POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Rob Letterman

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Bill Nighy, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora.

Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith in Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)

Pokemon began as a video game and trade card phenomena created by Satoshi Tajiri, and soon gained popularity as a long running animated television series and plenty of animated films. There are some 800 Pokemon characters. The success of the Pokemon GO app and mobile game, introduced in 2016, led to the creation of Pokemon Detective Pikachu, which is the first live action film in the Pokemon universe. The plot combines the tropes of the familiar odd couple buddy cop formula with a hard-bitten noir like structure and whodunit storyline, albeit populated by a range of colourful CGI created Pokemon characters. Like Robert Zemeckis’ visionary blend of animation and live action storytelling with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Detective Pikachu is a wonderful blend of animation and live action, with the CGI created characters seamlessly blended into the human action.

The film is set in Rhyme City, a sprawling, bright, garish neon lit and bustling modern city in which human and Pokemon characters live and work together in harmony. Rhyme City seems like a cross between New York and Tokyo, although the dark alleyways give the setting a noir-like look. The city is the ambitious brainchild of visionary billionaire Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy).

Tim (played by Justice Smith, from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, etc) is an insurance assessor and a keen Pokemon trainer. But when his father, a private investigator, goes missing in mysterious circumstances, Tim comes to Rhyme City looking for answers. He meets his father’s Pokemon partner, the cheeky yellow Pokemon named Pikachu, who sports a deerstalker hat and fancies himself as something of a detective. Pikachu also seems to be suffering from some form of amnesia following a car crash. Together the two begin the search for the truth of what happened to Tim’s father. They stumble upon a sinister conspiracy involving the villainous Pokemon Mewtwo that could rock the Pokemon world and forever destroy the delicate balance that exists between the two worlds.

Pokemon Detective Pikachu is based on the characters created by Tajiri, Ken Sugimori and Junichi Masuda. The script has been written by Dan Hernandez (a tv writer best known for his work on One Day At A Time, etc), Benj Samut and Derek Connolly (Safety Not Guaranteed, etc), and remains fairly faithful to the source material. The writers have worked in some themes of complex father/son relationships, ambition, hubris and the importance of human connections in this modern world. Even if audiences are unfamiliar with the whole Pokemon universe, the film is reasonably easy to follow, although the plotting may be a little too convoluted for youngsters to follow.

Director Rob Letterman keeps things moving along at a fast pace. He cut his teeth on animation before moving into live action with Goosebumps, etc, and he integrates the animation seamlessly into the live action. There is some gorgeous animation from R J Palmer that brings Rhyme City to life. There are a couple of spectacular set pieces. A climactic showdown involving a clash between Pikachu and Charizard, a giant fire breathing monster, above the city is similar to the destructive battles that have brought most recent Marvel superhero films to a close, although it is nowhere near as destructive.

Ryan Reynolds plays the titular Detective Pikachu here and the use of superb motion capture technology captures his facial expressions and allows him to bring the character to life. Reynolds is perfectly cast as the cheeky slightly irreverent Pikachu as he brings plenty of energy and attitude to the wisecracking character, a sort of milder and toned down version of his Deadpool anti-hero.

Smith is good in his role and interacts with a range of animated characters convincingly enough. Kathryn Newton plays aspiring reporter Lucy Stevens, while Nighy seems wasted and looks bored here.

★★★

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