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WATCHING THE MOVIES: Pokemon Detective Pikachu

Before we get going, I’ve gotta tell you about Stardust. It’s an app where you can react to and review movies, TV shows, and the latest trailers. I’ve got an account there now that I’ll be trying to update regularly, both with quick 30-second spoiler-free video reviews of the films I talk about here, and some flicks I don’t! Download the app here and when you do, search for “Connor Mighell” and gimme a follow so you never miss me! Now, on to the review.

POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU

Our title Pokemon is an adorable fuzzy electric mouse with the wisecracks Ryan Reynolds is known for. He used to work for Harry Goodman, a police detective in Ryme City, where Pokemon and humans live in harmony. When Harry’s missing and presumed dead after a car accident, his son Tim comes to say goodbye to his estranged father. But Detective Pikachu thinks Harry’s not dead, that he was about to uncover a conspiracy. And Tim, unlike every other human, can hear his thoughts. Working as a semi-reluctant team, they hunt down the clues to find Tim’s dad.

Look, your kids will probably have a good time with this movie. With that out of the way, let’s start with what I liked. There’s a decent bit.

From a visual and worldbuilding standpoint, this is an ambitious film. And at those levels, it succeeds. It shows (mostly) realistically what life would be like if these fantastic, superpowered creatures called Pokemon existed. Placing humans alongside them, having them interact and team up, is full of interesting potential.

The world as presented here is rich and intriguing, and the creatures look incredibly real. The Pokemon are unique, each species with its own personality and abilities. And it’s perfectly normal for every human in Ryme City to have a little Pokemon buddy by their side everywhere they go. That’s actually something I hope future movies explore: how do humans choose their Pokemon? Is it a personality thing, do you just know when you meet them, or what? Like I said, there’s layers to this onion, but this movie doesn’t touch on them all that strongly.

And Ryan Reynolds himself is hilarious. He’s at Deadpool levels of deadpan humor here, minus all the blue humor. His delivery legitimately saves several scenes, and sounds oddly appropriate coming from the coffee-addicted Pikachu.

It’s his fellow human actors who need serious work. Justice Smith is not just a disappointment as Tim Goodman, our protagonist – he’s affirmatively bad. His emotions are consistently off or fake-looking, his line delivery’s stilted, even his physical acting lacks punch. I would prefer literally any other young adult actor in this role.

The other humans aren’t much better. The lead female’s got a couple chuckle-worthy throwaway quips but her line readings are 50/50 at best. There’s a Stock Evil Corporate Bad Guy who’s very stock and very evil. Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy are both perfectly serviceable, but don’t stand out.

The script is stilted and cramped, except Pikachu’s lines. (I wonder if Ryan Reynolds brought in his own dialogue writer.) It goes heavy on the exposition and light on the character work. Continually telling your audience what’s happening, rather than showing them, is a recipe for poor character development and nonexistent chemistry. It’s like spending loads of money on the finest car parts, dumping them in your driveway, and expecting them to magically transform into a Lamborghini. You need to fasten your story together with something, and that something’s usually well-realized characters and real-feeling relationships. Exposition’s a poor substitute.

And the plot itself could have done with a rewrite. It’s box-standard, though it does give us some fun scenes, like an underground Pokemon battle that devolves into chaos. But that final twist drove me up a wall. SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH.

Mewtwo, the most powerful Pokemon in existence (we know because the script told us), reveals that the reason Tim can understand Pikachu is because he merged Harry Goodman with Pikachu right as Harry was dying. Couple things here. First, why should merging Harry and Pikachu mean that only Tim can understand him and no one else can? No answer’s ever given. Second, you’re telling me Tim doesn’t know his father’s voice? Sure, I get that they’re estranged. But he’s never had a phone call with him? I’m not sure I totally buy that. So that bothered me.

Maybe next time Warner Brothers can hire better writing and acting talent and turn out a better, more compelling movie. In any event, though I wasn’t sold this time, perhaps future Pokemon films will crack the case.

RATING: 5/10

Next week’s John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. Don’t forget to follow me on Stardust, and until then, roll credits!

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