Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Movie Review: Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

Whether or not you should rush to the theater to see Detective Pikachu can be answered using an absurdly obvious litmus test: do you have any love for this property? If you do, have I got good news. Detective Pikachu does a phenomenal job adapting the cartoon creatures of the video games, anime, card games, and... I don't know? What else is this multi-media empire built out of? Whatever it is, the movie finds a way to upgrade it to three dimensions in a manner that's believably tactile without losing the distinctive look of the source material. Think more Bumble Bee and less Bayformers in the approach and execution of the world.

Incidentally, I do not have any real background with this stuff, so the nostalgia grenade I just described did very little for me.

Okay, full disclosure: I know what a handful of these creatures look like, partly because they appear in the Smash Bros. games and partly because I exist in this civilization. But I was a few years too old to care about the anime when it came out, and I never played a single Pokemon game (unless you count the aforementioned Smash Bros. series).

That's a long-winded way of saying I had to approach the movie as if it was, well, a movie and enjoy it (or not) on those terms. Specifically, I approached it as a genre movie, and more specifically than that as an "ALL the genres" movie, as it incorporates elements of fantasy, sci-fi, adventure, romantic comedy, drama, slapstick, noir, superhero, and maybe just a dash of horror watered down to PG.

If you think that sounds a little overstuffed... yeah, that's the movie in a pokeball. The world is beautiful and fascinating even without much background on its inhabitants, but the movie never really coalesces into a unified whole, nor is it willing to commit to a tone long enough to really draw you in. Ultimately, you're left with more a vignette of sequences than a concrete experience.

If we'd gotten better characters, I think this could have worked anyway, but with one exception, everyone was fairly bland and two-dimensional. Fortunately, Detective Pikachu was that exception: he's still two-dimensional, but he's anything but bland. I'm tempted to call him the movie's MVP, but the setting already won that title in a cage fight against a charizard.

While Pikachu's good, the human characters are just kind of dull. The actors do solid work, but every human in the movie is written like they stepped out of a video game. The main characters lack interesting traits or arcs, and the plot is about as by-the-numbers as you can get. If you didn't figure out the twist ending from the trailers, you'll piece it together within the first 15 minutes of the movie.

Instead, the movie incorporates a lot of comedy, and not in a good way. Rather than build characters and allow the humor to arise organically from their interactions with a whimsical world, it tosses in a great deal of physical humor, most of which falls flat. I honestly think this movie would have been far funnier if they'd skipped the jokes entirely and trusted the world to be funny on its own. I also think this could have benefited from being a little darker, say PG-13 rather than the PG they went with.

Okay, I know it sounds like I'm saying I wish this had been Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but... actually, yeah, I do honestly just wish this had been more like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Really, shouldn't all movies strive for that?

All that being said, the world this is set in really is incredible, and I imagine it's even more so if you give a damn about these ridiculous, adorable monsters. If Pokemon was a part of your childhood, by all means seek this out and enjoy the fluffy, electrically-charged jolt of nostalgia it offers.

The rest of us could honestly do a lot worse. This is almost certainly the best video-game movie ever made, and I genuinely enjoyed the weird-ass final act where rationality went out the window and it turned into a zany superhero adventure. But don't go in expecting brilliance: this is a very flawed movie with a few saving graces, not a game-changer.

No comments: