Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)

Pokémon Detective Pikachu teaser poster.jpgDirector: Rob Letterman
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Rita Ora, Karan Soni, Josette Simon, Ikue Ōtani

Ever since its release in the late 90's, Pokémon has been an absolute juggernaut, providing spectacularly realised worlds, and a wonderful array of pocket monsters to inhabit them. It's also had a steady release of films, and this marks the first live-action feature. Considering the uphill battle cinematic adaptations of video games have had, it may feel damning with faint praise to call this one of the better attempts, but the end result is genuinely good.

When his estranged father goes missing, Tim (Justice Smith) journeys to Ryme City to find out what happened. Aiding in his quest is his fathers Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), a Detective who Tim can understand.

It may seem like a curious choice to make a film adapted not from the well known core games, but instead a lesser known Nintendo game of the same name. By not being beholden to adapting the adventures of Red, Blue, Giovanni and the like, the filmmakers are left with a simple tale which allows for them to put their own stamp on the Pokémon world. What we're left with is a noir inspired flick set within a neon lit city, which feels bursting with life, ready to please fans, while giving enough for franchise newbies to not feel lost.

For a franchise centred around the ever-expanding roster of creatures, the big question about this film would be how it'd bring them to life, and thankfully, the wonderful effects work does them justice. A variety of the eponymous Pokémon, across different generations, are stunningly brought alive in a manner which wouldn't have been possible 20 years ago. Pikachu is front and centre, but each monster brought alive has their own unique personality. Be it the ticking time-bomb that is Psyduck, or a majestic herd of Bulbasaur, one may be left with a variety of choices as to their favourite. What especially works is how perfectly integrated Pokémon are into everyday life, as water-shooting Squirtles are utilised alongside firefighters, and traffic has to be diverted around a large Snorlax napping in the road. They're depicted as friends, partners, wild creatures, but also hold down jobs.

At the core of this film is Tim's relationship with his father's Pikachu, as the pair are brought together by a need to solve the disappearance of Tim's father. In voicing the rare example of an English speaking Pokémon, Ryan Reynolds does utilise his traditional quips which made Deadpool such a hit. But he also delivers a more subtle side to the character, as he feels held back by a bout of amnesia.

The human lead, Tim wants to move on with his life away from Pokémon, but is ultimately driven by the hunt for his absent father. He worries about the possibility he's left it too late to patch things up, and Smith does wonderful conveying this worry and probable regret. He's also extremely funny, sharing a believable chemistry with his CG co-star. Their investigation is the films most engaging element, with an interrogation scene involving a Mr. Mime being especially humorous, and even rather dark. It's a shame the plot gets less interesting in the third act, when the detective aspects are cast aside for a more traditional blockbuster third act.

The supporting cast do great work also, as Ken Watanabe does terrific work as a veteran detective, while Bill Nighy commits to the exposition his role requires him to deliver. Kathryn Newton delivers a fun performance as a junior reporter named Lucy, which makes it a shame she isn't given much to do outside of propelling Tim in whatever direction the plot requires.

A wonderful realisation of its beloved creatures, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is an enjoyable noir attempt set among a gorgeous neon city, complete with a beating heart. Plus, where else will you see Pokémon depicted in hieroglyphics?