Sunday, 14 July 2019

Film Review No. 49 Pokémon Detective Pikachu (PG)

Strong Points:
Brilliant designs for the Pokémon
Detailed animation and world-building
Ryan Reynolds is brilliant as Pikachu
Use of more than the first 151 Pokémon
Small details show the seriousness the filmmakers had with the film
Doesn’t push for a franchise
Some twists and turns I didn’t guess
A mostly well-connected screenplay combining drama, meta-comedy and cheese...

Weak Points:
Some cliché or stilted dialogue
Not a lot of Pokémon battles
...Sometimes crosses the line between knowingly cheesy and cringe-inducing
Most of the human cast doesn’t get a lot to do
Opening minutes crammed a lot of exposition and explanation into itself
Could have done with the classic Pokémon narrator

Some spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:

Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a film which could only be created now. So many factors had to converge on the world at once for it to happen. CGI needed to be powerful enough to make sure the Pokémon looked real and acted well with their human counterparts. Ryan Reynolds or someone else with his brand of humour had to be available. Nintendo had to have undergone a resurgence in the mainstream consciousness (which happens every 5 years or so, to be honest) and they also had to relax their tight grip on their properties. All of this has happened, and to top it all off, the filmmakers seem to actually have done research on the games' lore. Unprecedented.

You can really see the research in every area of the film's world, from the city to the Pokémon. Every detail has been carefully thought of from the branding of the shops to the way Pokémon can be used to help create Ryme City. Jigglypuff serenades/tranquillizes café customers, Snubbull works as a police assistant and Ludicolo helps serve the coffee (as in the infamous scene from the trailer). Pokémon aren't just there for the sake of the city and the city hasn't been made for the sake of fitting Pokémon in it. They work together to create a living, breathing world, which would be great to explore in a future Pokémon game, in my opinion. Maybe in the sequel of Detective Pikachu The Game?

The visual finesse of the Pokémon in Detective Pikachu is simply amazing. Akin to Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book in the realistic style but almost more impressive due to the fact there’s no real-life Pokémon to base them on. The way the animators took the drawings from the anime, games and TCG and created realistic and recognisable versions of Pokémon was incredibly impressive. Then making them seem at home with live-action humans and even getting one of them to speak without it seeming odd, speaks volumes for how dedicated the visual artists were for getting this right. As well as just how simple and effective Pokémon designs really are.

Of course, the crowning achievement of Detective Pikachu was the eponymous Pikachu, played with 'maximum effort' by Ryan Reynolds. For some reason, I'm completely happy with having exposition told through the mouth of a cute mouse, and the range of emotions the animators could show with Pikachu was quite impressive (this may or may not be the last fangirl moment I have with the visual effects artists). What added so much to the film as well, was the extra marketing created and apparent joy Ryan Reynolds had with the part. All the extra videos from the apparent 'leaked film', to him explaining his method of becoming Pikachu, made the film much larger than itself. However, while I'd recommend watching these extra videos, the trailers still run the normal trend of showing some of the best jokes of the film and so I'd avoid them if possible.

If Pikachu is the crowning achievement of Detective Pikachu, then the human cast is the slightly rotten supporting structure. They get the plot across, help to set up jokes and sometimes deliver proper emotion, but watch them on their own and you'll want something slightly more dazzling (not sure the metaphor completely works but we'll run with it). I found Justice Smith to be almost bored at the beginning of the film, as heavy in exposition as it is (this is where they would have benefited from the narrator and his usual 'Welcome to the world of Pokémon spiel), but as soon as he could interact with the Pokémon more, the more he started to grow on me. The cast overall was good enough, but the random assortment of actors/musicians (Bill Nighy, Rita Ora and even Diplo playing himself) made it feel a bit 'made for TV' which ran directly against the care and attention with the Pokémon themselves.

The script too seemed to have an identity crisis, with not two but three separate styles running only partly together. You had drama which helped to ground the film, including an excellent scene at a fountain allowing Justice to get out of his comfort zone a bit. You had meta-comedy, or basically anything Ryan Reynolds said, which allowed a wider variety of people to enjoy the film. And finally, you had the cheese, otherwise known as the larger plot. Did the plot make a lot of sense? No, not really. Was it enjoyable to watch? Yes, especially when the film straddled the line between comedy and cheese, which it did most of the time. Other times though, and I almost had to look away...

When I wasn't looking away or laughing, however, I was glued to my seat. Some of the twists and turns of the film successfully kept me guessing the entire way through the film or even better, allowed their conclusion to dawn on me a few seconds before the reveal. Of course, I won't go into them here, but it was nice that some twists were still available even in a morally straight forward film such as Detective Pikachu.

Conclusion: I still can’t quite believe this film exists. A photorealistic Pokémon film, with a storyline diverted from the games. A video game movie not taken over by the need to add ‘game mechanics’ or over-complicated lore. A Nintendo with rather lax marketing rules. This. This is the future.

Rating: 74%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

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