Watching Pokémon Detective Pikachu was a lot like watching Venom. That is not a statement I thought I would be beginning this review with, but this is the reality in which I’ve created for myself.
As a formal disclaimer, I love Pokémon. I do not love Pokémon recently, but I have a substantial amount of adoration for what the game used to be and what it means to me. I can still name a large majority of pokémon, their types, when (or how) they evolve, and what generation they belong to. To say I am experienced and completely within the demographic this film aims for is somewhat of an understatement. And despite this, I was not completely sold on this film.
My level of desire in seeing this film was pretty minimal, and I was at odds with myself on whether I would watch this in theaters or after it came out on DVD/blu-ray. It wasn’t until I was offered a free ride to the theater (but not free tickets) that I decided, “Sure, why not?” The trailer made the pokémon within (generally) look great, though I was not sold on the “origin story” feel of it all nor was I sold on the acting of the human characters. When it comes down to it, I was right to be skeptical.
Going back to the debut paragraph, Venom is a film I do not like overall. “Overall” is the definitive word, as it implies there are aspects to it I do like, which is true. For the first thirty to forty minutes, I thought Venom was fine. Nothing spectacular, nothing atrocious. Fine. It wasn’t until the movie chugged forward to its ending climax that it began to teeter off the edge of mediocrity into the ridiculous oblivion. My thoughts on Pokémon Detective Pikachu are very similar.
Initially, it’s fine… actually, that’s a lie. The moment Justice Smith and his “friend” show up onscreen, the script and its horribly unfunny jokes come into the fray. It isn’t until after this intro snippet, when Smith’s character, Tim, finds out about the demise of his father that I begin to seep back into “Okay, this isn’t cringeworthy” territory. The film continues to pace itself between “fine” and “decent,” but like with Venom, the closer to the end it got, the more I wanted Pikachu to electrocute me until I exploded.
Chances are likely that if you don’t watch a lot of films, or if you really like Pokémon and the thought of a live-action Pokémon film makes your heart sing, this movie will not be bad for you. If you are an experienced moviegoer and you watch films for story, writing, characters, and other technical-associated qualities, you may end up hating this film. I even told my sister, whom I saw this film with, that I will either love or hate Pokémon Detective Pikachu, as while the film is getting decent praise from general critics and audiences, two film critics that I respect both gave this a 2/10. It would appear that my expectations for a quality film trump my love of Pokémon, because… wow, this film is really stupid.
Some films can get past this, where the positive qualities of the experience can trump the stupidity or lack of logic within a given plot. In this case, the stupidity is so substantial, so overwhelming in its size, that nothing could save it from itself. The last forty minutes or so of this film are some of the most mindless, lazy, and convenient examples of a bad script that I’ve seen in quite some time. To get into spoiler territory, when two stupid kids can just cut through a fence and break into a top-secret scientific testing facility, one that seems to have no security measures whatsoever, that’s already bad enough. When the main villain reveals themselves and then… leaves the main character within reach of reversing what said villain has done, that’s just icing on the cake. There’s no way you can excuse that. It’s just really poor writing. And that ends my spoiler talk.
Tim is the only human character that has any sort of development throughout the entire film. Detective Pikachu is a one-note wonder for the entirety of the film and, while enjoyable in parts, can get tiring after a while. Basically, if one doesn’t care for Ryan Reynolds, all they can do is appreciate how great Pikachu looks in this film. Lucy, the female lead, has no characterization whatsoever, only driven by a single motivation that is not charming whatsoever, which isn’t helped by her actor’s putrid performance. Many actors here felt as though they were phoning in their performances, and it’s only harder to tell because the writing is just… really bad. Very straightforward, cliché, and surface-level… kind of like Pokémon writing in general.
Which brings us to the best part of the film by far, which is the design of the pokémon. Pikachu looks phenomenal. Basically anything with fur looks phenomenal. Some pokémon look completely awful, like Ludicolo and Gengar. Some pokémon look completely unfitting with the overall design of the film, including Machamp, which literally just looked like a Machamp from any 3D Pokémon game. I adored the attempt to showcase humanity and pokémon living beside one another, regardless of how small.
First coming into Ryme City was a great scene. I really, really liked seeing all those pokémon in such a small space, complete with humans walking side by side. If they focused more on this and less on some convoluted plot about some evil guy who’s evil because evil and amnesia and Mewtwo being God, then this might’ve been a better movie. Alas, this is the closest we’ve come to fulfilling that sweet wish fulfillment of being closer to pokémon in real life. A shame they didn’t try to incorporate more of that feeling.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a film for hardcore Pokémon fans and moviegoers who don’t mind seeing the same plot and script formulas big-budget movies incorporate on a normal basis. I would normally hesitate to make such a specific claim such as this one, but I genuinely feel this is a film that one will either love or hate. The love stems from one’s leniency for big-budget films and the fantasy of pokémon in real life, while the hate stems from a distaste for the same old, same old. Hesitate caution when giving this a shot, as one needs to be sure of where they stand upon seeing the trailers for Detective Pikachu. If it clicks, it clicks. If it doesn’t, you may just black out.
Final Score: 3/10
The rating for all other films can be found on my Letterboxd.
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