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Review: Pokémon Detective Pikachu, or This Could Be the Beginning of a New Film Franchise

"I feel like I'm ripping off Arthur Conan Doyle with this deerstalker."

Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment, two Hollywood powerhouses, join together to bring us Detective Pikachu. The official title of the movie, according to IMDb, is Pokémon Detective Pikachu, because Detective Pikachu refers to the Nintendo 3DS game. But this review isn't for the game, so there really won't be any confusion when I refer to the film as simply Detective Pikachu.

So anyway, is this movie based on the game? I don't know, I've never played it. So this review will not be referencing the film's gaming roots in any way.

I admit, I was a casual fan of the cartoons. Wait, scratch that. I am a casual gamer of Pokémon Go. So with the cartoons, what's less than a casual fan? A sporadic fan, maybe? I'm not sure. Point is, my knowledge of Pokémon isn't that solid to begin with.

Remember back in 2007, when Michael Bay released the first Transformers film (which incidentally was the very first film reviewed on this blog)? You might remember the backlash it received from fans for not staying true to the eighties TV show. Why’d they make Bumblebee a Camaro, they asked, when Bumblebee was a Volkswagen Beetle, and a Volkswagen Beetle only, nothing else. The only thing they retained was the colour, because Bumblebee can only be yellow. Wait, what was my point?

Oh yes, the fans. So the fans actually taught Hollywood a valuable lesson when it comes to adapting existing source material. If the source material is a book, then visual interpretations may be free for all, except for very specific descriptions the author used. But if the source material is another visual medium, such as a comic book, or a children’s cartoon in this case, then of course there must at least be a semblance of visual similarity, because that is what the viewers will be looking for.

And who are the viewers in this case? Although the studios may argue that these films are meant to draw in new audiences, let’s face it: these films are driven by nostalgia, and are really directed at those who were young once and now are employed and thus have money to spend at the cinema. That’s the same with every piece of adapted cinema that is released twenty years after its source material, such as Charlie’s Angels, the Transformers franchise, Inspector Gadget, and many more. (One can also argue that Mission: Impossible started off like this, but has grown so big that it has taken a life of its own now, with fans that don’t know and don’t care about the 1970s television show that inspired it.)

Wait, what are we talking about again? Oh yes, Detective Pikachu. Particularly visual similarity. Well, all I have to say is that the adaptation of the flat two-dimensional animated Pokémon into their three-dimensional computer-generated counterparts was extremely faithful. None of that “Bumblebee is a Camaro” crap. The Cubones you see on the big screen is exactly the same as the one in your childhood memories. So are the Squirtles. The Growlithes. The Gastlies. And of course, the lovable Pikachu. Except for one small thing: Pikachu’s voice.

No more “Pika Pika” cuteness here. Instead of miming and context clues, the filmmakers gave Pikachu a voice, and that is Ryan Reynolds on cocaine. I’m kidding, of course, it’s just regular Ryan Reynolds. It is of course a bit jarring at first, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

Detective Pikachu went to great lengths to give us something that deserves being called a detective flick, with the cinematographer even shooting on 35 mm film to make it feel more like Blade Runner. Aside from Pikachu sporting a deerstalker–an obvious homage to Sherlock Holmes–all the elements of classic mystery storytelling are here, albeit toned down for a younger audience. Don’t expect a great whodunit, though, because the plot’s fairly easy to predict. Just sit back and suspend your disbelief, is what I would suggest. It’s the ride that matters, anyway.

"Am I gonna get my own movie?"

Pokémon Detective Pikachu. USA/Japan/Canada. 2019.

Original rating: 7.2/10
Pikachu sounding like Deadpool: +0.1
No Kathryn Newton nudity: -0.1
Justice Smith: +0.1
Bill Nighy: +0.1
Ken Watanabe: +0.1
Psyduck: +0.1
Final rating: 7.6/10


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