Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
And the winner of the great wait battle of 2019 is! Yeah, I should grammatically include the title at the end of that, but then it ruins the whole lame segue thing I do at the end of the preamble. Look, it’s 2019, at this point everyone that’s been a kid since the first Red or Blue graced Game Boy units or the anime hit the cartoon circuit on TV knows and probably loves Pokemon. There’s no explanation I have to do here, at all. The most baffling thing you could want explained is how Ryan Reynolds landed the role of Pikachu - but hey, I don’t know that, I’m just a guy that watches movie and occasionally knows an odd factoid from production! Grab your bubble-pipes and get the gang ready to solve the case of of the pokeballs shake, tonight we check out Pokemon Detective Pikachu.
Alright, so there’s some ground rules I’m laying out in expectations for this movie. One: Plenty of Pokemon on screen, even if they don’t do a dang thing for the story. Two: Some form of mystery (that’s hopefully more than bare bones minimum). Three: Cheese, and not the edible kind. If it’s got those things, than it meets my expectations - regardless of if it’s good or bad in doing so. That said, the trailer already gives way to at least two of those items being in it, so it’s starting off on the right foot before I even get to the movie proper! There’s going to be a lot of effects work on display here too, so that ought to be a decent sized paragraph to talk about as well - there’s a lot that this should be able to give me, and here I am rambling off a two-game sized rant on things that don’t even matter. Now, it manages to stay a family movie throughout, I’ll get that useful information out of the way - but that said, there can be some violence - even if it be between digital monster creatures that replace pretty much every type of wildlife to ever exist. For folks where that could be an issue - even if it’s not explicit or as frequent as a game based on monster fights would imply - they might need a cursory viewing to determine if they’ll share or not and that call is up to them even if it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
Story-wise the movie does hit some heavy beats now and then, similar to most distant-relationship family movies out there. Perhaps it’s a little bit harder to swallow the serious pill when surrounded by colorful, adorable, and often time wacky looking creatures but it does at least try in that regard. It has highs, it has lows, and it does in fact have a mystery. Why can he talk to this one Pikachu? What happened to his dad? What’s this (daisy chaining path of leads and clues and things that all drive it together by the end)? Even if it doesn’t make sense when it happens on screen, by the end most things are wrapped up, and astute watchers will easily pluck the feathers out of the mystery bird before the screen announcer could finish yelling “Whose that Pokemon?” Yeah, I was a kid once and know that phrase, deal with it. Even elements that feel a bit out of left field are still well and early hinted at across the run, so it never completely feels as though they at least didn’t try to clue your dense face in to the twist around the corner. All of that, and it’s not even really a complex mystery, feeling no more incredibly narrative than any of the episodes you might have watched way back when Ash was trying to be a master and Pikachu was undeniably the face of the game.
So the mystery might not be amazing despite being handled well, but there are still a lot of moving pieces to be considered within to tell how well it operated. Actors being one of the key elements - if you put someone on there with their big twirly mustache and all black outfit surrounded by Haunters, it’d be rather obvious that they were a villain after all. Here, they keep things relatively level, even if you will probably lean towards a few characters as being potentially bad - and maybe it’ll fool you into thinking the wrong ones, maybe it won’t. The main characters do a good job with acting outside of a tidbit we’ll get to later on, even if at times they can feel quite cartoon-ish in either their character roles or in their presentation. Again, if this was a serious hard-edged detective movie I might find that to be a fault, but here it just serves to remind you that you are watching what is effectively a kids movie about a game franchise that blew up into other things. On the flip of that coin, it helps make the lead feel less at home in the movie - but the dangerous edge of that coin could be brought up by discussionists who like to pick meanings out of movies, where it in turn brings about a feeling of “being different ain’t great.” I’d say they were thinking a bit too far into things, but I’d be remiss to not say that they have a bit of a point there regardless. Still, hidden meanings being created on the fly aside, the story unfolds at a decent pace with enough little exciting tidbits or clues dropping to invest you enough into wanting to watch it, even if you don’t need to have left grade school to figure it out.
The effects work here is pretty good as well. Perhaps at times it’s not the most convincing thing ever - hair is such a hard thing for CG to get right, even when it does it amazingly well. Of course, having been staring at generations of these creatures in two dimensional video games (a bunch of which didn’t have color) or on the screen in animation form never really lent to the idea of anything really ever being fuzzy, regardless of how much it would have made sense. In turn, the sudden appearance of a little fella who has more hair than a sea otter might throw some off into a spot of dislike, whereas others might have the “cuteness” factor swung in on them like some song-mentioned destruction implement. Despite the fact that it might not always come off as convincing a person that this is the real life, it still looks darn good from a graphical side - complete with some nice reflections and detail touches on various things to go along with the pretty decently handled fuzz. When other things come up - like combat abilities or explosions - they also end up looking great, so when it comes to visuals it’s pretty easy to be happy. Human costumes range a decent gamut from being identifiable to being modern, which does help bring things into a more attachable place for those who prefer realism. A few costumes do dabble in the space of looking a bit more interesting, but largely also don’t quite stand out over the other visual related items on display. It’s not all great though, and this is when I’d like to call-back to something in the actor’s segment I referred to - sight lines. See, Pikachu isn’t there, he’s an effect. Maybe at time’s you could convince me that there’s something standing in for actor interaction, like a puppet or whatnot - but the sight lines (that is to say, where the actors eyes are looking) can be pretty dang off at times. I don’t know who told you Pikachu was a foot above where he is, but it gets to be kind of noticeable when it’s only the two of you in the shot! Does it ruin the movie? Not if you can laugh it off - but in this world, I’m sure there is someone that hated it so much they gave it a one star review, because some people don’t know how to have fun.
Audio does a decent job keeping up with everything else as well. Actor lines are finely delivered, except when they aren’t. Again, I’d like to point out that in this case it actually only helped me enjoy it better, considering it just added a level of cheese that comes from a game with puns so slathered on it that you could nary earn a gym badge without ingesting at least one. The various Pokemon state their names, as usual, and it can often be fun to hear them despite it not necessarily being something amazingly out of the box. The balancing is good, and in all honesty if I had one complaint about the audio it would probably be in relation to the old theme song making an appearance and feeling kind of out of place, regardless of the fact that it wouldn’t surprise me if it existed in-world considering the culture around going out and capturing them all. Beyond that, it can be a little jarring hearing Ryan Reynolds coming out of Pikachu, even if it feels less like Ryan Reynolds playing Pikachu and more like him playing himself. I think that’s just a thing he does lately, as he seemed to have a big range before but now it feels like whenever he shows up it feels a bit like himself showing up. It works fine for the movie, and they do work some stuff around it to make it have more sensible reasoning, but that doesn’t make any less weird at times. The rest of the audio is fine, background music doing it’s job without overpowering anything else going on on-screen.
So it has a mystery, it has a ton of Pokemon running about, and it has some cheese. That’s all the bases I expected, but I guess I haven’t really talked much about the joke side of the movie yet, have I? As always, comedy is subjective - I’m a broken record repeating it, but it needs to be said. Here, there’s a general mood of happiness about the movie, so you largely have a smile on your face most the time. A few jokes can be pretty fun - the Mr Mime scene has a pretty funny ending to me, and here and there a good one-off might pop up. Some of the other jokes don’t quite get the same chuckle or laugh reaction out of me, but there is a frequent amount of them across the movie in a wide range of types. You’ll get some physical humor, you’ll get some low-hanging fruit jokes, you’ll get some meta jokes and you’ll get some long run and short run jokes. Someone will probably find something in it to laugh about, even if it’s just a hearty chuckle and the one time.
This is a pretty fun movie. Perhaps part of me wanted some more battles than what I got, but I went in full well expecting a minimum of battles in exchange for a detective mystery. It gave me what I expected, and did a good job with it’s various elements. It’s family friendly enough that largely anyone can probably watch it, and does have elements that might swing one way or the other. It looks good, it stays fun, and it doesn’t really overstay it’s welcome either. It’s not completely without it’s flaws - such as some poor sight lines - but it all feels like it belongs in there without being too distracting from the enjoyment standpoint. It might not be getting me revved up to go out and be a Master and get them all, but it is nice to swing back in for a little story.