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Detective Pikachu review: Fantastic nonsense

Jeez where to even start with this one. If you’ve been watching the Detective Pikachu trailers up until now (they’re sprinkled across this review) you may have gotten an inkling of what to expect, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not enough to prepare you for the full movie.

Okay, from the top: this movie is a live action adaptation of a 3DS game of the same name which very few people played at launch due to the fact that it was a strange spin-off of the main Pokémon games.

You have Ryan Reynolds voicing the titular character – a Pokémon that has lost its memory and is a detective, who can only be understood by Tim Goodman played by newcomer Justice Smith.

Goodman goes to Rhyme City after the disappearance of his father, and teams up with Pikachu to find him.

If you’re on board / bewildered at this point, all of it is made more absurd by the honestly freakish CGI recreations of Pokémon which are very much juxtaposed by regular human beings walking around and interacting with these pocket monstrosities.

And you know what? It all kind of works, but it gets much weirder.

Unfortunately, like with my review with Endgame, much of what’s special about this movie is its story, and even hinting at some of the turns it takes would spoil the film for anyone reading this, so let’s tip toe together.

There’s a slew of theories about what takes place in this movie and you can gleam a lot of what is shown in the trailers, but the way it gets to its major points is very enjoyable.

While this movie does give a short introduction to the rules of the Pokémon world – especially this version of it – it does ask that audiences have some base knowledge of the franchise to appreciate a lot of what it is trying to do. I can see a lot of people going to watch this in a group and being left behind when the rest of their friends or family are gasping or laughing at something in it.

On top of that, the story itself, as stated in one of the trailers, is “very twisty”. It’s not that viewers won’t anticipate where this narrative goes, it’s just that it does it in odd ways.

Again, avoiding spoilers I’ll just say that this movie is surprisingly serious in its tone and theme. While I can definitely appreciate that as the first generation of Pokémon fans are all well into adulthood by now, it’s still peculiar to see.

All of that in mind: the story is relatively easy to follow, has some satisfying beats despite some pacing issues, and is enjoyable throughout.

Okay let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the CGI Pokémon themselves. They very much stick out from the “real” parts of the world and when the actors interact with them it’s 100 percent clear that they’re miming along with a green screen.

Throughout the movie there will always be a disconnect because of that, and you will probably never really be convinced that you’re seeing some kind of realistic creature on screen.

That being said it is visually interesting and seeing these hundreds of designs from the games, cards and more as 3D CGI models is a treat. If you wanted something convincing, you won’t find it here, but you will get something fun to watch and stylised to the point where you will care even if you’ve been involved with this franchise for two plus decades.

On that point the filmmakers treated this franchise beautifully. There are countless callbacks and references to almost every part of the franchise and the music here deserves special attention. It’s always understated but if you focus on it at any one point you will be rewarded. My favourite was a rendition of the iconic Pokémon League theme, and there are many more.

If you’re just paying for a ticket for the Pokémon your money is well spent, and again I will need to stop there to leave the fun surprises to find naturally.

To balance out all the CGI the cast here honestly did a great job pantomiming their hearts out. This really is Smith’s movie as you spend the majority of the time with him, and his performance was heartfelt and sincere and I believe you’re going to be seeing a lot more of him in the future because of this role.

Ryan Reynolds is Ryan Reynolds and, well, that’s the joke. As for his voice acting it’s great but nothing too special. Same can be said for Kathryn Newton playing supporting character Lucy Stevens, and the rest of the cast not hidden under computer Pokémon makeup.

That’s not to say they didn’t do a good job, it’s just that very little time is spent with each and Smith carries a lot of the weight here.

When the credits roll audiences will be left satisfied, but a bit bewildered. This movie is the mythical unicorn of “a good videogame movie”, but it falls short from being great for a few reasons.

The Detective Pikachu character just seems to spend a lot of the time making quips in the background when it’s just not needed, the story can drag at times and, again, it’s very difficult to get immersed here because of the stark contrast between the Pokémon and the cast.

As a lifelong fan of the franchise I loved this movie and can recommend it for fellow fans and even non-fans just looking for this kind of film. I don’t, however, see this having a legacy outside of “very weird idea executed very well”.

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