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CINEMASCOPE: A MIXED BAG

May 19, 2019

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The Pokémon phenomenon was after my time. I never consumed Pokémon anime, manga, games, or merchandise. Yet this Japanese franchise has been impossible to ignore. Admittedly, I initially found the craze annoying, especially when it numbed the brain cells of every person 10 years younger than me in the late ’90s. Clearly, we’re paying for it today by the type of people these millennials voted into office.

But I digress. Despite not being part of the target audience, I was quite curious about Pokémon Detective Pikachu. After all, I had fallen victim to the adorable Pikachu’s charms (Pika! Pika!). What’s more, he was voiced by the amusing Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool). Unfortunately, it has turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag. If you go in with high expectations from the trailers, you’ll be left underwhelmed.

The most interesting thing about Pokémon Detective Pikachu is that it’s weird. This is partially due to the excellent CGI, which makes most of the absurd creatures feel incredibly lifelike and a strange world feel authentic. The film also feels weird because the human characters are terribly characterised and poorly acted.

The most interesting thing about Pokémon Detective Pikachu is that it’s weird

All the actors playing human characters, from Justice Smith (Tim Goodman), who plays an ex-Pokémon trainer looking for his dad and who partners with Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), to Kathryn Newton (Lucy Stevens) who isn’t sure if she’s playing a noir-style detective or a spunky one, perform poorly. This makes the film feel weird because the humans feel less human than the CGI Pokémon.

Admittedly, it’s not easy to act in front of the green screen, especially when directed by an inexperienced live-action director (Rob Letterman), but anyone who cast Justice Smith after his similarly bad performance in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) should find another career.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu has other issues, too. For one, there isn’t much sleuthing. This Pikachu is supposed to be a world-class detective, but many of the clues land on his lap. The pacing is lacking as well, with a dull first act that eventually gives way to a much better second and third act.

All the actors playing human characters, from Justice Smith (Tim Goodman) who plays an ex-Pokémon trainer looking for his dad and partners with Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), to Kathryn Newton (Lucy Stevens) who isn’t sure if she’s playing a noir-style detective or a spunky one, perform poorly. This makes the film feel weird because the humans feel less human than the CGI Pokémon.

Then, there’s the premise. We learn that Tim Goodman partners with Detective Pikachu because the creature can communicate with Pokémon and Goodman. Except that, aside from not doing much detective work, Pikachu hardly communicates with other Pokémon either. So what was the point? Aside from this, the narrative has a by-the-numbers feel and doesn’t make much of an effort to surprise you.

Yet, despite these misgivings, I somewhat enjoyed Pokémon Detective Pikachu. And it’s because of a fun performance by Ryan Reynolds. While he doesn’t have any particularly hilarious lines, he is consistently engaging and goofy in Pokémon Detective Pikachu.

I also liked how the endearing Pikachu is characterised after his wise-cracking version from the Detective Pikachu video game, rather than the usually cute one from the anime. This, alongside the superb animation, makes it easier to ignore the flaws in Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Hopefully, with a much better script and performances, the sequel will truly live up to expectations set by its predecessor.

Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humour, and thematic elements

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 19th, 2019