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Posted on Jun 2nd 2019 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under RF Cinema, Detective Pikachu, Pokemon, Pikachu, movies

This would be so noire if it weren't for all the blue and yellow

While live-action movies based on anime have been met with mixed results in recent history, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu has the benefit of the insanely popular title characters. Between that, a trailer that looked not terrible, and the star power of Deadpool himself, Ryan Reynolds, I was fairly confident the movie would make scads of money regardless of its quality. That said, I was interested to see if it held up for someone who doesn't know a pokeball from a dive ball.

First, some context. I first started hearing about pokemon in 1997 or 1998. When Red/Blue were released in the States in late '98, I was a senior in high school. I was certainly aware of it, as I was still a Nintendo fan who kept up on gaming news, and all the younger people I knew who played games couldn't stop talking about it. But to a teenager who's primary concerns had shifted to getting through high school and driving my crappy 1988 Ford Mustang up and down the main streets of my hometown in an attempt to look cool, it just looked too kiddie for me to try.

Even though I was a few years past the target demographic at the time, I did go back and give the game a shot some years later. By then I didn't really get the concept, though, and before long found myself less than hooked. That said, I did go through a several-months-long phase when Pokemon Go came out, where I was constantly wandering around parking lots and fields like a crazy person, looking through my phone screen for anything other than those stupid zubats. These days, I prefer to appreciate the pokemon phenomenon from a distance, simultaneously wishing I'd caught the bug back in those early days, and being glad I didn't.

I didn't really know what to expect going into the theater. I can only name about a dozen pokemon by memory and hadn't done any research into the Detective Pikachu game, so all I knew was that it was a different thing than the main titles. One thing that was clear right off the bat was that this is a movie specifically for pokemon fans. It opens up with a scene of Mewtwo being held captive in what looks like a government research facility. We're shown a car racing down the road away from the facility, then Mewtwo breaks free and something crashes into the car, causing it to fly off the bridge. It's a decent intro, if a bit cliche.

Next we're introduced to Tim Goodman. His friend has lured him to a field to catch a pokemon of his own, but apparently he's the only one in this world who doesn't want one. After he gets a call informing him that his dad has had an accident, he travels to Ryme City to tie up his dad's affairs. When he discovers his father's pikachu, and that they can understand each other, the plot turns into a whodunit to solve the mystery of what happened to his dad.

Imagine the traffic jams. Sorry I'm late boss, that dang snorlax again.

Most video game movies try to do everything they can to appeal to a mass audience, but Detective Pikachu doesn't. The opening scenes of Mewtwo and of Tim trying to catch a pokemon aren't really explained, so I could see someone who doesn't know what pokemon are being a bit lost. The movie does go out of its way to have someone say the name of almost every pokemon type that shows up, but it feels less like filling in newbies and more like fan service.

And that fan service vibe is pretty pervasive throughout the whole film. From the moment Tim gets to Ryme City, nearly every few minutes we see a new kind of pokemon, interacting with their human companions like ever-present pets. That choice was a wise one, as there were quite a few kids in my showing that were so excited they shouted out the name of every pokemon they could identify.

Doesn't really seem like a fair fight

The effect even worked on me. The CG isn't good enough that I ever believed these were real animals in the world, but it's still very well done. The animation is excellent, they're colorful and vibrant, and every time a bulbasaur waddles across the forest floor or the beady-eyed psyduck cries his own name out as he quivers in fear, it's freaking adorable. Midway through the movie there's a scene that involves pikachu fighting a charizard multiple times his size in a ring battle, and it's pretty impressive.

As far as the detective story goes, things are more average. In the research I did after seeing the film, it seems to follow the general plot of the Detective Pikachu game, but I haven't actually played it so I can't say how closely it lines up or if the ending is the same. The writing isn't particularly great, but it's not terrible either. The plot isn't overly complex, but there is a decent twist at the end to keep things from getting predictable. And although Ryan Reynolds is an odd choice to voice a cute, yellow, electric furrball with rosy cheeks, it mostly works. Reynolds has a serious side that can come out when the situation calls for it, and the rest of the time his jokey demeanor fits in surprisingly well, only getting weird when he occasionally lets his love of quips get the better of him.

Those ears will never not make me think of a chubby, lop-eared bunny rabbit. So cute I just wanna punch it the face.

Going into Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, I was prepared to either be completely lost or to get a typically-terrible game-to-movie adaptation. To my pleasant surprise, neither of those turned out to be the case. The part where it's a detective movie is merely serviceable, some character elements go unexplained (why doesn't Tim want a pokemon? why does Lucy want a psyduck as her pokemon, given their destructive method of stress management?), and the lore isn't fleshed out enough that strangers to the poke-verse will have much to latch onto. But at the end of the day, if you have even a passing knowledge of this franchise you'll be able to have fun, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. It puts pokemon on the big screen in a way I found endearing, delightful to watch, and seemingly true to the source material. I actually went to see it twice, and whether you're a water, fire, or electric type, I think you'll enjoy it too.

And finally, unlike a certain blue CG hedgehog who will remain nameless (rhymes with tonic), Pikachu doesn't have weird human teeth, so there's that.

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I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this.  Do yourself a favor and go see this.
@shaggy: I dunno, bud; those "IRL" pokeymans look downright terrifying to me... especially Jigglypuff. I get the feeling he(?) wouldn't think twice about dismembering me after I fall asleep to one of his lullabyes. And I'm sure Mr. Mime would be more than happy to help hide my remains, never to be found again--

Oh, great... I just came up with a premise for the sequel.

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