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Film Review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by: Rob Letterman
Written by: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman & Derek Connolly
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe & Chris Geere

I should probably prefix this review by stating that I’m a huge Pokémon fan; I spent a lot of my childhood playing Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow on my Gameboy Colour and blowing all of my £10 pocket money on Pokémon cards, hoping for an elusive shiny. I don’t think there was anyone in my school year who didn’t know the words to the show’s theme tune! I also remember bawling my eyes out in the final act of ‘Pokémon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back’ when Pikachu wouldn’t fight back against his clone, so saying I was hesitant about watching this film is an understatement given the more adult tone of the trailers. Thankfully ‘Pokémon Detective Pikachu’ captures much of the optimism, nostalgia and heart of the original show, deftly mixing noir elements with comedy and action!

Directed by Rob Letterman, ‘Pokémon Detective Pikachu’ centres on 21-year-old former Pokémon trainer Tim Goodman played by Justice Smith, who teams up with a talking detective Pikachu voiced by Ryan Reynolds, reporter Lucy Stevens played by Kathryn Newton and her Psyduck in order to solve the case of his missing father. At first the plot seems pretty simple – a guy who doesn’t want a Pokémon buddy has to team up with one to find his dad. However there were some genuine twists and turns I didn’t see coming, with a lot of heartwarming moments along the way.

After watching the trailers, I didn’t think Ryan Reynolds would work as the voice of Pikachu – he’s pretty much become Deadpool to me, but surprisingly he pulled it off. He softened his tone and came across a lot less sarcastic than the Reynolds we’ve come to know, however there were a few moments where you couldn’t help but think of him, which does take you out of the moment somewhat! The main heart of the film was the central pairing of Reynolds and Justice Smith, with the two developing a strong chemistry as their bond developed throughout the film. The supporting cast included Lucy Stevens, who really leaned into the whole noir style detective vibe and a hilariously unexpected perfomance from Bill Nighy. There were a number of Pokémon in the movie too ofcourse – Psyduck and Mr Mime came very close to stealing the show!

Visually, I was genuinely surprised by how well this live-action adaptation worked, successfully bringing to life the many different characters from my childhood in a number of different environments. The animated characters blended naturally into the urban cityscapes of Ryme City, with Squirtles working in the fire department, Growlithes as police dogs and Machamp’s arms coming in useful as he directed traffic! I also really enjoyed the noir style aspects of the film including Harry’s apartment filled with case files, the dive bar featuring a Jigglypuff singing Karaoke and the underground battles, as well as a nice call back to the games with the main villain being located at the top of a skyscraper! The Pokemon themselves are much more photorealistic compared to their animated counterparts, with impressive textures and lighting. The amount of detailing in detective Pikachu’s fur was genuinely impressive, and was very successful since he was utterly adorable. There were also some breathtaking scenes featuring Pokémon in their natural habitat – seeing wild Bulbasaurs was a particular highlight for me.

Overall I had so much fun with ‘Pokémon Detective Pikachu’; the film was a smart, humorous and stylish outing which I didn’t know I needed in my life! It was a very different take on the subject matter than we’ve previously seen, but ultimately proved to really pay off, hopefully opening the door to more films set in this universe.