Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

I turned to my brother-in-law and nephew part way through Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, and confidently pointed to the screen and said “look it’s Mee-too”. They peered back at me momentarily, with a look of perplexed confusion, before darting their eyes back to the screen without further comment.

No, I wasn’t trying to be funny and socially sardonic. I honestly thought that was the character’s name.

Look, I’m sorry to offend Mewtwo and all his loyal fans, but the phenomenon of “pocket monsters” completely skipped over me. My only interactions with the Japanese sensation was selling the trading cards at my first paid job in the early 2000’s (Charizard was pretty expensive I recall) and dabbling (admittedly with a fair amount of giddy excitement) with the Pokémon Go app for about 10 days back in 2016.

Why is all this context important? Well, while I didn’t personally vibe with the overall film, I am confident to say that for most Poké-heads (that’s what Pokémon fans are called right?) of all shapes, sizes, ages and evolutions, it’s probably going to be a pretty fun way to spend your afternoon. For everyone else? Not really.

Starring Justice Smith, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, Kathryn Newton and what appears to be 40,000 varied classes of Pokémon, the film focuses primarily on Tim Goodman’s (Smith) search for his father, a hardboiled detective who is believed to be dead at the hands of a dangerous Pokémon.

The whodunit storyline, brought to life by some impressive layering of live action and animated creatures, feels reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and for the most part, it works. Fusing Pokémon mythology with Blade Runner aesthetics is a bit of fun. The film gets a lot of early mileage out of its high tech, wet streets, neon lighting and a seriously cute and cuddly rendering of a caffeine-addicted Pikachu. Voiced by an appropriately toned down Ryan Reynolds, it’s clear that the Deadpool star is wanting to push the boundaries of family comedy into more adult terrain, with some cheeky one-liners being somehow permitted to stay (sexual innuendo, birth canals etc.). One can imagine what might have been cut out.

Unfortunately, the film’s goofy adoption of noir tropes can only sustain itself for so long. Once the initial shock of the film’s zany premise wears off, all that is left is a hodgepodge, generic story about bad fathers and estranged sons. Complete with super obvious villain reveals and their villainous plots, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu becomes stale, fast. Much like last year’s Ready Player One, the film shies away from embracing the power and absurdity of its pop-culture roots and instead simply settles for a large scaled seek and find. Oh there’s Snorlax. There’s an Eevee. Woot! I got that reference.

The attempt to ground the outlandish and fanciful universe of Pokémon with sappy human melodrama is a hapless misfire that derails much of the goodwill.

But these are the complaints from a disengaged, 30-something non-fan who expects a lot from my family films. Children under 10 and fully invested fans (especially those who own onesies) should enjoy hanging out with their favourite anime pals.

My nephew liked it. A lot. So I bought him some trading cards afterwards.

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