Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)

“Catching a Pokémon is not about skill.”

Brimming with stunning graphics, a lovely musical score by Henry Jackman, and inspired noir visuals from cinematographer John Mathieson, Pokémon Detective Pikachu sounds great and looks even better. A lot of time and talent and care went into bringing this make-believe aesthetic to life, yet the same can’t be said for the absolutely pedestrian screenplay. With a wonderfully weird word at its disposal, the film opts to play it safe, taking too few risks and making little to no sense with the rash actions made along the way. It’s a cute movie, and a pretty dumb one too.

The lackluster human aspects driving Pokémon Detective Pikachu sink this otherwise agreeable affair, so bear with me through these brief descriptions. The film follows Tim Goodwin (Justice Smith, a good young actor who seems miscast here). He’s ditched his dreams of Pokémon training to sit at a desk peddling insurance all day long. News of his detective father’s untimely passing comes about, and Tim travels to Ryme City – a metropolis where Pokémon and people peacefully coexist – to collect belongings from his dad Harry’s apartment. There he encounters Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), Tim can him hear speak, and the two begrudgingly team up in an attempt to solve Harry’s sudden disappearance.

Shortly thereafter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) and her stressed sidekick Psyduck join in on the hunt. She’s a gossip columnist hoping to use the story as her big break towards serious journalism, as well as the de facto love interest. Her character is entirely surface level. As is Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), the mastermind behind Ryme City and the kind of cantankerous old guy who reminds us of the good he does so often that we can and should see through the fake front. Sure, there are some fun encounters with various Pokémon along the way (most notably Mr. Mime) and a few nice nods to fans of the original games that developed into a colorful, multi-media powerhouse. So while Pokémon Detective Pikachu honors the global brand well, it just doesn’t quite work as a film. Nothing adds up.

In some ways, the movie tries to be a fantastical epic, a neo-noir, and a throwback to the likes of Scooby-Doo all at once, following characters as they try to piece together the scene of the crime. What doesn’t help here is that the underlying mystery is so routine and mundane, eventually leveling down into a primitive and predictable third act full of tired cliches. Rob Letterman’s picture wants to reinvent the buddy cop comedy dynamic (although hearing Reynolds in PG mode feels entirely insincere), but you can’t subvert expectations through good looks and charming sound alone. There needs to be a solid story serving as the foundation. It came as no surprise to me that Pokémon Detective Pikachu completely fell apart in its dreadful finale. Perhaps some proper detectives in the writer’s room might have surmised similar cracks early on and had the wherewithal to patch them before things came crumbling down.

“It has to choose you too.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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