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Review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu

A mixed but enjoyable bag for long time fans and the family.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more unlikely film than POKEMON: Detective Pikachu this year. Everything about the film, from it’s hyper realistic renders of fan favourites to its head scratching casting, which placed Ryan Reynolds of all people in the role of Pikachu, seemed like fodder for a potential trainwreck of a family film. Even the game it’s directly based on received mixed to average review, making the move even more perplexing.

This movie arguably should never have worked, but rest assured, POKEMON: Detective Pikachu is far from a trainwreck. In fact, the films finds footing in it’s oddness presenting us with something that looks and feels as alive as a cartoon in the confines of the real world.

Visually, Detective Pikachu brings a lot to the table with the heavy CGI work that blends into the richness of a movie shot on celluloid. You heard that right, Detective Pikachu was captured on film and the choice was a wise one. The film feels visually rich with colours blooming in every frame, leaving one feeling like they’re experiencing a high end Saturday morning cartoon. However, with a film this heavy in CGI work  your bound to find some flaws, and Detective Pikachu’s were borderline perplexing. The film goes from some incredible implementation of the VFX work to down right flabbergasting within the same scene. It’s jarring to say the least, but the save is the realistic models of the Pokemon created for the film, specifically Pikachu. These creatures walk a very fine line between the image that fans hold dear to their heart and reality, but the illusion holds up. As the film progresses, you find yourself slowly being consumed by this world on screen which has a lot to do with the character models and how believable they felt in the movie.

The plausibility of it all is something that shines in the film, but more importantly, the exploration of a world where Pokemon live alongside humans is the heart and soul of this film. Seeing a Ditto transform into a person to assist a man in a wheelchair is way more fun than you could have imagined, and a crossing guard Machamp? These odd choices make sense, and it’s this sense of grounded exploration that really allows the movie to be something special at times, much like the decision to have a Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds. Let it be said, Detective Pikachu’s character is the best bit of performance we get in the entire running time of the movie, and this has to be one of the top ten castings of the year. Completely out of left field, and he shines every moment Pikachu is on screen.

The film loses its footing when it comes the direction of the rest of the cast, specifically our leads Justice Smith and the extremely questionable performance from Kathryn Newton as Lucy. From the get go conversations feel very stiff, but things pivot when Ryan Reynolds enters the picture as Detective Pikachu. Reynolds and Justice as a duo take the mediocre dialogue in the script and make light work of it through their chemistry. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Newton, who seems like she’s acting in an entirely different movie from everyone else, bringing a level of camp to the performance that felt jarring.

POKEMON: Detective Pikachu is a strange, inventive, head scratching good time, and in a odd way a testament to creativity and breaking boundaries. The film succeeds not on it’s core filmmaking, but on the ideas that they’ve invigorated this property with and the chances they took. By no means is this must see cinema, but it does serve to remind us that even something as outlandish as a Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds can become the backbone of your film if you just have a little imagination.

PS. The soundtrack bumps.

Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton is a Toronto based filmmaker and creative mad man. Legend has it that he spent most of his childhood locked away in a cell beta testing Netflix.