RELEASED: May 10th 2019
DIRECTED BY: Rob Letterman
WRITTEN BY: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Derek Connolly, Nicole Perlman & Rob Letterman
PRODUCED BY: Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Hidenaga Katakami & Don McGowan
MUSIC BY: Henry Jackman
STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Chris Geere, Rita Ora, Diplo, Ken Watanabe & Bill Nighy
Twenty-three years after the release of Pokémon Red and Green (/Blue, to western audiences), Pokémon has finally hit our screens as a live-action movie. And unlike the majority of video-game adaptations, it’s pretty darn good!
The film follows former aspiring Pokémon trainer Tim Goodman (Smith), as he is forced to venture into Rime City after his father, an ace detective, dies on a case. There, he meets his father’s amnesiac Pokémon partner, Pikachu (Reynolds), who for some unknown reason, Tim can understand. Pikachu is adamant that Tim’s father is actually alive, and so the pair set off the solve the cases of Pikachu’s amnesia and Tim’s dad’s disappearance, both of which are somehow connected to the mysterious genetically engineered Pokémon Mewtwo.
When it comes to making a live-action Pokémon movie, there’s one thing that the creators had to get right – the Pokémon. Which, fortunately, they do. Rime City is rife with Pocket Monsters ranging from those we first met in Red and Blue back in the late nineties, all the way up to appearances from newer creatures who debuted in the Sun and Moon entries just a few years ago.
Fan favourites like Charizard and Greninja get their time in the spotlight, while a wealth of other Pokémon such as Treecko, Pidgeotto and Rattata proliferate the background. The world truly feels alive, and you can totally buy into the harmonious relationship between humans and Pokémon, and how that all works.
While Rime City mostly operates in a different way to how the Human/Pokémon relationship in the games and TV series does, you also get glimpses of the more conventional human/Pokémon relationship in some sequences in the film – Tim trying to catch a Cubone, an underground battle between a Gengar and a Blastoise, and a ‘Red’-esque character staring down a Gyarados at the Pokémon League are all dotted throughout this film alongside cameos and references galore that Pokémon fans will very much appreciate.
It’s clear that this film had a lot of passion go into it, and those behind the camera are clearly big fans of the franchise.
Not only that, but they’ve also managed to make a film that will appeal to all ages. Working in a cinema, I’ve noticed the majority of the tickets I’ve sold haven’t been to parents bringing their children, so much as they have been to people in their twenties who are flocking in to rediscover their childhood passion. As such, the film makes sure to cater to both crowds; providing a colourful and silly adventure for the kids, as well as some more adult humour for the older audiences. Subtle jokes about sex and drugs (no rock and roll though – although there is a dubstep gag) make their way into the script, along with a lot of other witty little bits for Ryan Reynolds to flex his comedy chops with.
Speaking of, Reynolds shines as Pikachu, imbuing the Pokémon with a marvellous amount of wit and likeability, and is easily the standout of the film. The caffine-addicted electric mouse is a joy to watch, whether that be through his brilliantly animated facial expressions or the onslaught of Reynold’s quips.
The rest of the cast aren’t quite as strong, but there are some good performances there. Smith’s Tim Goodman gives the film an emotional core, and does a great job of interacting with the various CGI critters, really adding a level of believability to the film’s proceedings. His dorky nature makes for some laughs, and he perfectly captures the spirit of an audience surrogate – a twenty-something former Pokémon fan becoming reimmersed in the world.
His co-star, Kathryn Newton, often comes off as a bit hammy, but that seems to be more the over-the-top nature of the character rather than Newton’s performance. But once she settles into the role, she becomes a fun ally to Goodman and his Pikachu. Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy lend some stoic gravitas to the movie, but the other supporting cast members with less to do come off a bit caricaturish and silly.
The plot is similar in a way, with a very emotional core as Tim tries to find his father, dotted with moments of ridiculousness. As the film’s runtime proceeds, things start to become more and more whacky, and towards the climax – downright silly, and not necessarily in a good way. The film seems to abandon the detective plot about halfway through (as evidenced to me by a guy two rows down who was infuriatingly addicted to checking his phone every ten minutes) in favour of playing around with some of the more ludicrous Pokémon science. However, while it may seem ridiculous in the moment, fans of the game series will realise that that science is embedded in the franchise, going all the way back to the original games.
However, while it does have some background in said games, it can be a bit hard to buy due to the fact it doesn’t really make sense in terms of the villains’ grand scheme. Like, I get understand what *mystery bad guy* was trying to achieve, but it’s a weak, slightly nonsensical plan, highlighting a weak villain.
Still, that is but a small fraction of a film filled with love and some enjoyable humour. Considering what it is, it’s a surprisingly good movie; well crafted and really tapping into the potential of the Pokémon franchise.
One thing that surprised me though is how much they wrapped things up at the end. However, with a sequel and several spin-offs supposedly in development, I’m sure they’ll figure something out.
All-in-all, I give Detective Pikachu: