Review: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

Out of an unending list of trailers that pushed anticipation to the limit, Detective Pikachu was knocking at the door of the top spot for 2018, combining childhood nostalgia and cute, fluffy creatures being grumpy and sarcastic, plus Ryan Reynolds.

Directed by the man who brought you Monsters vs. Aliens and Shark Tale, it’s a third animated outing for Rob Letterman, backed up primarily by the writers of the recently renewed One Day at a Time, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit. Tim (Justice Smith) attempts to find the truth about his father’s disappearance with the help of Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) and budding reporter Lucy (Kathryn Newton).

Living up to the high anticipation set by a well timed, edited and funny trailer is not an easy task, the name of the game may be getting people into the cinema but setting yourself a high goal without the goods to back it up creates the opportunity for serious disappointment. You may see where this is going, Detective Pikachu is one of those films that can’t stretch out the potential it had in the trailer to its entire 104-minute run time. The trailer shows you a high number of the highlights the film has to offer and the majority of the comedy because it simply isn’t as consistent or fast paced as it would have had you believe. There are both major and minor problems that trip the film up in its pursuit of adventure, the primary sources being the extreme lack of chemistry between Smith and Newton, giving less of a rising romance and more platonic colleagues, and no satisfying villain to speak of.

The pace is slow and there’s no real sense of adventure or thrill, it feels as though the characters are just going through the motions and it isn’t as entertaining to see how it ends as they think it is. Although a large part of that is due to the fact there aren’t any interesting main characters other than Pikachu, Psyduck is certainly more convincing than Rita Ora’s Dr. Ann Laurent, at the beginning of the film we only get her voice and even that is still weak. Then you add in the potential villains of Bill Nighy and Chris Greere and things go even further downhill, while the former is a beloved actor and the latter has probably been referred to as “that annoying white guy in that show” countless times, they’re both just as ineffectual, it’s akin to the disappointment of David Thewlis’s god of war in Wonder Woman. As strong as a film can be, having a weak villain will always cut itself off at the knees, you need to hate them, to loathe them, to be dying to see their downfall and if you aren’t then there’s no decent driving force to the story or the audience’s investment.

In its job as a children’s film, there probably aren’t too many complaints, other than a fairly insignificant time spent on exploring other Pokémon, with the exception of Pikachu, Psyduck and possibly Mime, but trying to suit all ages it falls short. If you give some thought to the film’s choices within the first 20-minutes, its ending will make itself apparent, giving it an extra dollop of predictability to add to the already stereotypical amount that’s built in. Combining predictability and unconvincing villains, any genuine sense of fun or adventure for a viewer over the age of 12 becomes too lofty of a goal. It’s difficult not to love Ryan Reynold’s cheeky, sarcastic charm in every form from your favourite trash talking assassin to fluffy, electric sidekick but even that can’t make the entire 104-minutes worthwhile.

It may not be an entire failure, with a target audience age of 6 to 12 you could consider it a huge success but trying to appeal to a more universal audience and it plainly falls short. While The Lego Movie took full advantage of blending comedy, nostalgia and beloved childhood toys, Detective Pikachu couldn’t quite get its hands on the recipe. Without a deeper sense of fun and adventure, this outing comes across as hollow, leaving you feeling like you lost out on the version of the film that the trailer was offering.

Verdict: 4/10 | ✯✯

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