Based on the $90billion franchise, Detective Pikachu is the first live action film from Pokémon, the Japanese franchise that has spawned video games, anime series, card games, films and that infamous mobile app. I am someone who has never before touched the franchise, so I admit I was completely unfamiliar with anything being referenced. Perhaps because of that, I was totally unengaged with Detective Pikachu, and found its derivative story and strange concept very difficult to buy into.
In a world where ‘Pokémon’ (weird creatures with magic abilities) and humans live together, one man must join forces with Pikachu (a Pokémon who can create electricity) to unravel the disappearance of his father, and the institutional cover up behind it. Sounds familiar doesn’t it. The story is very cliché with little originality other than the addition of the creatures and their convenient powers. The bad guy, withheld for a while, is also blatantly obvious. As soon as you see a huge actor in a seemingly withdrawn role, it’s obvious who it’ll be.
The cast is led by Ryan Reynolds, who provides the voice and motion capture performance for Pikachu, a Pokémon suffering from amnesia (oh goodie, another amnesia story). I personally found his role very entertaining, mainly because it was the only real thing I could feel a connection with in the nauseating sea of the unfamiliar. Though it felt jarring that his voice was coming from a yellow rabbit-like creature, the film does ultimately justify that decision, albeit in a ridiculous way.
The rest of the cast of live action players include Justice Smith as Tim Goodman, the 21 year old looking for his father; Kathryn Newton as Lucy Stevens, the quirky junior reporter who Tim has a crush on and who never gets enough to do; Bill Nighy (BILL NIGHY) as a disabled visionary who created a Pokémon City; Ken Watanabe (because he appears in every US adaptation of a Japanese franchise) as a Detective who has even less to do than Lucy, and Rita Ora playing a scientist in this year’s most ridiculous deal between a movie studio and a record label.
The key problem with the film was its alienating handling of the concept. The whole film relies on the audience being completely familiar with the Pokémon franchise. Clearly, most of the audience I was with were familiar, and they would laugh or “aww” at even the sight of a Pokémon that I didn’t recognise. However, I sat in the audience feeling very lost and this was irritating. The funniest part from my point of view was Bill Nighy’s performance, who’s job it was to deliver buckets of exposition about Pokémon. It was just hilarious to see the beloved actor reel off lines and lines of nonsense with the straightest of faces.
For me, I also found the design to be slightly annoying. The characters looked too cartoony to believe, and the big crashy set pieces were unengaging. In areas, the film totally relies on Henry Jackman’s great score, but even he doesn’t have the skill to make everything exciting. The final act fight is a straight copy of Shazam!, which in itself was already completely unoriginal, and the whole thing felt like it was made ten years ago by someone who loved Blade Runner and Pokémon so decided to blend the two.
Overall, fans of the franchise will absolutely love this film, I have no doubt of it. For me, however, it boasted little for a casual film-goer, which is problematic filmmaking. Despite colourful design and a fun performance from Reynolds, the film suffers from a severely underwritten story, with predictable twists at every turn. If you love Pokémon, go watch it (though I’m sure you already have). However, if you’re not acquainted with the franchise, I’d give it a miss.