Let’s face it. You’re here to find out if Detective Pikachu (2019) will be worth 1 hour and 44 minutes of your life. Live-action animated movies no longer cater exclusively to family audiences, despite the frequent, front-and-center involvement of cartoonish characters. Instead, the genre now prioritises its ability to produce stories sophisticated enough to engage children and adults alike.
But, you protest, the stakes are so high for this movie! After all, it concerns some of your most beloved childhood characters. Can Detective Pikachu live up to your expectations, the expectations of a generation who grew up with this franchise?
Well, the good news is that the trailers have not disappointed. Not only are all your fan favourites resurrected in some way or another, they have also been brought to life in tasteful and realistic ways.
In fact, one of the movie’s most impressive decisions was its selection of Pokemon to parade. The Nintendo 3DS game of the same name (upon which this movie’s storyline was loosely based) involved newer generations of Pokemon. In migrating the story from game console to silver screen, the production team appears to have kept cognisant of the fact that they’re swapping out a niche fan base for a wider audience. Hence, the Pokemon they chose to animate are instantly recognisable and doubtlessly adorable – be prepared to fawn right until end credits roll. The more avid fans will also be satisfied with how those Pokemon featuring prominently in the narrative have their characteristics or capabilities showcased. In other words, Detective Pikachu’s fan service is sublime.
Where the movie falls short, however, is in what can be considered so fundamental to a story: plot and character. Though some game critics opined that its storyline would pan out better in a movie, the process of adapting for another medium invariably requires sacrifice.
In this case, most of the in-game mystery plot twists didn’t make the cut – I mean, one-half of the two main characters is a detective – and the sleuthing work was merely a means to emphasise how fruitful and rewarding human-Pokemon partnerships can be. Even so, we sometimes found the human characters two-dimensional, making us somewhat divested of their travails. Perhaps the result of teething issues that never got resolved, Detective Pikachu’s numerous loopholes riddled us with scores of questions that were ultimately left unaddressed.
Still, it can be said that a few people saved the day. Heavyweight Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) delivered superbly on his voice acting chops to bring out punchlines that might otherwise have fallen flat. Between his hilarious voiceover and outstanding facial motion capture, Reynolds manages to fully enliven a Pikachu who is charming, expressive and packed full of endearing idiosyncrasies.
The next honorary mention goes to every single person who worked on the movie’s visual effects, which spanned teams from five VFX companies, because the realism of the animated Pokemon singlehandedly sustained the adaption’s integrity. Had our cherished pocket monsters turned out anything like Sonic the Hedgehog, you can be assured that Detective Pikachu will be flamethrower-ed instantly into the bowels of adaptation hell.
If you want some hope that this is a franchise you can stand behind, take your cue from the questions left behind by Detective Pikachu. The problem with planning ahead for potentially colossal franchises is that sometimes, you just can’t. Sure, there may have been missteps, but at least the movie leaves these narrative threads open-ended enough. They don’t cripple Detective Pikachu’s overall story and can be picked up in spin-offs or sequels, paving the way for an episodic franchise that might gather more traction than even Star Wars or Marvel’s entire portfolio.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
It’s almost effective! Despite a mediocre story, Detective Pikachu will capture the hearts of both old-timer fans and new audiences, paving the way for the next big movie franchise.
Story - 6.5/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 7.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10