Clearly, I’m not the target audience for Detective Pikachu, the first live action movie based on the long running Pokémon franchise of video games, cartoons, etc. I needed three beers just to face it. The audience I saw it with, though, were another story. They happily wore light up Pikachu ears, applauded when the word “Pokémon” initially hit the screen, and gasped at the first glimpse of a pokéball (…I wonder if they cared when it never showed up again?). This movie’s for them. And to be fair, they did seem to dig it. But does it have any appeal to the uninitiated?
Detective Pikachu attempts mass appeal. On the surface. The trailers advertised an adventure in a neon-soaked city, a Blade Runner-lite setting that showed more effort than the words “Pokémon Movie” might typically engender. And casting hot-off-of-Deadpool-successes Ryan Reynolds as the sardonic voice of the main character (I should say, corporate icon) while still, somehow, staying true to the cute core of the monosyllabic Pikachu is a stroke of commercial genius. It’s a sad state of affairs when I praise “commercial genius”, but hey, that’s the way the cracker crumbles, or the way the pokéball rolls, I guess.
But there’s only so much you can do to make Pokémon more appealing. The core of the franchise doesn’t make much sense, especially in a feature film setting. Not that it really could, but the movie doesn’t even try to explain its world beyond the most basic concept of Man and Cute Monsters live together and kind of pair up for some reason and then sometimes fight tournament-style for some other reasons. Frankly, I was lost. Sometimes, when I mustered just enough gumption, I wondered, “Why are they fighting?”, “What are they trying to accomplish?”
Mostly, though, I wasn’t tempted in the least to figure out what was going on. I attempted a detailed plot synopsis, but it quickly devolved into gibberish. So I’ll just say this, a young human (Justice Smith) teams up with his father’s amnesiac pocket monster partner (voice of Reynolds) to investigate the father’s apparent murder, which leads to a conspiracy that made me think of Get Out, of all things. It all unfolds with lots of words like “MewTwo” (I looked up the spelling) and “Bulbasaur” (ditto) that have no meaning to me, undercut with noise and mostly unconvincing visual effects.
The pocket monsters do look cute in their 3-D incarnations, but is it just me or did they keep changing size from scene to scene, sometimes even from shot to shot? And the interactions between actors and special effects don’t pass muster either. When the lead humans carry their monsters around there’s no weight to them, it’s clear their arms are empty.
It was all beginning to give me a headache, so I leaned back and closed my eyes for a bit. Suddenly it hit me. It’s all happening again! Back in 1987, my mom had to take my brothers and me to Transformers: The Movie. Young me was enthralled by that film’s incessant lightshow, but when I looked over at my mom, she just sat there, eyes closed, rigid, waiting for the nightmare to be over. Now cut to 30+ years later and I’m in the exact same position, except I have no kids to blame for my predicament. I was not having a good night.
Detective Pikachu isn’t quite as crass as that Transformers movie, which basically amounted to a toy company screaming, “F*ck your old toys, buy these new ones instead!!!!” This Pokémon movie, at least, doesn’t demand you buy new toys; it just wants you to remember the old ones. Progress?
Being a geek, I’m guilty of loving things other people simply don’t get. There’s a lovingly framed Tron poster on the wall behind me as I write this, and, heck, crass or not, I still love that Transformers movie from the ‘80s. So I have no ill will toward the Pokémon superfans who populated this screening. Frankly, their enthusiasm buoyed me; they were charming. Well, except for the grown man dressed in a Pikachu onesie who faintly smelled of urine and, of course, had to sit right next to me. He needed a life…and a shower. So, Pokémon fans, enjoy. The rest of us? Yeah, we really don’t “gotta catch ‘em all.”