Thu, 23 May 2019
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (PG)
Running time 1hr 44mins
THE franchise-ation of cinema has ushered into the limelight all manner of new stories, concepts and themes – plots and
mythologies once regarded as ‘uncommercial’ are now able to find a mass audience, with the multi-film treatment facilitated by studios providing them a hitherto unimaginable degree of breathing room. As a consequence of this, however, the moviegoing experience has increasingly come to resemble a hobby, as opposed to a straight-forward entertainment – one cannot simply ‘drop out’ of the Avengers saga and pick up on the action three films later, which is to say nothing of the hurdles total newcomers will be forced to navigate. Few multimedia franchises are as niche, complex and franchise-y as Pokémon, an international phenomenon centred on a fictitious world where teenaged ‘trainers’ pit their ‘pocket monsters’ against one-another in head-to-head combat, with the aim of acquiring badges and notoriety. Oh, and they ‘capture’ the monsters in red-and-white balls. Don’t ask.
If that summary alone was enough to induce a migraine, then I have some bad news – this new film (the first live-action Pokémon effort) probably isn’t for you. Absent a cursory first-act stab at fleshing out the internal logic of this most peculiar universe – probably for the benefit of the inevitable parents and grandparents among the audience – Detective Pikachu is bewilderingly low on exposition, thrusting Johnny-come-latelies into a landscape peopled by a mind-boggling array of creatures and characters. Eschewing the ultra-garish aesthetics of the anime and video games, it opts for a visual direction more reminiscent of the ‘weird worlds’ of urban fantasy cinema, as contemporary (ish) humans brush shoulders with a host of anthropomorphic Pokés.
The effect is frequently dazzling – indeed, the picture’s charm is best appreciated at a superficial level, especially if you have no pre-existing stake in this thing. Even the plot makes for an admirable deviation from the tried-and-tested formula – it’s a (surprisingly convoluted) techno-noir thriller. The Pikachu of the title (voiced by the ever-dependable Ryan Reynolds) is the wisecracking assistant of one Harry Goodman, a veteran lawman in (notorious hive of scum and Poké-villainy) Ryme City. After Harry mysteriously disappears, the amnesiac Pikachu approaches Tim (Justice Smith), the good detective’s son; they soon find themselves embroiled in an epic caper, and in a dastardly conspiracy that threatens the very existence of the Pokémon world as we know it.
That’s the small print out of the way. Trouble is, despite Reynolds’ boundless energy (and the utter sincerity of Smith, sure to be a silver screen institution in due course), Detective Pikachu is a most inaccessible adventure. Less concerned with thematic
development than it is with showcasing 3D-rendered versions of beloved franchise icons, its mon-a-minute selling-point is going to perplex and exhaust outsiders. Convoluted and overblown as they often are, the best superhero films are more than able to compensate with compelling character drama and outlandish humour. Strive as Detective Pikachu might to transform the yellow furball at its centre into a force for blockbuster action and family-friendly comedy, the overall package is confused, uneven, unconvincing. This critic does not doubt, however, that it was a project conceived as a love letter to Pokémon fans (younger fans, in particular); said devotees will not leave the theatre empty-handed, however much their elders might scoff and snore.