9/10 So they’re finally making a live-action Pokemon movie. I guess that’s all right. Guess the real surprise is that it took this long. Honestly, I’ve only got one request – don’t do it halfway. Don’t make some movie-product meant to be advertised for more than it’s meant to be consumed. Just make it real.
They made it real.
In the Pokemon World, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), who once aspired to become a champion trainer, never left his hometown. When his police detective father dies, Goodman is called to settle his affairs in Ryme City – a new metropolis where battling is outlawed and man and wild pokemon live side by side. In his father’s apartment, Goodman meets Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds), a miraculous mouse who can speak English, but only to Goodman. The pikachu has no memory, but describes himself as a world-class detective and resolves to find Goodman’s father.
We younger millenials grew up on the 2D graphics of the early Pokemon games and the 2D animation – and writing – of the anime. For years, there have been calls to use modern media to make a more immersive Pokemon World, be it with an open-world video game or a version of Pokemon Go that doesn’t suck, and baby, this is it! Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is that media you’ve been waiting for that finally brings the Pokemon World to tangible, pulsating life, with a vividness, dedication, imagination and attention to detail that rivals even The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Using the same technology that’s spawned a bevy of anthropomorphic animals in recent years, the beloved sprites are brought into the third dimension and textured, sometimes beyond the point of recognition, in order to make them fit into a photorealistic world. It’s not always perfect – a fuzzy, Deadpool-voiced pikachu is only twice the pikachu, but a scaly charizard, as much sense as it makes, is rough on the eyes – but it is always thorough and detailed.
Reynolds gives his electric best as Detective Pikachu. The film is hardly a Ryan Reynolds project – he was one of five actors reported to be in consideration for the role – but he’s turned it into one, both with a performance that defines the movie and his usually attention grabbing social media nonsense. Apparently, he could have made this film even more his own, but we’ll have to wait for the leaks on that.
Detective Pikachu is made with love not just for pokemon, but for film. This could have been any kind of tacky, franchise-assuming introductory movie or some kind of kaiju fighting movie, and most everyone still would have been happy with it, but no. They made a dingy neo- neon-noir throwback straight out of the mid-40’s. As adorable as Detective Pikachu is and as Reynolds makes him, in his heart, he’s as hard-boiled and hard-drinking – of coffee – as they come. This is a movie about going down to the docks and roughing up your source and gumshoe reporters who get too close to the truth.
Kathryn Newton is flat perfect, almost too good for this very good movie, as Lucy Stevens, a picturesque combination of hammy muckraker and anime dreamgirl. I just wrote at length about how Seth Rogen’s Fred Flarsky isn’t remotely a reporter’s fantasy, and Stevens very much is, scrappy, dauntless and somehow glamorous all the way through. Her introduction – before Detective Pikachu sexualizes her in a regrettable way – is one of the film’s highlights.
So much of the film’s appeal lying in creatures that have to be added in post-production enforces a high level of intentionality in John Matheison’s cinematography, sharply strengthening the film.
Detective Pikachu doesn’t really have a color palette – purple, complimentary to the bright yellow title character, is emphasized, but not dominant – as much as it is strewn with a rainbow of neon lights. This, as with the cinematography, is quality necessitated by premise, as the inclusion of pokemon means the film was always going to run the full gamut of color.
That’s the biggest overarching reason for why Detective Pikachu is as good as it is – a lot of its best qualities would have to be a given for any genuine effort to make this film. It kind of steers into itself that way, embracing and conquering the challenges inherent in this project.
I can’t remember the last time I left a movie smiling this broadly. If you’ve ever dabbled in pokemon, ever wanted to go to that world, check out Detective Pikachu. It’s our first real trip there.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.