pocket monster featured and the enthusiast will giggle at the Easter eggs riddled throughout. When detective Harry Goodman is believed to be dead, his 21-year-old son Tim (Justice Smith) arrives in Ryme City to settle his father’s affairs–but learns that maybe pops is not gone. When he finds a Pikachu in his father’s abode and he can talk (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), they team up to see all is not harmonious with man and pokémon.
Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) is a visionary. Instead of the good ol’ days where the creatures are more like gladiators and they obey the orders of their ‘trainer,’ this brand new world sees them as equals. Pokémon are more than just spirit animals in the Indigenous sense of the word. To catch one for battle training was a rite of passage once, and Clifford wants none of that.
For those people living in the city he helped build, some have a lifelong pal, others do not and life goes on.
Sadly, the trailers spoiled the best comedic moments and there was very little more to chuckle at. Pikachu is more exuberant than hard-boiled in this film. In an interview on Entertainment Tonight, Reynolds revealed how he wanted to give this character an edge but the producers just said be yourself. When I find him perfect as Deadpool, I have to hear those R-rated recording sessions which /Film reported about. He made enjoying a kid’s film far more worthwhile with his sense of humour, and thankfully he does not have to try intoning Pikachu constantly. When all the other pokémon can do is say their name in different tones to suggested various meanings like Groot, eventually people like to know what they are saying than to guess.
Motion-capture was used to help with expressing these pocket monster’s intentions in the close-ups. The rendering is perfect to give Mr. Mime a life which traditional 2D animation does not often fully realise. Credit goes to New Zealand performer Trygve Wakenshaw for being the man in the suit which Tim and Pikachu interrogated.
Young Goodman is no second banana either, and he offers to viewers a newcomer’s look into this world occupied by these pocket monsters. As he arrives in the big city, he learns the norm is not with master and pet. Losing his mother and his father disappearing (even before his death) made him decide not to become a trainer. If there’s some sense of the original game in this film, it’s concentrated into a cage match.
To see the world occupied in every direction by these critters shows they are part of a natural order. Blink, and a cameo from your favourite pokémon can be missed. Mine is Bulbasaur. To make a movie that is not a huge endorsement for a vast franchise line is tough. Whether that’s with the original video games, card games or increasing the sales of aftermarket items (stuffed dolls), the obsession will vary person to person. I hoped an in-joke about Pokemon GO and “grinding for candy” would be snuck in, though I’m sure Niantic would not like it. Their product has no place in the official canon, and I will leave it at that.
I enjoy the franchise for the stories when it becomes a step above the norm. No, we do not need Ash and yes, other heroes getting the spotlight is important. Key to this series longevity is in how the tales always emphasize companionship between man and beast. To see them never giving up when the odds get tough makes for a terrific story. Detective Pikachu nicely continues in that tradition and I believe more live-action treatments are planned. Since Disney can do it with their live-action adaptations of their fond animated classics, I do not see why The Pokémon Company cannot do the same.
4 Pikas out of 5