When it comes to video game-to-movie adaptations, we are not exactly in the best territory of cinema, as often the question isn’t, ‘which are the best?’ but rather ‘which are the least awful?’ Often the issue is that you never get a feeling anyone onboard was a big fan of the material itself or even remotely familiar with it, and after misfires like Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros. and Hitman you find slim pickings, with only Duncan Jones’ vastly underrated Warcraft – The Beginning standing as the sole great offering. Well, that all changes with this giddy take on the 2016 game Detective Pikachu and Satoshi Tajiri’s international sensation on which it is inspired.
The world of Pokémon is one beloved by various age groups and the fanbase remains as invested as they ever have and in Rob Letterman’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu fans finally get the live-action film they have waited years to see. Taking Blade Runner-esque noirish style and integrating it with the wacky lore of the Pokémon franchise, this is an exciting adventure that feels to be made with love and most importantly by actual fans.
As soon as we enter Rhyme City, a sprawling neon-lit metropolis only slightly updated from one of our own (well captured visually by John Mathieson’s cinematography) and where people and their Pokémon exist in harmony, the film immediately feels so alive and full, much like a planet from Star Wars. There are visual easter eggs and cameos aplenty, as well as references to the fondly remembered animated series and the trading card game. Not only that, but the many “classic era” Pokémon as well as more new characters are splendidly well realised, as the makers have opted to allow the characters’ cartoonish looks to take hold and not gone for entirely photo-realistic effects (though the fright of certain Pokémon being around in real life situations is played upon for a few great laughs – the instability of Psyduck for instance or the inherent creepiness of Mr. Mime). The CGI as such is fun and colourful and the look of these well known characters is sure to please devotees. As is an enjoyable score by Henry Jackman, which echoes the source material really well, especially a closing credits cover that will delight gamers.
The screenplay is a tale of two sides to some degree, as the “big reveal” twist can be seen coming a mile off and certain aspects and human characters are not quite as fleshed out as they could be. The villain’s motives for instance are not explored as convincingly as they might be and certain beats of the mystery are either relatively clear or very very familiar. On the other hand the actual dialogue itself is largely excellent, with a a script filled with fun action sequences and witty and endearing writing which are a total joy for fans and non-fans alike. To that point, the comedy is very open to the non-covert and casual viewer, who can follow the story and enjoy some wacky lines of humour that hit the spot rather well. As does a ray of heart to the characters and story which isn’t too fluffy but instead rather huggably genuine and welcoming.
Ryan Reynolds is the gift that keeps on giving here, ultimately stealing the show as the voice of Pikachu, as he unleashes a torrent of gags at a wicked rate – think a less profane Deadpool. Meanwhile Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s Justice Smith is a great human core of the narrative as Tim and Kathryn Newton is a fun companion on this investigation, as enthusiastic junior reporter Lucy.
It would feel a bit like faint praise calling Pokémon Detective Pikachu the best video game movie yet (it is), so perhaps a better endorsement is that this is a surefire blast for Pokémon fans and a film also ready to win over non-fans or newcomers with its hilarious script and genuine warmth.