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Blu-ray Review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu

August 6, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

There are some movies that end up being pleasant surprises simply because they turn out better than anyone rightly expected them to be. Last year’s surprisingly solid Transformers spin-off Bumblebee is just one example that springs to mind, and now we can add Pokémon Detective Pikachu to this list.

Based on the popular Japanese franchise that originated in the 1990s and has been represented through Nintendo video games, collector cards, an anime series and a ton of animated movies, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is an amusing hybrid of live action and animation that is better and more entertaining than it probably had any right to be.

The franchise recently enjoyed a nostalgic resurgence in 2017 with the launch of the mobile app Pokemon Go, an augmented reality game that proved to be hugely popular with people of all ages. This success is what Warner Bros. has obviously capitalized on with this film, and indeed the first few scenes in which our protagonist Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) and his friend Jack (Karan Soni) try to catch a real live Pokémon (a Cubone, to be precise) feels like a live action version of the game.

Loosely based on the 2016 spin-off game Detective Pikachu, the actual plot of the film unfolds mainly as a fairly straightforward mystery. When his estranged father, a detective by the name of Harry Goodman, is killed in a car crash, Tim finds himself travelling to Ryme City, a booming metropolis designed by ailing billionaire Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), where humans and Pokémon can live together in perfect harmony. It’s here that Tim teams up with his father’s former partner, a talking Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) wearing a deerstalker hat, to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death.

Pikachu has no recollection of where he came from or what happened to him, but he can speak in human words and Tim somehow has the ability to understand him when everyone else just hears him say “Pika Pika.” With help from Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), an intern at the Ryme City TV station CNM, and her sidekick Psyduck, Tim and Pikachu end up investigating a conspiracy involving a noxious gas that causes friendly Pokémon to briefly turn on the humans when exposed to it, and the reemergence of the ancient, all-powerful Mewtwo, who has been brought back thanks to genetic engineering.

For fans of the franchise, part of the fun of watching Pokémon Detective Pikachu is getting to see realistic, CGI versions of these characters in a live action setting. The visual effects artists have done a good job of making the recognizable Pokémon characters appear believable within this textured live action world, and the fuzzy Pikachu is able to interact seamlessly with his human counterparts. When Tim picks him up and carries him in his arms or lets him sit on his shoulders, there is a real weight to Pikachu that makes him appear even more lifelike.

Director Rob Letterman brings some visually pleasing images to the screen, even shooting on film to heighten the old school detective movie feel of the piece. Ryme City itself is a bustling, neon-tinged world that recalls a version of Tokyo and really fits with the noirish undertones of the film. In look and feel, the film is highly influenced by both Blade Runner and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, minus the dark, philosophical underpinnings of the former or the same degree of cleverness as the latter. The story itself is fairly simple and predictable, and the premise sometimes feels a bit stretched thin, even at just over a hundred minutes. The film perhaps would have been even better if it had leaned harder into its neo-noir elements and allowed itself to go a bit darker, but there is still plenty to like about it.

The main appeal of Pokémon Detective Pikachu is easily the presence of Ryan Reynolds as the title character. The actor brings a PG version of his wisecracking, sarcastic Deadpool portrayal to the little yellow guy, and his delightful voice work really is the best part of the film. The bond that forms between Tim and Pikachu, as the former tries to figure out what happened to his father and the latter tries to regain his memories, is actually quite sweet. Overall, this is a fairly entertaining and enjoyable movie to just turn your brain off and watch, especially if you are already a fan of this world.

The Blu-ray also includes an option to watch the film in Detective Mode, a pop-up commentary track of sorts. It’s followed by the short piece My Pokémon Adventure, which features Goodman talking about his lifelong love of the franchise; the “behind the scenes” featurette Creating the World of Detective Pikachu, which is made up of the five chapters Uncovering the Magic, Colorful Characters, Bringing Pokémon to Life, Welcome to Ryme City, and Action!; an alternate opening; an “audio commentary” track for Mr. Mime’s big scene; the amusing promotional piece Ryan Reynolds: Outside the Actors Studio; and finally a music video for “Carry On” by Rita Ora and Kygo.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 104 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: August 6th, 2019

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