For the last movie in last week’s intended Finally Watched list I wanted to watch something a bit different from the other three movies. Batman Ninja and Ant-Man & The Wasp were superhero movies while Alita Battle Angel was a sci-fi action movie. I had wanted to finish on something a bit more fun and less action heavy. My first thought was M*A*S*H*, the movie loosely based on the novel that inspired the famous TV series. Unfortunately it had the same glitch that messed my first choice for the Marvel slot, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, where the recording cut out half way through. So I looked at Kubo And Two Strings, but it had the same problem. It’s good that I checked this out before committing to watching it so I don’t have to worry about seeing only half of it until another option appears.
While a few movies on the DVR that we’re awaiting a replacement for from the cable company were working, that replacement means I’m going to lose movies, so I wanted to grab something from the HBO, Cinemax, and Starz preview weeks to get the full movie without ads. So eventually I settled on Pokémon Detective Pikachu, a 2019 movie based on the video game spin-off of the popular Pokémon game series. I haven’t played it but I do know it’s not your typical pocket monster hunting game, but some kind of mystery solving game. So as an adaptation I can’t tell you if it’s any good, except for how it adapts Poké-Earth in general. I’ve heard good things about it from the community so I guess it is a good adaptation but I can give my thoughts on the movie itself.
RELEASE DATE: 2019
RELEASED BY: Warner Brothers, Legendary Pictures, and the Pokémon Company in association with Toho
RUNTIME: 1 hour44 minutes
VIEWING SOURCE FOR THIS REVIEW: HBO Family during a free preview weekend
STARRING: Justice Smith, Ryan Renolds, Kathyrn Newton, Bill Nighy, Chris Greere, and Ken Watanabe
SCREENWRITERS: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, and Nicole Perlman as writers, joined by Rob Letterman and Derek Connoly on screenplay with Hernandez and Samit
DIRECTOR: Rob Letterman (just had to get into the screenplay credit, Rob?)
BOX OFFICE: $433,477,601 worldwide, $144,174,568 domestic according to IMDB
ESTIMATED BUDGET: $150,000,000 according to IMDB
The Plot: Detective Harry Goodman is believed dead in a car crash. His estranged son Tim (Smith) goes to Ryme City, where Pokémon don’t battle but live side-by-side with humans whether partnered or not to clear his effects. There he meets Harry’s Pikachu, who for some reason Tim can understand. Together and with the aid of reporter Lucy Stevens (Newton) and her Psyduck, Tim and Pikachu find a huge plot involving a strange serum that turns Pokémon in to rage monsters…and that’s only the beginning of the plot involved. Can our heroes find Harry, uncover the mystery of Harry’s disappearance and Pikachu’s amnesia, and how it all ties to Mewtwo (IMDB lists both Rina Hoshino and Kotaro Wantanabe)? (That’s not a spoiler, he shows up before the opening credits.)
Why did I want to see it: While I’m not a huge Pokémon fan–my connection are a few episodes of the anime, an unfinished run of Pokémon Yellow, a couple of books tied into that game, and an early Tiger Pokédex I’ve reviewed on my other site–I had enough interest in the franchise to give this a look. I’ve heard it’s the rare example of a live-action video game adaptation that was at least somewhat faithful to the game, but again I’ve never played that version. Somebody more familiar with the Detective Pikachu game sub-series can answer that better than I can.
What did I think: I actually enjoyed it. Smith’s acting isn’t the best but it was terrible, at least in this movie. At the very least he got the emotions across. Ryan Reynolds is still Ryan Reynolds at times but he managed to tone down his usual rambling routine somewhat and the times he didn’t still worked. He’s an amnesiac Pikachu that nobody can understand until he runs into Tim, and he drinks way too much coffee. Smith and Newton don’t have any romantic chemistry, though Pikachu does on occasion try to get them together, but they have great platonic chemistry and I’m glad the movie didn’t try to shove a romance ending in at the end. Her role as a news media intern who has to investigate her own network’s owners isn’t played for laughs and doesn’t hold her back outside of where it should. They all make a good team.
The story is also really good. I don’t know how much they took from the source material, including the ending, and all I’ll say is that hiding Harry’s face until the end makes the reveal of where he fits into the story was actually quite smart. I figured it out when the villain’s full scheme was revealed but the characters were a bit busy at the moment. This is the only real mystery for us to figure out. While we see Tim and Pikachu, sometimes aided by Lucy, investigate it’s not one of those figure-it-out mysteries but one where you get the clues and the answers with the characters, and it does that quite well. I do wonder why Ken Wantabe is here. They had to have paid quite a bit for his few appearances as Harry’s friend in the police department, but I guess with Legendary involved and for some reason Toho (I don’t know who distributed the anime movies) it was easier to get him here. Maybe his son’s a fan of the games or something. That seems to be the reason any celebrity does a kids movie adaptation.
For a movie like this the final question is the realization of Pokémon in a live-action environment. There are things you can get away with in video games, animation, and comics that don’t transfer to something that close to real life. The world itself does attempt to feel more like a Pokémon world than trying to set this on our Earth. As for the CG attempts to bring the furry, scaly, and skin-bearing Pokémon to life they actually do it quite well. Pikachu and Psyduck show up more often that others, outside of the interrogation of Mr. Mime, which can talk in other media but as someone who likes mimes I really enjoyed that scene, and while Psyduck just looks weird thanks to his eyes, making him a bit more cartoon line than most of the others, Pikachu looks like he could live in a real world, and his fur is quite life-like. They attempt to recreate the Pokémon as accurate as they can while still giving them a live action look and some fit better than others.
Was it worth the wait: I’d say the movie delivers rather well and I enjoyed watching it. I might watch it again if there was nothing else on, though with my current backlog that will take a long while. This was proof that a movie based on a video game can be good and respectful of the source material (again, in a general sense since I don’t know this particular sector of the game series), and I wish there were more like it. It’s worth checking out at least once if you have any interest in this series.