Film Review: Detective Pikachu
When the theater grew dark, there was an unsaid intensity that everybody was feeling in the room. It was almost audible in the unusually unsettled audience, and to be honest, I felt it, too. It sounds almost stupid really; a dark room full of adults staring at a movie screen like their lives depended on it, but in a way, they did. Or, at least the lives that many had built up in their childhood was about to be represented in a completely different way, and that feeling of uncertainty towards just how it’d turn out, was everywhere.
So, inevitably, this movie had an entire two decades of anticipation to live up to, whether it wanted to or not. But, that’s where its greatest strength lies; in diverting your expectations. From a Netflix-esque beginning with cliché characters and semi-bad acting, I thought I knew where the entire story would go, but I didn’t. Yes, there are some predictable moments, but for the most part, this is a really fresh take on Pokémon. We aren’t led into a world where battles are very important, nor even collecting Pokémon to fill the Pokédex. That may seem obvious, considering this is about Detective Pikachu, but it really took me off guard to see how much it would try new things. By doing this, the film was able to maneuver itself easier through its own story, and not to have to worry about other things, like whether a certain character was portrayed like in the original games/series. To really highlight this point is the protagonist, Tim, as when we are introduced to him, he practically shuns the idea of Pokémon. Without going into detail, this becomes part of his character arc, which becomes very compelling as well.
The Pokémon featured in the film made the transition from animated drawings to CGI characters really well. The people behind the digitization of the characters did a great job of treading the fine line between realism and comic-like imagery. Charizard, for example, looks great with detailed scales and an edgier overall look, whereas others, like Psyduck, where thoughtfully kept nearly the same to retain their appeal. There are some misfires, but I wouldn’t criticize them too harshly when considering that those Pokémon would actually look like that. Treeko, for example, looks a little disturbing to me when I saw the unnaturally smooth shine of its skin contrast against its huge eyes, but you might think otherwise. Yet, the majority of characters are great, especially the detail thought put into how they move, with a good example being Bulbasaur and Pikachu. Bulbasaur moves a lot like a toddler – with a sense of awkward ease, like it has no idea where its feet are as it bumbles forward with its funnily chunky legs, making it especially cute. Pikachu, on the other hand, moves very human-like, and can change from a small, lovable character to a very fluid-moving one, evidenced by some great motion capture of actor, Ryan Reynolds.
This film is also full with references. It goes without saying that it would have a lot of references, but there are definitely a lot. Some, only the most hardcore, veteran fans will notice in throwaway dialogue or hidden background imagery, but others are center-stage in jokes for fans of all degrees.
Moreover, this film is very self-aware. References or not, it knows who its audience is, and what its product is very well. I say this, as there are attempts to provide necessary details to people who know nothing about Pokémon and are dragged into this by their loved ones (I’m talking to you moms, dads and lost partners). But, they won’t bother fans who have the entire back catalogue of every piece of Pokémon history in their mind, as these details aren’t obtrusive, and there are many other things to be distracted by, like the scenery, which references a lot in every scene.
As for acting and actors, don’t mind my comment about Netflix and semi-professional acting. There are only a few moments that are particularly cringeworthy, but most of them are at the beginning, and if you aren’t too harsh, they can be forgiven. Ryan Reynolds really surprised me with his performance as Pikachu, as the high-pitched sounds Pikachu usually makes are so engraved into my mind. He is great, and even sneaks in a few lines that are more for the adults in the room. The other actors in this film are good, too, and I’d say their acting is generally good, but only hampered by a few cliché characters.
The Hard Evidence
Sometimes, however, this film tries too hard. There are a lot of emotional scenes, and some that were just a little too forced and avoidable. They left a sour taste in my mouth, as I’ve seen this type of thing a million times before. They also felt a little dark, which may be a turn away for children. It’s not that the film is inappropriate for children, but it has its teenage-filled angst moments and so on.
The musical score can also be a downfall. It’s great that they have an original score that mixes with the series’/games’ scores, but it doesn’t always blend very well. When they are separated, and you hear them at different times, it’s great, but when the film makers decide to push that mixer track to the max like a high school kid with their first DJ kit, and you hear orchestral music clashing with modernized video game soundtracks, it can be horribly misguided. The orchestral music in general felt flat and uneventful, but despite its glaring flaws, it’s notably a better choice than just slapping video game music over everything.
At times the plot wasn’t really connecting. Whether it was strange progression, or mistimed moments, the flow of the film was a little disrupted by pacing issues. Some things were rushed, and needed a bucket load of flashbacks, which could become annoying, whereas others dragged out far too much.
Choosing to create mostly original characters was a wise decision, but not in every regard. Some are vacant and hollow characters that almost spell out “Hey, I’m an archetype of (*insert generic character here*) and for the rest of this film I will do things that archetype does”. But, again, this isn’t the majority of characters.
It can be really difficult to make a live action film based on an incredibly popular franchise, and moviegoers have seen an ungodly amount of failures over the years, like Dragonball Evolution, which crippled Dragonball fans. Thankfully, the same thing did not happen here, and the filmmakers knew what they were doing. You won’t be in for a five-star-wow-this-changed-my-life type of film, but that’s a good thing. Overall, it is an enjoyable watch for audiences of any kind. Hardcore fans will be pleased to see their beloved characters faithfully put on the big screen, casual fans will be able to enjoy it the same, and those who know nothing will be taken on a ride that even gears towards them. It’s a strange experience, and even foreign to many, but its diversion of expectations lets it roam freely, find new regions to explore, and win us over in a different way.